The Sex Doctors are In

Does sex get better with age?

Posted by Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT

 According to a study in the November 2008 issue of Psychological Science, marital satisfaction may improve once the kids have left the nest. In fact, many of my colleagues in the world of sex therapy attest that empty nesters tend to have more disposable income and more opportunity to enjoy quality time with their partner, including sex.

Sex therapist David Schnarch writes about the difference between a person's "genital prime" and his or her "sexual prime." For most of us, the genital prime happens during adolescence and our 20s, when the body is in its best shape, however, the mind may not be as well-developed sexually. Schnarch says that a person's sexual prime is actually well beyond what most of us think of as the hot-and-heavy sex years - more like middle age than high school.

As we age, we benefit from accepting ourselves as we are, knowing what we like, and not being afraid to ask for it.

And aging itself may not affect sex as much as those unhealthy habits that take their toll after too many years. Too much stress, too little sleep, poor eating and exercise habits, and not making the time to nurture ourselves or our relationships can be the most damaging to our sex lives. Letting our overall health fall by the wayside may be the biggest culprit in sexual health woes, so it's no surprise that many people in their 50s and 60s are more sexually fit than their younger predecessors.

One key difference between older and younger people: Sex is often slower as we age. While younger women may lubricate in as little as a few seconds, it can take older women up to several minutes to become lubricated. The same pattern applies to men and their erections. It's important for both sexes to realize that taking longer to become erect or lubricated doesn't necessarily mean a partner isn't aroused.

In fact, slower can actually be better for your sex life. When the physical markers of arousal aren't instantly obvious, it gives partners more time to play and connect with each other in bed. The behaviors we usually think of as foreplay can become the main event during sex, and give couples the opportunity to rediscover themselves and each other sexually. As men age, testosterone levels go down, while estrogen levels go up. This means that many older men are able to focus more and appreciate the tender side of sex.

For instance, if one position used to do the trick or if sex has always followed a predictable sequence, as it does in many long-term relationships, aging allows couples to shake things up. Maybe she wants to try a vibrator for better arousal (or maybe he does, too).

Or perhaps one or both people have been curious about erotic massage and other techniques, and now have a reason to introduce them into the relationship. As my colleague at Good in Bed, Dr. Gail Saltz, says, "Celebrate what improves with age: Younger men may have stronger erections, but older guys tend to have better control. You both know each other's bodies, you've perfected your bedroom technique, and you may feel less inhibited than you did in the past."

I always like to say that the mind is the biggest sexual organ. By understanding the inevitable changes that occur over the sexual life cycle, and knowing how to deal with them, you can sustain a healthy, satisfying sex life well into your golden years. Keeping a sex-positive attitude and a commitment to overall health is the way to maximize sexuality, whether you're 30 or 80.