Sex as you get older

Your sex life might change as you get older, but that doesn't mean it has to be any less fun.  

According to a survey by Saga (an online social community for the over-50s), 65% of over-50s are sexually active, with 46% saying they have sex once a week. And 85% said that sex is less pressurised than when they were younger, proving that sex can feel better with age.

And that's not the only good news. Many postmenopausal women have quicker arousal, possibly linked to the reduced fear of pregnancy, according to the Sexual Advice Association.

Sexual desires and activity aren't static. They change throughout life for lots of reasons, such as having children, coming to terms with sexual orientation, or physical or mental illness. Growing older can also have an effect on sex, but it's important to realise that this is normal.

Know your body

"Enjoying sex as we get older means recognising how the ageing process can affect the body and working around that," says Denise Knowles, psychosexual therapist at relationship charity Relate.

"It's also about attitude. A lot of older people are reluctant to talk about sex with each other because it's something they didn't do when they were younger. But if you can talk about it, and accept your needs are changing and adapt to that, you can still have a fulfilling relationship."

New relationships

Starting a new relationship later in life can be daunting, but it can also be exciting.

Many people who have lost a long-term partner feel guilty about getting close to someone else and starting a sexual relationship. This can affect their ability to have sex. Talking about these feelings with the new partner, a therapist, or both, can help to address this.

The rise in divorce rates means that more people are single and dating. "I see social change," says Denise. "Nowadays, women in their 50s, 60s and 70s don't think of themselves as old. They're glamorous, vibrant and feel good about their bodies."

Safer sex: protecting yourself and your partner

People of all ages need to know how to protect themselves when having sex with a new partner.

In England in 2011, STI diagnoses in the over-45 age group included 4,961 people with genital warts, 3,343 with genital herpes, and more than 1,700 with gonorrhoea.

You can read all the topics listed here, or click on the links to go straight to the information you want.

Talking about using condoms
What are the symptoms of STIs?
Where can I get tested for STIs?
How do I use condoms properly?
Contraception after the menopause
Extra lubrication with condoms
Where to get condoms
What if we want to stop using condoms?

Talking about using condoms

Condoms are the only method of contraception to protect against STIs as well as pregnancy. STIs can pass between people of any age, so using a condom protects your health as well as your partner's. You can find out more about male and female condoms in Condom tips.

If you feel unsure about how to bring up the subject of using a condom, you can find some tips and suggestions in Talking to your partner about sex.

It's important to discuss safer sex with anyone you're having sex with. Infections can pass between two women and two men as well as between men and women. For more on safer sex for same-sex partners, see Lesbian sexual health and Sexual health for gay and bisexual men.

What are the symptoms of STIs?

Some people do not notice any symptoms at all. If you do notice symptoms, they can include:

  • a change in the normal discharge from the vagina
  • bleeding from the vagina after sex
  • discharge from the penis
  • sores, blisters, a rash, or irritation near the vagina, penis or anus
  • a burning feeling when passing urine

If you have any of these symptoms, or if you don't have symptoms but have had unprotected sex, see your GP or visit a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic for a check-up. Find sexual health services near you.

STIs, including herpes and gonorrhoea, can also be passed on through oral sex. Find out more about what infections you can get through oral sex.

Where can I get tested for STIs?

You can get all tests and treatments at a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. GP surgeries and some pharmacies may also provide testing for some infections. If they can't provide what you need, they will be able to give you details of the nearest service that can.

Find your nearest sexual health services.

How do I use condoms properly?

Male condoms are placed on the penis, and female condoms are placed inside the vagina. You will find instructions on the condom packet or in a leaflet inside the pack, or you can also ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Make sure you:

  • use a new condom each time you have sex
  • check the use-by date on the packet
  • use condoms that have the European EC mark, a recognised safety standard
  • don't use novelty condoms as they may not be safe

Always put the condom in place before there is any genital contact between you and your partner.

Find out more about using condoms correctly. You can also call the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123.

Contraception after the menopause

Women who are sexually active with men need to use contraception until the menopause (that is, until they haven't had a period for two years if under 50, and for one year if over 50) if they don't want to get pregnant.

Find out about the 15 different methods of contraception.

Extra lubrication with condoms

Water-based lubricants can be used with latex condoms. However, don't use oil-based lubricants, such as body lotion, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), moisturiser or lipstick, with latex condoms as these can damage the latex. You can use oil-based lubricant with polyurethane condoms.

Where to get condoms

Condoms are available free to anyone, male or female, but availability can vary in different areas.

These organisations may supply free condoms:

  • community contraception clinics (family planning clinics)
  • NHS sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
  • some GP surgeries
  • gay pubs and clubs

You can also buy condoms from:

  • pharmacies
  • supermarkets
  • petrol stations
  • vending machines in some male and female toilets
  • mail-order catalogues
  • online

If you buy condoms online, get them from a pharmacist or other legitimate dealer rather than from individuals, and always choose condoms that carry the European CE mark.

What if we want to stop using condoms?

If you and your partner get the all-clear from an STI check-up and neither of you is having sex with anyone else, then you know it is safe to stop using condoms. With any new partner, you should both get tested or use a condom each time you have sex.

Page last reviewed: 02/06/2014

Next review due: 02/06/2017


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