Sexuality in the Elderly:
Sexual Dysfunction and Ways of Coping
Over the last century, the life expectancy of the elderly has increased. This means that the largest growing population right now, in the United States, is persons over the age of 65 (Sex Tips for Older Adults, 2000). With this in mind, it would be helpful to talk about the personal aspects or as I like to call it, "sex lives" of the elderly. When people in our society think of the elderly, they almost never think of this population having sex or good sex for that matter. But they do! Unfortunately, the elderly encounter problems with sex as they become older and that is what I will be discussing along with way of coping with sexual dysfunction.
Sexual dysfunction can be defined as the inability to partake in or enjoy sexual relationship with one's partner as a result of underlying physical and/or psychological factors (Hoel, 1998). Physical attributions play a large part in both males and females and their ability to perform and enjoy sex. Males encounter several normal changes as they become older. A decrease in the hormone testosterone is very common amongst males with increasing age. Testosterone is beneficial because it gives a decrease in body fat, an increase in energy, including sexual energy, and an increase in lean muscle. These factors are important for physical attraction one has for another, definitely improving the outcome of sexual arousal. The size and firmness of the testicles may be reduced because of this decrease as well. The sexual response phase also changes with age. During the beginning of sex, an older man may experience a delay in his erection and when erect, the penis may not be as firm as when younger. The orgasm phase may not be as intense as before and the refractory period or the time it takes a male to regroup can take 12-24 hours or more till he can achieve another orgasm (Demeter, 1998).
There are physical changes in women as well that will affect their sexual abilities. The most common attribute is menopause. The natural processes leading up to menopause begin very early in a woman's life. The pituitary gland, a small gland at the base of the brain, signals the production of several hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause the lining of the uterus to thicken and shed throughout the course of a menstrual cycle. During childhood, estrogen and progesterone levels gradually increase to a point that allows the onset of a young woman's first menstrual cycle (Medcohealth, 2002). For reasons still unknown, estrogen levels begin to drop during the mid-30's. During the mid-40's, a woman enters a transitional stage called perimenopause, which usually lasts about four years. During this time, hormone levels begin to rise and fall, leading to irregular menstrual cycles. Monthly periods may be longer, shorter, lighter, heavier, or may not occur at all. Eventually, the amount of...