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True or false: a senior sex quiz

Created date

January 24th, 2012

A survey of adults ages 55 to 85 published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 35% of women and 13% of men rated sex as not at all important. Another survey by, the number one online dating community for people over 50, found that 97% of older adults believe that a sexual relationship is good for their health. So what s true and what s false about sex and seniors?

True or false: It s normal to lose interest in sex as you age.

False. There s a lot of mixed information out there with regard to whether sex drive decreases as we age, says Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C, an expert on aging and founder of Jenerations Health Education, Inc. Most research studies on the topic rely upon study participants self-reports, so you have to take that information with a grain of salt. Both biological and psychological factors affect your sexuality. Some studies show that your libido stays with you for life whether it was low or high, FitzPatrick adds. It s true that sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen decline as you age, but these changes affect everyone differently, says Mark Samuelson, M.D., medical director at Linden Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Hingham, Mass. For men, erectile dysfunction may cause them to lose confidence and interest in sex, FitzPatrick says. The big issue affecting women is vaginal dryness. Another reason heterosexual women may not want to date or have sex is simply a lack of available male partners. According to the National Institute on Aging, naturally occurring changes in body shape and size may change some people s desire for sexual relations. Having chronic health conditions doesn t help matters. If you don t feel well, you re not going to be thinking about sex, FitzPatrick says.

True or false: You can t have sex if you have certain health conditions.

False. Sexuality is not just about the sex act. It s also about romance, dating, and partnership, FitzPatrick says. It s true that there are a number of health conditions that may interfere with your libido or ability to have sex. The National Institute on Aging specifically names dementia, stroke, incontinence, diabetes, and arthritis as concerns among older adults. While health concerns may make sex more challenging, there are ways around that, she says. What about heart disease? Some studies show that your risk of a heart attack during intercourse may be associated with your overall physical fitness and usual level of activity. People with unstable heart conditions could be at risk for any activity that raises their heart rate significantly, Samuelson says. Always ask your doctor about what type of sexual relations can be safe for you, FitzPatrick advises.

True or false: If you are over 70, you still need to use protection.

True. Data show that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise among seniors, FitzPatrick says. We assume that seniors know about safe sex, but some people don t. Anyone who is not in a monogamous relationship should use condoms. Any kind of infection can be more difficult to detect and treat, especially in the presence of other health conditions, Samuelson says. Be alert for symptoms such as genital discharge or discomfort and tell your doctor about it.

True or false: If it takes too long for a man to get an erection, he should ask for medication.

False. The popularity of medications for erectile dysfunction has skyrocketed over recent years. Aging changes may mean men don t get erections as quickly as they used to, but that doesn t necessarily mean they need medication or that they have erectile dysfunction, FitzPatrick explains. Medications, particularly those for depression, may be affecting your sexual function. Talk to your doctor to see if your current regimen can be modified rather than adding another medication you may not need.

True or false: People who have sex are happier than those who don t.

True. A recent study showed that older couples who were sexually active were happier than those who weren t. But sexually active means different things for different people. Sexual health is more important to some people than others, Samuelson says. While sex may not be the same as it was when you were younger, that doesn t mean you can t be satisfied in your later years, FitzPatrick says. You and your partner can find ways to adapt.