Grandma and grandpa are having sex. So are the great grandparents and likely even people in their 90s and beyond, regardless if they have a partner. And sexual health experts say that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
Sexual health is linked to general health, so it’s important for people of all ages to take care of both, says Michael Krychman, medical director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine in Newport Beach.
General health is a better predictor of sexual activity than age. Yet with age comes biological and psychological changes that can make sex frustrating or more challenging, but that is no reason to stop having sex and fulfilling sexual desire. Instead of surrendering to the societal myth that sex is for the young, Krychman said people need to communicate and ask for help in solving the problem or at least finding other ways to get pleasure.
“We are now understanding the combination of biological changes that happen: veins, arteries, nerves, hormones and social issues,” Krychman said.
Often for men that means erectile dysfunction and for post-menopausal women, vaginal dryness and decreased libido. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and various medications can also affect sexual function.
It may not sound so sexy but Krychman compares boosting your sex life to boosting your financial life: have a plan and work hard.
“We think we are on autopilot,” he said. “But we really need to address those issues in a detailed fashion. Sexual health is very important. It takes time, money and effort.”
Spokane sex therapist Stephanie Kuffel said sometimes people need to shift their focus and concentrate on pleasure instead of more goal-oriented sex such as intercourse and orgasm.
“That can reduce the anxiety and pressure and make it more fun,” Kuffel said.
She agrees that it’s important for people as they age to talk about their sexual function and seek help. Spokane has only a handful of sex therapists, but Kuffel said physicians are starting to talk more with patients about sexual function and desire. She encourages people to ask their physician’s questions about their sexual health.
She added that there are lots of good books on the subject of specific problems to sex over age 50.
Today it’s more socially acceptable to talk about sex issues for older adults – and the chronically ill. Perhaps it was the birth of Viagra, the little blue bill approved by the FDA in 1998 to treat erectile dysfunction. Soon after former Sen. Bob Dole, then in his early 70s, started talking about sex, it helped make the topic of sex dysfunction less taboo. In 2012, there were 8 million Viagra prescriptions written with total sales of about $2 billion, according to CNN.
Or perhaps it’s all those baby boomers – the self-absorbed “me” generation – who sparked the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s taking charge in old age and demanding more of sex now that they are in their 60s.
Krychman said men have been able to talk about sex and their body parts for decades, but society wasn’t so open-minded about women and their bodies. He sees that changing in what he calls a second sexual revolution. Boomers, especially women, are demanding to know how to maintain a healthy sex life in the face of breast and other cancers, chronic diseases and medications.
In April, women got their first-ever drug, Addyi, to treat low sexual desire in pre-menopausal women. Even though there is no specific drug, Krychman said post-menopausal women can have great sex if they only ask physicians for help.
“Sexual activity is really important in spite of chronic disease, medications and health,” he said.
In 2007, the first comprehensive survey on the sexual behaviors and problems in people age 57 to 85, the fastest growing segment of the population, was published in New England Journal of Medicine. Before then, the sex lives of older Americans weren’t researched and weren’t considered an important part of late life.
The study discovered that people are sexually active well into their 70s and 80s and think sexuality as an important part of life. Even though sexual dysfunction is prevalent, the survey said sex problems are infrequently discussed with physicians.
Krychman is glad that’s changing and people are realizing sex is an important life-long desire and sometimes it takes work and professional help to have great sex.
“I think it’s important to bring a dialog of sexual health into the forefront,” he said. “It’s not hopeless and helpless.”
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