Sex is pure pleasure, and we bet you’re smiling! However, what you read next will make you smile more. Beyond just pleasure, sex burns calories, strengthens muscles, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart ailments. It’s also associated with better sleep, a more robust immune system and relief from headaches. With so many benefits to reap, who would want to give up on the act? But once you enter your 50s, the million-dollar question arises — do things remain hot and happening?
Reema Chaudhry, a sexual wellness coach from Pune, says, “We are primarily sexual beings, and our urges don’t change even after we cross a certain age threshold.” On the flip side, Roshanara Sheikh, a 51-year-old fashion designer from Hyderabad, admits that for her, sex is not fun anymore as she experiences extreme fatigue. Sameer Chadha, a 53-year-old businessman from Delhi, has a different issue. He complains that he hates the monotony that has set in, making him not look forward to getting intimate often.
With multiple reasons and views for one pressing problem, one turns to science to uncover the truth buried beneath the perceptual debris of what impacts the sex life of people after 50 and what experts say dealing with it.
Declining libido after 50: The science angle
While many elderly couples grapple with intimacy issues due to various physical, social and psychological reasons, science has a valid explanation.
A study was conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to assess the impact of chronic diseases (CD) on the sexual function of older people. It stated that diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular or chronic respiratory diseases and some medications could reduce sexual capacity and desire. CDs could also influence sexual expressions and responses which adversely affect one’s mood and energy. They can also cause depression and grief, as well as loss of self-confidence and self-esteem in elderly adults. Adding to that, Dr Romil Mehrani, a Mumbai-based sexologist, shares that health conditions like chronic pain, arthritis, low testosterone levels in men, HIV and AIDS, multiple sclerosis (a chronic disease of the central nervous system), Parkinson’s disease, incontinence, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and thyroid imbalance also can also cramp sex life in the later years.
“Sex during menopause can be affected due to vaginal dryness and the thinning of vaginal walls, making it difficult for women to get aroused and achieve climax. This is one reason why women may avoid intimacy in the later years,” says Dr Mala Mehta, gynecologist, Taheri Clinic, Ahmedabad. She adds that to counteract dryness, medicated creams containing low-dose estrogen can be applied directly to the vagina.
Does conditioning put a dampener on sex life?
Often, girls are brought up to believe that sex is taboo” shares Rabiya Mustafa, a Mumbai-based counselor. “Most of them never get over this mental block about sex. This leads to marriages being sexless — it can also cause partners to end up having affairs to fulfill their needs.”
Could this conditioning be one of the factors behind people shying away from sex with advancing age? Tasneem Hajoori, a Surat-based counselor says with many older women, she has to advocate for an open mind regarding sexual intimacy, especially when they bring up concerns about their husbands’ interest in other women. “They share that sex doesn’t feel like the right thing to do at their age — it makes them feel guilty,” she adds.
How to improve sex drive after 50
If you’re still here and curious without assuming that your sex life is over, congratulations! Let’s explore what you may just need to give that shying libido the boost it needs.
- In an interview with American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), an interest group in the United States focusing on issues affecting those over the age of 50, Iris Krasnow, author of Sex After…: Women Share How Intimacy Changes as Life Changes and The Secret Lives of Wives, says, “The best way to stoke the fires and keep a marriage hot or at least really warm after 50 is to remember to put ‘have sex’ on your to-do list,” she said. “Busy couples with two professions and long marriages can take each other for granted and/or be too exhausted at the end of the day to even speak to each other, let alone undress each other. If you’re not talking, you’re probably not touching,” she added. “And if you’re not touching, you’re in trouble.”
- Sejal Mehta, an English diction trainer from Bangalore, says that a weekend trip always works for her and her boyfriend to enjoy great sexual intimacy. “The prospect of making love in a new place is always a turn-on for both of us,” she says.
- Dr Mehrani reminds couples to run a check on their medicines. Antidepressants, antihistamines, and medication for blood pressure, ulcers and lowering cholesterol could be interfering with their libido. He urges them to speak to their physician about tweaking doses or combinations.
- “Think out of the box,” says Shirin Guriwala, a Chennai-based psychologist. She advises couples to try different things, such as showering together, indulging in a body massage, or trying different sexual positions. “I also suggest that couples avoid viewing intimacy solely as intercourse — instead, they should focus on simpler acts, like kissing and cuddling.”
- Juhi Singh, a relationship coach from Mumbai, shares that when she works with couples in their 40s and 50s, the most glaring problem she notices is the lack of open and honest communication. Unsaid words and unexpressed feelings build up over time between couples, which can widen even a minor rift. She advises couples to talk things over, and if required, consult a professional if they are unhappy with their sexual intimacy.
- “Sex goes beyond being just a leisurely activity. It needs stamina. Hence, being fit is important. Exercising not only strengthens the muscles but also improves one’s mood, both of which are essential for great sex,” says Reshma Ghadiwala, a fitness coach from Bangalore.
- Suparna Ghosh, a 48-year-old Montessori teacher, says that she and her husband use sex toys like handcuffs to add a little spice to their sex life. “Initially I was shy about using them. But over time, I have come to believe that whatever makes us happy as a couple should always be pursued regardless of the beliefs and customs.”
But is it ok to go sexless after 50?
With all the brouhaha about accelerating the sex drive, let’s also explore the scenario when couples don’t have sex. Does that mean that only couples with an active sex life are happy?
Despite all the benefits, Juhi Singh, a relationship coach from Mumbai, points out that many couples over the age of 40 and 50 don’t have an active sex life and that is okay. She says that according to an article published by the New York Times, research has shown that about 15 percent of married couples are sexless, meaning they haven’t had sex in the past six months to a year, which she feels is fine as long as the intimacy between them hasn’t been lost.
She agrees with Iris Krasnow, who says, “Sex is a physical pleasure that is fleeting. Intimacy is soul-deep and is the ingredient that makes relationships go the distance.”
- After the age of 50, health conditions and medication can significantly hamper sexual health.
- Social conditioning could be one of the factors why people shy away from sex in their later years.
- Prioritising intimacy, maintaining open communication, exercising, changing of environment and trying new ideas help revive sex life.