Dossier: Sexuality

Successful sexuality in old age

Sexologist and psychotherapist Dania Schiftan explains what you need to pay particular attention to when it comes to love and sexuality in old age and what health effects sex and love can have.

Text: Anne-Sophie Keller; photo: Wim Moelmann

Sexuality in old age is a taboo, which is also why there’s not much research on it. It is commonly assumed that hormone levels decrease along with your sex drive. Sexologist and psychotherapist Dania Schiftan disputes this claim, clearly stating that there is no age limit to sexuality. However, as we get older we may need to become more creative and willing to adapt. We can’t take sexual desire for granted like we did when we were younger.

“The big challenge – and the first step – is to accept the changes to your body, which might hurt in places it never used to and look and feel different than before.” Then it’s about exploring and rediscovering your sexuality. “People who are used to having sex in a specific way may face problems as they get older if they aren’t able to adapt their sexuality to suit their age,” says Schiftan. For example, if you’ve had sex in the missionary position for years and now have problems with your knees, you need to try out new positions. Generally speaking, it’s easier if you’ve been creative before. 

What to do if your sex drive is low?

“It’s a myth that desire always decreases with age,” says Dania Schiftan. This is evidenced by repeated incidents of STDs spreading in retirement homes, as loved-up retired couples experience just as much of a hormonal rush as young lovebirds. What may decrease is the extent to which it is powered by a huge sex drive, or libido. “Slow sex” then becomes more of a topic. “You can learn how to enjoy foreplay – even when you’re not in the mood – and appreciate a more subtle approach,” explains Schiftan. People whose sexuality strongly depends on visual triggers and who perhaps struggle with less firm bodies can learn to stimulate lust through touch and feel.

And remember: Sex in old age is a “can” not a “must”. You can also step away from sexuality and explore new avenues. The world won’t end just because you don’t feel the urge for a while! But it’s a shame if you think you’re too old for sex.

Sexuality in women over the age of 50

The menopause is an important phase in a woman’s life. The hormonal changes women experience – mood swings, hot flushes, sleep problems and vaginal dryness – pose challenges for them and their sexuality. What helps? Focus on what you, your psyche and your changing body need. There are also numerous products designed to help women through the menopause. For example, sage tea helps against excessive sweating, St. John’s wort helps regulate mood swings and lubricants moisturise the mucous membranes. Here, too, it’s about exploring what works for you: “In many women, the clitoris is often less sensitive after the menopause. So it may help to explore new erogenous zones,” says Schiftan.

Male sexuality in old age

Erectile dysfunction can be a big problem for many men: “Some men think they only want sex when their penis is totally stiff and nothing else works,” says Dania Schiftan from her experience in her therapy practice. According to a U.S. study, 52% of men between the age of 40 and 70 suffer from erectile dysfunction, explains Professor Nicolas Diehm from the Centre for Erectile Dysfunction in an interview with Sanitas. In Switzerland, this equates to around 350,000 men. Vascular disease or enlargement of the prostate are key factors in erectile dysfunction. But an unhealthy lifestyle or psychological reasons such as stress can also affect your sex drive.

Talking to a doctor can help you find a suitable method of treatment. Viagra is not the best solution in many cases and can sometimes do more harm than good due to its many side affects. What’s more, erection problems don’t have to mean the end of your sexuality. Schiftan explains: “It is possible to have sex with a softer penis.” During therapy, you learn how to increase your sensitivity or have sex in different positions. 

Sexuality among elderly people in need of care

In addition to the numerous limitations of sexuality in old age, the sexuality of people in need of care is also a complex issue. Few retirement homes include these in their care principles – even though sexuality is a basic need and would also be beneficial in old age: “Any form of sex that is practised in a safe, nurturing way is good for your health,” explains Schiftan. The hormones released during sex are good for the body and mind, while kissing activates and strengthens the immune system due to the exchange of bacteria.

Sexuality can also play an important role in a couple’s relationship in old age: “Regular intimacy creates bonds and keeps a couple together.” And, last but not least, sex can be a fabulous way of passing the time in retirement!