Sex & Relationships

5 Myths about Sex and Aging

Pervasive urban legends linger about aging and sex, perhaps due to America’s lack of interest in its elder citizens.

Photo Credit: Kneschke

An enormous and depressingly ignorant chasm lies between anatomical fact and sexual mythology. Unfortunately, sexual urban legends persist long after people have clumsily fucked themselves out of their erotic formative years. Pervasive figments linger about aging and sex, perhaps due to America’s lack of interest in its elder citizens. Below are a handful of these mistruths.

1) Sexual Peaks.The concept of a biologically predetermined “sexual prime” is mostly made up. Just because a 19-year-old guy can jerk off four times in the span of an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episode, that feat should not be mislabeled as one’s “sexual prime” but rather a “hormonal prime.” 

Hormones hit their apex for men at 18, and mid-20s for women, but as Marc Goldstein of Cornell University's Weill Medical College told Men’s Health, "peak hormones don't mean peak sexual performance." Lisa Wade identified gendered “sexual peaks” as a cultural phenomenon, not a corporeal one, in piece for Salon last week. Wade writes:

When we teach children about reproduction....There’s almost never any discussion of girls’ sexual desires or pleasure. Often, however, there’s plenty of talk about how sex can get girls “into trouble”: pregnancy, emotional harm, sexually transmitted infections, ruined reputations and sexual assault. So, essentially, girls learn the same lesson that boys learn – sex is natural and pleasurable for boys – so watch out. It may take decades for them to understand that sex is natural and pleasurable for them too.

Since female orgasms aren’t subject to the same imperative in heterosexual hookups as male ejaculation, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it takes some women longer to discover what pleases them, or to overcome cultural double standards regarding sex. But this should not be confused as some kind of latent physical development; a woman can enjoy better and more frequent orgasms when she has figured out her body’s erogenous nuances, and feels comfortable exploring them with her partner.

And no, “cougars” are not evidence of a delayed female sexual peak. Men (and women) have always lusted after younger men and women and always will. They’ve also always fantasized about older men and women and always will.

2) Penis shelf life.There’s no reason to fear your dick will shrivel up and fall off as you ascend in years. While it’s true many older men may not be able to reload post-ejaculation every 15 minutes like an ambitious twentysomething, it doesn’t mean they won’t ever or don’t want to. Erections simply take longer to raise to full mast later on in life, but raise they do!

AARP conducted a study showing that most men over the age of 70 reported few to no issues getting and keeping it up. And should one suffer erectile dysfunction, there are products designed to combat the issue (including a little blue pill which 20 million men have tried worldwide, as of 2011), though one Cornell study showed that only 7% of men have ever tried E.D. drugs.

A coquettish glance from Britney Spears gyrating with a Burmese python, or a fleeting touch from his lab partner, could send a young man walking briskly through the halls holding a textbook over his crotch, but mature men will need more from an erection excitant. Later-in-life hard-ons will benefit from a more “hands on” approach from one's partners, a la foreplay.

3) Vaginal expiration date?Menopause is some major bullshit, but it’s not a vaginal death sentence. Many will suffer post-menopausal dryness, but like most things, practice makes perfect. Sex does not exacerbate dryness, and the more you continue to knock boots after menopause, the more blood will flow to your vagina, causing natural lubrication.

And there are a variety of lubricants available to turn a vagina into a veritable Slip ‘n Slide. The loss of estrogen also causes vaginal walls to thin and become less elastic, possibly resulting in a different (or painful) physical sensation during penetration, but moisturizers and estrogen-based creams are available for use to restore atrophic vaginal tissue and wetness. The clitoris remains as active as ever (as with men, it may require more foreplay as time goes on), and though estrogen drops, orgasms typically don’t

4) Older people getting down.Sexuality has no age cap. There’s no reason to believe you’ll find yourself wistfully daydreaming about sexual escapades of yore, absently forfeiting your hand in bridge, while your genitals collect cobwebs. AARP reports that  “85% of men and women age 60+ report having at least one sexual experience (with another person) per week.” A National Council on Aging survey reveals that, “74 percent of the men and 70 percent of the women find their sex lives more satisfying than when they were in their forties.” It may take more time, lube or creativity, but older people are still getting plenty of action.

Lidibo isn’t static; it oscillates over the years due to a number of factors. An inexplicable and significant loss of libido can likely be attributed to a health issue or medication. Studies show that staying in good health will keep you sexually active into your 80s. You can mattress mambo a few weeks following a heart attack (consult with your doctor first), and the chances of experiencing heart trouble whilst in flagrante delicto are pretty unlikely.

5) STIs.What corroborates the claim that older folks still get it on more than the alarming rise in STIs? With sexual mores evolving, divorce rates increasing, some seniors popping Viagra like it's toffee, coinciding with the propagation ofGolden Year communities and Internet dating, people are enjoying more sex at an older age than ever before, and consequently, that means STIs. Despite the cultural and medicinal shifts, aiming safe sex awareness toward retirees remains stagnant (perhaps because of the pervasive myths that linger about aging and sex?).

When one has no threat of pregnancy, and didn’t grow up being hammered over the head with safe sex awareness, it’s understandable why using prophylactics is not a part of one’s bedroom repertoire. A University of Indiana study explains that condom use is lowest for those 45 years or older. Meanwhile, in the past decade the incidence of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis has doubled for those 50 and older, and nearly doubled in new cases of HIV. The same age groups accounts for almost 25% of HIV/AIDs cases (or at least the ones reported) in America. In addition to the cultural explanations of increased risk of STIs, when vaginal tissue decreases with age, it is more vulnerable to infection. Clearly, we need a new safe-sex campaign targeting a mature audience.

April De Costa is a freelance writer living in Austin.