Nobody wants to believe that their grandparents continue to crush buns well into old age. But they do! And you probably will, too: According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior conducted by sexual health researchers at Indiana University, 46 percent of men and 33 percent of women over the age of 70 still have vaginal intercourse on the regular.
Some nursing homes, like the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, have even begun implementing “sexual expression policies” to help their senior residents engage in safe, consensual sex. For residents, this program involves happy hours, private sleepovers, “Do Not Disturb” signs and even an on-site dating service.
But all this senior sex has also led to an unexpected issue: A recent report performed by the Chief Medical Officer for England found that sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses in people between the ages of 50 and 70 have risen by more than a third over the last decade. In addition to simply having loads of sex, this increase can be attributed to numerous other causes, according to eldercare expert Derrick McDaniel, who conducts a weekly educational webinar series meant to help caregivers provide better care for their senior patients. “This cohort came of age when ‘sex education’ either didn’t exist, or focused on topics other than STDs,” McDaniel explains. “If STDs were covered at all, they focused on diseases easily treated by penicillin.”
McDaniel also believes that some of these postmenopausal women (especially those lacking proper sexual education) might think that they have no need for birth control, and therefore, agree to have sex without making their partner wear a condom. McDaniel notes, too, that there are more women in nursing homes than men, which might provide leverage for older guys who prefer sex without a condom. “A shortage of male partners — who typically prefer unprotected sex — creates a supply-and-demand issue, and thus, leverage in the sexual ecosystem of nursing homes,” he explains. “This leverage is then applied to negotiate terms, which include unprotected sex.”
Finally, McDaniel says that too many people are ashamed to discuss sex among the elderly since, as mentioned earlier, many people don’t like to believe that their own grandparents continue to get down and dirty. This inevitably leads to less-informed seniors, who have sex without knowing the latest information.
Regardless, old people are having plenty of sex. This means we should talk about it, if for no other reason than that we too will almost certainly engage in senior sex someday. With the help of clinical sexologist and certified sex coach Sunny Rodgers, plus 59-year-old veteran adult film performer and sex educator Nina Hartley, we’re going to learn everything that we (maybe never, but should have) wanted to know about how sex changes as you get older.
So… do certain…“activities” become off-limits as you get older?
Rodgers: More strenuous and challenging sex positions will have to be adapted to be less physically-demanding ones. Anything that involves extended periods of standing, or positions that strain the back, will have to be avoided when you get older.
Spooning is a position for comfort, and it easily translates into a great way to have sex with little effort. Plus, when performing the side-by-side spoon position, your bodies will be aligned for easy-entry and excellent grinding. Alternatively, consider seated sex: While the male partner sits up in bed, his lover climbs on top in order to face him. This position allows for non-strenuous sex play with easy-access to tender erogenous areas, like the ears and neck.
Hartley: Orthopedic issues plague many of us. Hip-joint replacement means you can’t get into positions that you used to be able to get into, or you can’t stay in them for as long. Having neck trouble or back trouble also can cause problems.
Put simply, not every couple can do every position. It’s important, though, that every couple can find a few positions that work really well. I’ve been married for 18 years, I’m a sex worker and I swing. But when my husband and I are alone, we have about two positions that we do all of the time — mostly variations of face-to-face and doggie-style. Our bodies fit together well in a couple of ways, and we stick with that. We don’t do weird things just to do weird things.
I think also, with orthopedic issues and stamina, fewer older folk are going to be doing that hard-pounding, porno-style, pile-driving intercourse. Most women who are older don’t like that: Their bodies don’t like it, their vaginas can’t take it and they’re not 20 anymore.
Does that mean more preparation (applying lube, getting a hard-on) is necessary when you get older?
Hartley: Absolutely. Most women, as they age (and after menopause), will experience changes in their vaginal mucosa — meaning intercourse can be painful — so they’ll need extra lube and maybe extra estrogen cream, so their vaginas can help keep the cells healthy and strong.
Certainly, as men get older, erectile issues are a thing. There are pills, cock rings and injections to help treat that. It’s important, though, that people who are experiencing erectile difficulties seek supportive or therapeutic care to help them through the grief. When intercourse as we’ve always known it (and as we’ve always liked it) is no longer available, for whatever reason, there’s a grief process that must be observed, respected and honored so that we can mourn the loss of what was, and then create something new together, because we love each other — and honestly, whether your penis is hard or not, it still feels good to be near you and to touch you.
Rodgers: Additional lubrication will be needed, not only for penetrative sex but also for solo sex play. Vaginal moisturizer is an option: Replens is an insertable vaginal moisturizer that provides up to three days of moisture, and NeuEve boasts 100-percent, all-natural, food-grade ingredients in their formula.
