As we grow older many of us want to continue an active, satisfying sex life. But age can sometimes complicate things.
As we age, we 're less fertile. The less fertile, the less the sexual desire, that's just a result of evolution.
Yet for most people, the main sexual impetus is pleasure rather than fertility, with self-esteem a close second... it's good to be desired.
A third impetus is the ever present references to sex in the world around us, though these messages are less targeted at older people.
However, it’s not always the case that 'older' means less interested in sex or less sexually active than the young. For example, a 2015 study of 7000 people by the University of Manchester and NatCen Social Research* found that some enjoy regular sex (at least twice a month) well into their 80s.
Mid 40s to late 50s - sexual renewal, sexual problems
For those between their mid 40s and late 50s, physical relationships can go through a renewal.
Men of the same age range can feel more sexually confident, often assisted by medication such as Viagra and Cialis which help to overcome male impotence and erectile dysfunction. Quite often, though, their female partners at this age don’t have the same level of sexual needs as when younger.
However, it is often the case that after the menopause many women have an awakened sexual desire, free from the worries of pregnancy.
Indeed, some women whose libido increases after the menopause often get frustrated with their male partners whose energy levels decrease and whose lovemaking they find boring. This leads to strain on the relationship and is one of the reasons for the increased rate of separation and divorce within this age range.
Why sexual activity decreases
For those older than this group, increasing health problems, medical treatments that reduce the sex drive and lack of a partner, or an unwilling partner, cause a reduction in sexual activity.
As women get to their late 60s, the vagina becomes narrower and shorter, with thinner, stiffer walls that produce less lubrication making sex less pleasurable.
For men, erectile dysfunction can be caused by various medical conditions that reduce the blood flow to the penis, medications, and by stress, depression and anxiety.
Emotional problems and frustrations
After years of decline in sexual activity, partners often reach a grudging acceptance that one or both is no longer interested in sex.
This can have a negative emotional effect on an otherwise good relationship.
As it's the male partner who normally experiences stronger sexual desire into old age, it's usually the man who feels increasingly frustrated, annoyed and unloved.
Don't give up on sex
So what to do? Our advice is not to give up on sex. It should be and can be enjoyable. It is also good for you, having a protective effect on older men as regular ejaculation has a beneficial effect on the prostate gland and releases good enzymes.
For older women, being caressed, massaged and stroked gives physical and emotional pleasure, and this often leads to sexual activity, if not intercourse.
So while it is more likely to be the female who has to overcome the lack of sexual desire, the male can increase the level of physical activity in the relationship by being understanding, tolerant and willing to compromise.
Signs of more serious health problems
For men in particular, a fairly sudden reduction in sexual activity can indicate other health problems. Men and women should inform their doctor if this is the case.
Loneliness is another obvious cause of sex problems for older people, due to divorce, greatest among the over 50s, the death of a partner or the incapacity of a partner.
It is both a social and psychological problem which despite the growing number of dating websites and 'older singles events', can't be cured at the click of a mouse or an evening spent trying to be sociable with people you've never met before.
There are no easy solutions. But, people can be attractive to each other no matter what their ages, and indeed for many, maturity is appealing.
What helps the attraction is good health, self-confidence and understanding. Carry these qualities into older age and the sex problems can be avoided or delayed.
*Sexual health and wellbeing among older men and women in England, published by Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2015