Young men and women often find that although the physical aspects of their sexuality are strong, they have difficulty with timing and frequency of desire.
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Research has shown that the typical young male sexual cycle builds quickly and climaxes quickly, while a women’s sexual arousal tends to build more slowly. Additionally, young male sexuality tends to be more physically based, while women want more of an emotional connection during their lovemaking.
As we age, however, the relationship aspects of our sexuality often become a more important aspect of our sexual expression. As physical sexuality changes, couples can explore new ways to stimulate each other by being more intentional about creating a romantic atmosphere for lovemaking with candles, romantic music, sensual massages etc. They may wish to explore new aspects of their sexuality through erotic reading, sex toys, or videos. For couples with families, the later years provide the time and freedom to cultivate “love nests”, something that might not have been possible in a house ruled by young children, carpools, sports schedules and the many other demands of raising a family.
Being informed about the normal changes of aging and the many options for supporting our sexuality is much easier than it was a generation ago. More information is available on the Internet, in books, and from the medical community. Also, more middle-aged and older adults feel freer to discuss sexuality with their friends and learn from and support each other. Openly discussing your sexual needs and desires, particularly with your spouse or partner, becomes even more important as you age. Several physiological changes of aging can affect your sexuality, as outlined below.
The major changes that women experience during midlife are related to diminishing hormonal production. This accounts for the symptoms of perimenopause (the time when monthly periods begin to change) and menopause (after monthly periods cease) experienced by many women.
Common symptoms include:
- Lower libido and/or slowing of sexual arousal
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
- Sleep disturbances
- Emotional changes such as irritability, mood swings or depression
- Vaginal dryness and itching
- Increased sensitivity to sounds
- Dry skin
- Weight gain and/or food cravings
Men often find that it takes them longer to have an erection as they get older. They also find that their erection doesn’t last as long, and that it takes longer for them to have another erection once they climax. Men who do not know that this is normal become overly concerned, leading to even more “dysfunction” from the increased anxiety.
What can be done to compensate for these changes?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to menopause, it is important to educate yourself. Sometimes women feel like they are the only ones “going crazy”, or that they should be able to get through these things by themselves. Fortunately there is more information available to us today than there was a generation ago, and you can learn a lot from internet research, books, magazines, and open discussions with female friends.
Using a water-based lubricant during sex can usually help one of the most common sexual problems related to menopause, vaginal dryness. Additionally, hormone replacement therapy (HRT, available in pills, patches, creams or vaginal rings) can help many women decrease vaginal dryness and other menopause related symptoms. However, with the latest research showing HRT to be associated with higher risks of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, and gall bladder problems; many women are reluctant to take estrogen. You may want to explore one or more of the many alternative or complementary health care supplements now available. Talk to your doctor about the best approach for your particular symptoms and feelings.
If you feel that your low libido may be related to stress, anxiety, depression, past traumas or other emotional issues, this may be a good time to see a mental health professional. Be sure to let the person know that you are dealing with sexual issues and ascertain whether they have expertise in this area of psychotherapy. You may also find that exploring other interests and activities, like taking a dance class, learning how to meditate, or doing yoga can have a positive effect on mood and help enhance your sexuality and sensuality. Some women have found that a medical provider who specializes in female sexual dysfunctions can be helpful.
As men age, they need more direct physical stimulation to get an erection. Often taking more time during lovemaking, exploring new ways of expressing love, and not focusing on “performance” are enough to break the cycle of tension and allow men to enjoy lovemaking again. Considering lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical exercise, eating a more nutritious, well-balanced diet, stopping smoking, decreasing alcohol intake, and reducing stress can enhance sexuality.
When more frequent problems arise, or when a man is unable to get or maintain an erection, medical intervention may be helpful. Men sometimes think the problem is their fault, or have been told that the problem is psychological. We now know that over 80% of the time impotence or erectile dysfunction (ED) is caused by a physical problem.
If you are having trouble maintaining your erection, you are not alone. It is estimated that 5% of 40-year-old men and 15-25% of 65-year-old-men are experiencing erectile dysfunction. To explore solutions, it is important to not only talk openly with your partner, but also to seek help from your health care provider. A physical exam and lab tests can help pinpoint the cause of your ED, and help determine the best way to help. The now very well known drug Viagra and other similar medications are helpful to 60-75% of the men who try them. Mechanical devices and surgeries are other options to discuss with your physician.
Sometimes illnesses and the drugs used to treat them can also interfere with sexual functioning. Open discussions with your physician can lead to changes in your medical regime that can mitigate these effects.
To get the answers for commonly asked questions related to aging read Sex and Aging.
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