Medically reviewed by Leann Poston M.D. on 9/24/20
Sex is an important aspect of most adults’ lives and profoundly influences physical and emotional well-being, connection with a partner, and much more. As we age, however, physiological, mental, and other changes can decrease sexual performance and, more importantly, negatively impact sex drive. This is a cause for concern for many aging adults, yet many are too embarrassed or hesitant to bring it up with their doctors or healthcare professionals.
The good news is there are many ways to maintain and improve your sex drive (as well as sexual performance) as you age. Some of this advice is useful at pretty much any age, whereas other elements address specific considerations that occur due to the biological changes in the body that happen with aging. While there are some aspects of aging and its impact on sex drive and function that are gender-specific, most of the advice presented in our guide below is equally useful for both men and women – a byproduct of the different sex hormones and impacts aging has on male vs. female bodies.
With all of that said, let’s first take a look at the changes the body undergoes as we age, and how those changes impact sex drive.
All of the physical changes that happen to the human body as we age can play a role in decreasing sexual desire and function. Increased fatigue, decreases in energy level, decreasing mobility, changes in hormone levels, reduced skin and tissue elasticity, and similar changes all play one or more roles in sex drive and performance. The hormone level changes, in particular, are much more pronounced in women due to menopause, with estrogen levels dramatically decreasing. By contrast, testosterone levels in men tend to decrease more linearly over time. However, the net effect is similar, in that sex drive for older adults can be a fraction of what it once was.
At the same time, aging has many physical effects that can impair sexual performance, which in and of itself can decrease sex drive or a willingness to engage in sex. Decreased blood flow due to cardiac problems, blocked or clogged arteries, physical trauma or damage to critical blood vessels, blood pressure problems, and similar can all impair a man’s ability to get and maintain an erection. Likewise, women can find it more difficult to have sex due to decreased lubrication production, a thinning of the vaginal tissues, and less flexibility and resiliency to those same tissues compared to when they were younger. This can make sex more difficult and even painful in some cases.
Despite the changes that occur with age, the first step towards combating them and maintaining or improving your sex drive is overall good physical health. This means that overall good health practices benefit your sex drive and sexual performance, even if that isn’t your only or primary reason for maintaining those practices. Eating a balanced, healthy diet, maintaining an appropriate weight, staying active with exercise, maintaining mobility and flexibility, keeping your mind sharp, getting sufficient sleep, and other good health habits will naturally help ensure you maximize your health in the sexual arena as well. This sets the stage for specific actions or tips you can follow to boost your sex drive even further as you age, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
There’s some important advice to keep in mind at any age for an optimal sex drive and satisfying sexual experiences: relationships and communication are important! It doesn’t matter how young or old you are – sex is enhanced and made more enjoyable, and therefore more likely to be desired when it is part of a healthy, meaningful relationship with a partner. Caring about one another’s pleasure is part of what makes the difference. It’s also much more likely that you will have conversations and address differing sexual needs when you are in a long-term relationship. Therefore, you are more likely to respect and address sex-related changes that come with age.
Two-way communication is also key, not only during sex but with regards to sexual desire and function changes due to aging. If your partner is aware of issues you may be facing and fully understands your desire and sexual function changes, it’s much easier and more positive for you to tackle these together. Otherwise, there can be a lot of misunderstanding, resentment, misplaced anger, and hurt feelings, which can all have a deleterious effect on your relationship. The best relationships are built on trust and open communication, and that goes double for sex and sexual relationships as you age.
Even if you follow the above general advice – keeping yourself fit and active, in good physical health, and with a great, communicative, committed relationship – that won’t necessarily stop your libido from decreasing with age. While every individual is different, and some aging-related problems will require medical intervention or help, there are still many things that you can do on your own to improve your sex drive and function after age 50. The specific advice below encompasses both kinds of tips to provide a holistic approach to maintaining and improving your sex drive and function in middle age and beyond.
