KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — Age alone is no reason to change the sexual practices you have enjoyed throughout your life, said Dr Anuradha Suberamaniam, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist.
Normal ageing bring physical changes in both men and women, which may sometime affect the ability to have and enjoy sex, she said during her presentation, “Sexual Intimacy And Ageing: Keeping It Up And Alive!”, at the 10th Malaysian Hybrid Conference on Healthy Ageing.
However, minor adjustments can be made to accommodate any physical limitations or the effects of certain illnesses or medicines.
Physical Changes That Come With Ageing
When it comes to men, a decrease is testosterone level is common, which may affect their energy, strength, muscle, fat mass, bone density, and sexual function.
“For men, significant drops in testosterone level occur after the age of 60, compared to women who experience it much earlier,” she said.
“It may take longer for a man to get an erection and their erections can be less firm.”
Men’s sexual drives are more likely to be affected by their health and their attitude about sex and intimacy than by age, maintained Dr Anuradha.
For women, most physical changes take place after menopause, and are the result of decreased estrogen levels.
“Common age for the onset of menopause in women is about 52, and they can start having decreased estrogen levels as early as age 40 or 45,” she said. “It may take longer for women to be sexually excited because of this.”
According to her, the walls of the vagina become thinner and dryer, and are more easily irritated during sexual intercourse.
Orgasms may be somewhat shorter than they used to be, and the contractions experienced during orgasm can be less intense.
“Not all women experience this problem,” she maintained. “Those who do, can experiment to find ways to enjoy sex despite these physical changes.”
Emotional Weight Of Ageing
Aside from physical discomforts, older adults may also have to contend with the emotional weight of ageing.
Some older adults don’t feel as comfortable in their ageing bodies and worry that their partners no longer find them attractive, said Dr Anuradha.
“This can cause stress and worry, which can get in the way of enjoying a fulfilling sex life. Concerns about illness, retirement and lifestyle changes can also lead to sexual difficulties.”
Touch and intimacy play important roles in stimulating and fulfilling the body’s desire for physical connection.
“Touch is a wonderful and needed sensation,” said Dr Anuradha. “It helps us feel connected with others and enhances our sexuality.”
She advised the elderly to consider getting a companion animal as caring for a pet can help meet the needs for touch. “Some studies have shown that older people who have pets to care for live longer.”
Intimacy is the capacity for a close physical or emotional connection with another person.
“Intimacy is a great protector against depression,” says Dr Anuradha, adding that it is important to have someone to turn to when in need.
“Be available to others. Just as you need people, there are people who need you too.”
Overcoming Obstacles To Sexual Pleasure
She maintained that some of the barriers that hinder enjoyment of sex can be overcome through yoga and meditation, as well as hormone therapy for post menopausal women.
A water-based vaginal lubricant, such as K-Y Jelly, can also help reduce vaginal dryness or irritation. However, Dr Anuradha cautions against using petroleum jelly.
A doctor can also prescribe a vaginal cream containing oestrogen, which will help reverse the changes in the vaginal tissues.
She noted that urinary incontinence was a problem that many older adults face, especially women. “For women, extra pressure on the belly during sex can cause loss of urine.
“This can be helped by changing positions or by emptying the bladder before or after sex. Good news is incontinence can usually be treated.”
Although some medicines may inhibit sexual response, patients are advised to consult their doctors about side effects.
“Your doctor may be able to reduce your dosage or prescribe different medications. Do not stop taking prescription medicines without talking to your doctor first.”
Those who have undergone procedures that involve changes in their physical appearance should not worry that it marks the end of sexual pleasure, said Dr Anuradha.
“Women may go through a hysterectomy, removal of the womb, or mastectomy for breast cancer, removal of the breast, or removal of the prostate for men,” she said. “All these can affect your sexuality, but it doesn’t have to.”
She advised that communicating openly about fears and expectations can bring partners closer together and help overcome barriers.
She also cautioned against drinking large amounts of alcohol as it may decrease sexual performance. “Too much alcohol can cause erection problems in men and delay orgasms in women.”
Sexuality is often a delicate balance of emotional and physical issues, said Dr Anuradha.
“How you feel may affect what you are able to do and what you want to do.”
However, she maintained that many older couples find greater satisfaction in their sex lives than they do when they were younger.
They have fewer distractions, more time and privacy, no worries about getting pregnant, and greater intimacy with a lifelong partner.
“I just want to remind you all that sexual intimacy is important for men and women as you age,” she concluded.