Using lubricants that have appropriate pH levels will also become important to women as they age. That’s because age can cause hormone levels to drop, changing the healthy bacteria that are created inside the vagina. This makes vaginas more acidic as women age: A healthy, young vagina has a pH level of 3.5 to 4.5, but women over the age of 50 can have a vaginal pH level over 4.5, which can lead to increased susceptibility to yeast infections. Therefore, using lubricants that sit between 3.5 and 4.5 pH will help keep your vagina healthy — you can use pH testers to test your favorite lubricant, or you can try using plant oil-based lubricants (such as coconut oil) that won’t alter your pH levels.
Getting excited doesn’t change much as people age. As long as their largest sexual organ — the brain — remains open to the idea of stimulation, they can have a satisfying sex life well into the latest stages of their lives. Viagra, in some situations, can make a sexual experience more fulfilling. I would suggest perhaps asking for your partner’s opinion, however, before gifting them with a product like Viagra.
Does your favorite time of day to have sex change as you get older?
Hartley: I’ve always been optimal between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. — I like sex in the afternoon, and I’ve liked that since I was a young adult. But certainly, since I turned 35, I’ve wanted sex before dinner. The idea of going out to a dinner date, then making love on a full stomach at 11 at night? You’ve got to be kidding me.
People often worry that they get less attractive with age, but does anything become even sexier about sex as you get older?
Rodgers: Amazingly, the sense of urgency that frequently accompanies youthful sex dissipates and allows for incredible bonds of intimacy that can be unattainable in your youth. Because sex tends to become more mindful as we age, there’s a deeper connection — much like Tantric sex, a slow form of sex that can increase intimacy and connection between partners, which can lead to more powerful orgasms.
Hartley: Sex, for me, is much better now than it was when I was 25 or 30. Back then, I was still rather immature in some areas, and I needed to learn a few life lessons. When we get older, we stop doing certain things — we realize when something is the first step toward a place that we don’t want to be. We’re comfortable saying things like, “You know what, dude, you seem like a nice person, but I can tell that this isn’t going to work, so have a nice life.” We recognize sooner what’s optimal for us, and we get out of those bad situations sooner.
Do seniors keep up with new sex trends, like sounding, pegging or ass-eating?
Hartley: Some do. Some have always been into things like BDSM and pegging, so they continue to do that as they get older. That’s not a function of age, as much as it’s a personality type. If you’re interested in sex and new things as a young person, you’re going to be interested in sex and new things as an old person.
Rodgers: Sex is universal. I find, talking to many of my clients, that they tried pegging and BDSM before they were even called pegging and BDSM! Even though we don’t want to admit it, oftentimes our own parents have tried the same types of sex that we have. As people age, they find themselves caring less and less about what other people may think and become more open to trying something new, including a new sex trend.
I’ve also found that older people are much more comfortable with their fetishes and accepting of what turns them on. It’s almost like they’ve tried a lifetime of sexual options and wish to enjoy what appeals to them most as they get older.
In a recent-ish episode of Grace and Frankie, they create senior-friendly vibrators that are easier to grip and control. Do seniors use sex toys?
Rodgers: I get questions from older people about sex, and usually, it’s about recommending a good lubricant, sex toy or toy cleaner. Sadly, a lot of older people don’t have great knowledge about sexually transmitted infections, so I find that teaching them about sex toy cleanliness and care are frequent subjects. There was one instance at a senior living facility where a good number of the women kept getting recurring sexually transmitted infections, and it was found that they were sharing their pleasure products and not following good hygiene practices with their toys.
Hartley: Adaptive technology! People who are handicapped have used that for a long time, because people whose hands don’t work so well anymore — whose grip strength is less than what it used to be, whose flexibility is less than what it used to be — do need to adapt sex toys to fit what they’re actually able to do.
Since our bodies inevitably change as we get older, does good lighting become even more important?
Rodgers: What’s most often shared with me is that, as we age, we’re less likely to judge ourselves and each other, and less likely to care about what our bodies look like. When the topic of physical insecurities has arisen with my clients, I often suggest trying blindfolds or candlelight. Oftentimes, these tactics make the person feel more comfortable about themselves, and they end up being freer with their partner sexually.
Hartley: Even when you’re young, good lighting sets the mood, right? Everyone looks better by candlelight. Everyone looks better under a pink light bulb. Not red — pink or amber. When I’m at home, because I pick quality partners, I never worry about how I look. But we keep the lightning nice and romantic, because making love is, overall, a tactile experience, and decreasing the light just helps bring the bodies closer together. Mood lighting: It’s a thing!