If sex has become a chore you no longer feel like doing, or worse, painful, you don’t have to accept this. There are ways to address these issues.
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For many women over the age of 50, these feelings are all too common, says Margery Gass, MD, a consultant for Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health. She says as you get older — particularly after menopause — you may face an increasing number of barriers to sex, including dryness and constriction of the vagina or medical conditions such as diabetes and extra weight.
7 tips to better sex
Dr. Gass says it’s important to be proactive. She offers seven tips to help you can overcome barriers and enjoy an active sex life well into your 70s and 80s.
1. Practice, practice, practice
Sexual activity is a lot like physical fitness. If you want to stay in shape, you have to stick with it. Dr. Gass says the vagina can become narrower if you are not sexually active, so one of the most important things you can do to preserve the function of the vagina is to continue having intercourse.
2. Lubricate and moisturize
If intercourse is painful, try using a lubricant during sexual activity. If that’s not sufficient, you can add moisturizer. Dr. Gass says there’s a distinction in how those two products are used. “Lubricants are used just for the purpose of intercourse, and a moisturizer for the vagina is like a moisturizer for the skin on the rest of your body. You use it on a regular basis if you’re experiencing dryness. Some moisturizers are made for both purposes and will state that on the package.”
3. Don’t be shy
“Ask yourself if there are things going on in your life or in your relationship that keep you from wanting to have sex with your partner. Be honest with yourself.”
Some women may have trouble talking to their healthcare provider about sex. Keep in mind that problems leading to decline in sexual activity are very common. “You’re not alone in having these problems,” Dr. Gass says. “So you really should not have any second thoughts about bringing up any of these issues with your clinician.” A clinician may advise medications such as low-dose vaginal estrogen for postmenopausal women if lubricants and moisturizers are ineffective. If the estrogen does not help, continue to work with your provider to seek a reason for your discomfort.
4. No libido? Therapy may help
“Ask yourself if there are things going on in your life or in your relationship that keep you from wanting to have sex with your partner,” Dr. Gass says. “Be honest with yourself. A lack of desire is often related to relationship issues.” Dr. Gass adds that relationship roadblocks tend to affect women more than men when it comes to sex. If you cannot find solutions on your own, a therapist may be able to help you and your partner.
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5. Think your sex life could be better? Talk it through
Talking about sex is the same as talking about other challenging issues in a relationship. “It’s always better to try to communicate with the ‘I’ words rather than the ‘You’ words,” Dr. Gass says. “Try to describe your personal reaction and your personal feelings about certain situations instead of making accusations. Pick a neutral time and place and talk about a goal of making sex enjoyable for both of you.”
6. Take a walk—and do it regularly
When you gain weight as you age, it can be tough to feel attractive — or to believe that others find you attractive, even when they do. Dr. Gass acknowledges that it’s not always easy for people at midlife to lose a lot of weight. Instead, she encourages women to focus on physical activity. “If you go out and exercise, you’ll feel better about yourself even though you may not lose a lot of weight,” Dr. Gass says. What exercise does she recommend most for women over 50? Walking — at a brisk pace, if possible.
7. Try something different
Medical conditions can limit sexual activity. This is where individuals and couples can get creative. Try different sexual positions to make intercourse more comfortable, or try alternatives to intercourse such as massage, different types of lubricants and sexual toys. And don’t get discouraged if you do not agree on everything; try to find something you both accept as fun or interesting to try.
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