The Most Common Sex Issues In Your 50s (And How To Handle Them)

Sure, sex may be different in this phase of life. But make no mistake: It can still be satisfying.

Living in an ageist culture that equates sex with youth, you may believe things fizzle out in the bedroom after you hit a certain age. But in many cases, that’s just not true.

In fact, 43% of Americans over age 50 say their sex life is “just as or more adventurous” than it was in their younger days, according to one 2019 survey. Another survey from 2021 found that 35% of people in this age group say their sex drive is higher now than when they were younger.

That said, our bodies and lives change as we age, which can result in some shifts in the bedroom, too.

“It is extremely important to note, however, that while changes in sexual feeling and function as we age are normal, problems are not, though we sometimes assume they are,” clinical sexologist and sexuality educator Lawrence Siegel told HuffPost.

As we get older, we need to establish new norms for ourselves, adjusting our expectations as time passes.

“A 55-year-old should not be trying to maintain the same level of interest or stamina as a 25-year-old,” Siegel said. “While things seem to work automatically when we’re younger, we have to provide more effort and awareness to them when we get older.”

To that end, we asked Siegel and other sex therapists which bedroom issues people commonly encounter in this phase of life and how to address them.

1. Negative Beliefs About Sexuality And Aging

Approaching sex as you age with a negative mindset can get in the way of a satisfying bedroom life.
Tetra Images via Getty Images
Approaching sex as you age with a negative mindset can get in the way of a satisfying bedroom life.

Our mindset around sex as we age has a huge impact on our sex lives. And negative beliefs in this area are a “much bigger problem than most people realize,” said psychotherapist and sex therapist Nan Wise.

“We need to debunk some of the more pernicious myths and misconceptions about our sexuality as we mature. Yes, hormonal changes can negatively impact us as our bodies adjust to the shifting sands of time, but this is greatly exacerbated by our culture’s hangups about sex in general and, even more so, about sex as people age,” Wise, author of “Why Good Sex Matters,” told HuffPost.

People in their 50s have to “get past the societal stigma that they are less sexual due to their age,” said psychologist and sex therapist Shannon Chavez. In her practice, she found that many people in this age group have better sex than when they were younger.

“They are more clear on what they want and how to express it,” she told HuffPost. “Sex in your 50s is often more connected and comfortable with less performance anxiety and sexual hangups from the past. Most people in this age group are more confident and have had experience to know what they want and can be much more assertive towards a partner.”

2. Vaginal Dryness

The drop in estrogen levels that occurs with menopause can cause vaginal dryness — which, in turn, can impact sexual functioning. It’s estimated that about half of post-menopausal women deal with this condition.

“This can lead to painful or uncomfortable sexual experiences for some, which is why all women over 50 should have a good lube on hand,” Siegel said.

Spending more time on foreplay may also be helpful. Being more aroused can increase vaginal lubrication, making sex feel more pleasurable. If vaginal penetration is too painful, other activities, such as oral sex or using sex toys, might feel more enjoyable.

It’s worth noting that many women go through menopause without “any real issues,” Siegel said, “other than a sense of liberation from the chance of getting pregnant.”

3. Erection And Ejaculation Challenges

As men age, things change in the erection department — and that’s normal.

“They will not have the same kinds of spontaneous or reflexive erections the way they used to,” Siegel said. “And they will find that they may need more and varied stimulation in order to get or maintain an erection. In addition, they may also find that their erections are not as hard or robust as they used to be.”

Having erection trouble from time to time is not unusual. But if you’re unable to develop or sustain an erection most times you try to have sex, you might be dealing with erectile dysfunction. Speak with your doctor, as this can be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Also, the volume of ejaculate and the force with which it’s released may be “significantly less” than what they’re accustomed to, Siegel said.

“While things seem to work automatically when we’re younger, we have to provide more effort and awareness to them when we get older.”

- Lawrence Siegel, clinical sexologist and sexuality educator

Men are socialized to think their sexual vitality “hinges on the unfailingly consistent performance of their penises,” said Wise, which can be “a recipe for problems as men age.”

“It is also one of the most common issues that impact erectile challenges,” she said. “Even young men experience erectile dysfunction as they become preoccupied with the state of their penises during lovemaking.”

To combat this, Siegel said the most important thing is to relieve performance pressure and change the objective of sex in the first place.

“If we approach sexual encounters with the idea that we are simply wanting to share this pleasurable experience, and if ejaculation occurs, great; if it doesn’t, it can still be sharing a great, pleasurable experience,” he said. “Our intimate and erotic experiences can be greatly increased if we look at orgasm less as a goal and more as a nice side effect of sharing pleasure.”

4. Lower Sexual Desire

Stress, physical health problems, mental health issues, medication side effects and declining hormone levels can all contribute to decreased libido.

Prevalent issues for those in their 50s include “dealing with changes in their physical body and energy levels which can lead to low desire,” Chavez said, noting that menopause and other hormonal shifts are common during this time. “The hormonal shifts not only affect physiology and sexual desire but can also impact mental health, including fatigue and changes in mood,” Chavez added.

She suggested getting a hormone panel to see how to balance your hormones and reduce unwanted symptoms.

“Most hormonal changes are very manageable with the right support,” she said.

Siegel said, “it’s perfectly normal” to have less interest in sex as we age.

“For some, hormone-replacement therapy might be appropriate,” he said.
“For others, more naturalistic things like yoga, meditation, and supplements can be helpful.”

Finding ways to reduce stress in your life can improve your libido and your overall well-being.
Marilyn Nieves via Getty Images
Finding ways to reduce stress in your life can improve your libido and your overall well-being.

Finding ways to alleviate stress may increase your desire for sex and make you happier and healthier overall. For example, Wise recommends daily breathing exercises to “access the healing power of the parasympathetic ‘restorative’ state.”

“Most of us spend most of our time in ‘fight-or-flight,’ which is when the body pumps out stress hormones that aren’t meant to be flooding us so consistently,” she said. “This perpetual state of hormonal stress erodes our sense of well-being and can put a kibosh on our sex drives, to boot.”

Take five minutes once or twice a day to do this practice. First, find a quiet spot to sit and “give yourself permission to be exactly as you are and for the moment to be exactly as it is,” Wise said. This is also known as radical acceptance.

“By giving yourself permission to start from where you are, you can loosen and soften a whole lot of the stress we accumulate when we resist what is,” she said.

Then take a long, smooth inhalation through your nose and a long soft exhalation.

“When you make your exhalation longer than the inhalation, your brilliant body shifts your nervous system into the restorative mode, your heart slows down, and your stress hormones decrease,” Wise said.

When stress crops up throughout the day, consider that your cue to slow your breathing.

“You may find that this simple practice becomes a wonderful new habit that enhances overall well-being and helps you tune into your lust for life — both in and out of the bedroom,” Wise said. ”Remember, pleasure isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity for a healthy mind and body and a life worth living!”

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