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Published: March 16, 2022

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When it came to sexual activity and our younger self, we probably were focused on birth control and finding time to enjoy sex with our partner. Now that we’re older, what’s our focus when it comes to sexual activity?

For many of us our focus is full of myths, such as - older adults don’t, can’t, shouldn’t have sex.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. People are having sex, well into their 60s, 70s and beyond,” writes HuffPost, citing a 2015 study of 7,000 English men and women in their 70s and 80s. More than half the men and about a third of the women said they were still sexually active. One-third of respondents said they had sex at least twice a month.

Here are 4 other misconceptions and myths associated with aging and sexual activity:

  • Myth 1: There's nothing you can do about normal body changes that interfere with sexual activity and enjoyment.
  • Myth 2: Sex causes heart attacks.
  • Myth 3: Sex isn't important when you get older.
  • Myth 4: Older adults don't have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases.

Myth 1: There’s nothing you can do about normal body changes that interfere with sexual activity and enjoyment.

Fact: There is help, talk to your doctor about treatment options.

As we age our body changes in many ways, and yes that can affect our sexual activity and enjoyment. But remedies are available.

According to the National Institute on Aging: “The most common sexual difficulty of older women is painful intercourse caused by vaginal dryness. Your doctor or a pharmacist can suggest over-the-counter vaginal lubricants or moisturizers to use. Water-based lubricants are helpful when needed to make sex more comfortable. Moisturizers are used on a regular basis, every 2 or 3 days. Or, your doctor might suggest a form of vaginal estrogen. If erectile dysfunction (ED) is the problem, it can often be managed and perhaps even reversed with medication or other treatments. There are pills that can help.”

Also talk to your doctor if you are experiencing adverse sexual side effects from medications treating depression, high blood pressure and other illnesses.

Myth 2: Sex causes heart attacks.

Fact: Sex is a rare trigger of heart attack or sudden death – even less than shoveling snow.

Medical experts calculate that the risk of heart attack for a 50-year-old man who exercises regularly is 1 chance in a million per hour. Tripling that risk by engaging in sexual activity boosts it to 3 in one million per hour, and only for the two-hour period during and after sexual activity. For a heart attack survivor who is getting back into shape, the absolute risk of 10 in one million per hour increases to 30 in one million per hour.

“The possibility of having a heart attack during sexual activity is exceedingly low and shouldn’t scare you away,” says Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. “As long as you’re not experiencing any symptoms, it’s not worrisome.”

You should abstain from any heavy physical exertion, including sex, until you see a doctor if you have heart disease symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea or indigestion

Myth 3: Sex isn’t important when you get older.

Fact: Sexual health and intimacy is important no matter how old you are.

Sex may be different as you age, but it can still be fulfilling and enjoyable, according to Mayo Clinic:

“To maintain a satisfying sex life, talk with your partner. Set aside time to be sensual and sexual together. When you're spending intimate time with your partner, share your thoughts about lovemaking. Help your partner understand what you want from him or her. Be honest about what you're experiencing physically and emotionally.”

Also talk to your doctor or a therapist if you and your partner need help navigating these topics.

Myth 4: Older adults don’t have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases.

Fact: Age does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, infection rates of STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – is increasing among older adults.

"We have seen a dramatic rise in STDs in the elderly due to several factors; the ability to maintain sexual function longer with pharmaceutical assistance, changes in immunity and weakening mucosal tissue, and accessibility in community living are just a few factors," explains Dr. Shannon Dowler, who put together a funny rap video for older adults entitled STDs Never Get Old.

The Truth About Sexuality and Aging

No matter our age, sexuality is a vital part of our identity and our overall health. It’s important to know the facts about, not the myths and societal misperceptions.

Get the Answers

Author Molly Kavanaugh 2020Molly Kavanaugh previously wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. We are happy to have her now writing for the Kendal at Oberlin community.

Kendal at Oberlin is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory and about 40 minutes from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning. Stay connected to our community!  Subscribe to the Kendal Connection.