If you are experiencing physical problems, such as an inability to attain an erection, painful vaginal intercourse, or even physical issues that are seemingly unrelated to sexual desire or performance, then it’s important to see your doctor and address those problems. Because sexual arousal can become more difficult with age, and even minor distractions can make it disappear, pain and other physical difficulties that have nothing to do with sex can still play a role in decreasing libido and sexual performance. Often, seemingly unrelated health problems can also impact sexual desire and/or function at some level, due to associated systems (e.g., diabetes can make it more difficult for men to get an erection).
Many medications have the unwanted side effect of negatively impacting sexual desire or function. This is true for both men and women. Combinations of medications can also decrease sexual desire or function, even if that isn’t a stated side effect on the medication. They can interact with related bodily systems, nerve conduction, blood flow, and even brain chemistry. For all existing medications, do some research and talk to your doctor about potential side effects if you experience a decrease in sexual desire or function. For new medications, monitor any changes that may occur, and work with your doctor to adjust the dosage or try different medications if you experience a noticeable change in sexual desire or function after starting a new medication.
While it’s good advice at any age, it’s doubly important to go slowly, take your time, communicate, and relax before and during sex as you get older. You’ll generally need a greater amount of foreplay and build up to any more vigorous sexual activity. It will also likely take longer – sometimes substantially longer – than when you were younger. As mentioned before, communication is critical. Relaxing is also important to ensure your body is in a state where it’s easier to become aroused. A hot bath or shower prior to sex, as well as some deep breathing and meditation, can all help.
It’s almost inevitable that one partner in a relationship will have a different sex drive than the other. Likewise, your body schedules may vary, with one partner having greater desire during the morning and the other at night. It’s important to address these differences and accommodate each other in order to maintain a healthy sex life. That can be as simple as watching each other masturbate or performing oral sex on one partner or the other if sexual desire schedules are highly divergent.
The same standard sex you always had may not quite do it for you over time, and that is even more true when libido decreases. Try spicing things up – there are a nearly endless variety of adult toys available on the market today. You may also benefit from trying different, more comfortable sexual positions, as aging bodies often can become strained and pained more easily than their younger counterparts, decreasing the desire or likelihood that a partner will want a repeat performance in the future.
In addition to prescription medications for male erectile function, various supplements and products can increase libido in males and females, or one or the other. Supplements that focus on stimulating hormone levels, promoting blood flow and similar can all make a noticeable difference in your desire for sex and your ability to perform as you age.
The many changes that take place in the body with aging can decrease sexual desire and sexual function. The primary factor in decreased libido with age is the decrease in the relevant sex hormones (testosterone in males, estrogen in females) that occurs naturally as we get older. Other factors, such as accumulated health problems, especially with blood flow in males, and the changes in the female body due to menopause, can make sex drive much lower than it was during your 30s or 40s.
Everyone’s sex drive is a bit different, at any age, and a female’s response to menopause is also somewhat variable. Some women experience a rebound, often significant, in their sex drive after going through menopause. Others never regain the same level of sex drive that they had when they were younger. Regardless, medications and other interventions can help to improve sex drive as well as function.
Erections can become more difficult to achieve and maintain as men age due to decreasing sex hormones and blood flow problems. Erections rely on blood flow, and cardiac output decreases, clogged or constricted arteries, high blood pressure, and other health conditions all have a negative impact on blood blow. The quality of erections also change – with men finding that they don’t get hard as easily, and may not achieve the same overall level of hardness as when they were younger. This is normal.
A decrease in sex drive with age is a natural byproduct of the aging process, but it doesn’t need to be a death sentence for your sex life. By following good overall health advice and maintaining open communication with your partner, you can help retain and improve your sex drive. Be sure to talk to your doctor, too, if you are experiencing any aging-related sexual desire or performance issues, and consider the advice in our guide. With all of that put together, you can enjoy a healthy sexual relationship – though it may be slightly different or modified from when you were younger – throughout your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.