5 Key Ways Sex Changes for Older Men

One thing doesn’t change, older men’s—and women’s—ability to enjoy erotic pleasure. But with age, sex changes. It becomes less like the Fourth of July, and more like Thanksgiving. However, even without exploding fireworks, the erotic flames can still burn hot and bright—if older men adjust to the changes aging brings, and if women involved with older men understand what’s happening to their lovers.

When does a man become sexually “older?” It varies, but usually between 45 and 50. A medically problematic lifestyle, for example, smoking, typically accelerates the changes, and a healthy lifestyle may postpone them, but even men in robust health with exemplary lifestyles experience age-related sexual changes. Depending on the man, the changes may develop gradually or surprisingly suddenly, like within six months.

1. Erections become iffy.

After 45 and certainly by 50, erections rise more slowly and become less firm and reliable. Sexual fantasies are no longer enough to raise one. Men need fondling, and as they grow older, often increasing amounts of more vigorous stroking. It’s disconcerting to lose firmness and suffer wilting from minor distractions—a phone ringing—but these change are normal. Unfortunately, many men mistake them for erectile dysfunction (ED) and become anxious that they’re nearing the end of the erotic ropes. This makes things worse. Anxiety constricts the arteries that carry blood into the penis, making erections even less likely.

In addition, many medical conditions impair erections, accelerate age-related sexual changes, and contribute to ED: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and lack of regular exercise.

True ED involves inability to raise an erection despite extended, vigorous masturbation. If older men can still get hard solo, they don’t have ED. They have normal (annoying, perhpas infuriating) erection changes. “Here’s my advice to older men with balky erections,” says Palo Alto, California, sex therapist Marty Klein, Ph.D, “Relax, breathe deeply, ask for the kind of touch that excites you, and instead of mourning what you’ve lost, focus on the pleasure you can still enjoy.”

Even true ED need not limit sexual pleasure, says retired Maryland anesthesiologist Ken Haslam, M.D., who teaches workshops on sex and aging, “Men don’t need erections to have orgasms. I’m 76, and I’ve had wonderful orgasms without erections from hand jobs and oral sex.”

2. Premature ejaculation (PE) may return.

PE is usually considered a young man’s problem, the result of over-excitement in young bucks starting to rut. But the landmark University of Chicago “Sex in America” study shows that many men—about one-third—report it throughout the lifespan, meaning that PE is men’s most common, most persistent sex problem. A recent scientifially rigorous survey shows that PE affects 31 percent of men in their fifties, 30 percent in their early sixties, 28 percent from 65 to 70, and 22 percent from 75 to 85.

PE has two major causes, anxiety and penis-centered sex. Anxiety makes the nervous system—including the nerves that trigger ejaculation—more excitable. Young men are often anxious about sex: Will she let me? How do I do this? The reason PE sometimes returns after 50 is that age-related erection changes make men anxious: Will I get hard? Will I stay hard? What the @#$% is happening to me?

Penis-centered sex puts more pressure on the little guy than he can handle. Our sexual culture is preoccupied with intercourse, which leads men of all ages to believe that erotic pleasure is located largely—or only—in the penis. It isn’t. Older men, in fact, all men, should embrace leisurely, playful, whole-body touching and sensual massage, which reduces anxiety and allows arousal to spread all over the body. This takes pressure off the penis and reduces risk of PE. It also pleases women, whose most common complaint about men’s lovemaking is that it’s too rushed and too genital focused.

3. Intercourse fades from the sexual menu.

Intercourse is fundamental to reproduction, but after the reproductive years, it becomes problematic. For older men, iffy erections and ED become increasingly prevalent. Meanwhile, older women, develop vaginal dryness and atrophy (thinning and inflammation of the vaginal lining), which can make intercourse uncomfortable or impossible, even with lubricant.

Older couples who remain sexual typically abandon intercourse in favor of what Haslam calls “outercourse,” whole-body massage, oral sex, and playing with sex toys. With creative outercourse, older couples can enjoy very erotic, orgasmic sex without intercourse.

If women involved with older men want to feel “filled up,” well-lubricated fingers and dildos are good alternatives.

4. Surprisingly few older men use erection drugs.

The myth is that older men pop erection pills routinely. The truth is that few have even tried them, let alone become regular users. German researchers surveyed 3,124 older men, 40 percent of whom reported erection difficulties. Ninety-six percent could name an erection drug, but only 9 percent had ever tried one. Cornell researchers surveyed 6,291 older men, half of whom complained of erection problems. How many had tried a drug? Just 7 percent. As older lovers take intercourse off the sexual menu, men no longer need erections, so they don’t need erection drugs.

5. Men’s sexual pace becomes more like women’s.

Young men become aroused more quickly than young women, and many young women complain, “He’s all finished before I even feel aroused.” But older men take longer to feel turned on. The transition to slower arousal is disconcerting for many men, but it means that the sexual discord of youth can evolve into new sexual harmony. “Compared with young lovers,” explains Richard Sprott, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward, “older couples are more sexually in synch. Couples who appreciate this can enjoy more fulfilling sex at 65 than they had at 25—even without erections and intercourse.”

Secrets of Great Sex After 40

My wife and I are about to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of our first date. We have a solid marriage, but like everyone, we’ve struggled with the changes aging brings, including those affecting our love life.

Intimacy after 40 doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The bad news is that the second half of life brings sexual changes, and changes are never easy. But here’s the good news: With simple adjustments, physical intimacy after 40, 50, 60 and beyond can feel as satisfying as ever—or even better—and deepen the love you share.

Age-related sexual changes begin between 40 and 50. These are women’s “peri-menopausal” years, when estrogen starts falling and periods become less regular. Many women also start to experience vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse uncomfortable. Fortunately, a personal lubricant is usually a quick, effective fix.

Meanwhile, between 40 and 50, most men start to experience erection changes. Erotic daydreams are no longer are enough to raise one. Men need direct genital fondling (with vigorousness increasing with age). When erections appear, they’re not as firm as they were back in men’s twenties, and minor distractions may wilt them. This is not erectile dysfunction (ED). It’s middle-age erection dissatisfaction. (ED means an inability to raise erections during sustained masturbation.) Still, to older men with erection dissatisfaction, those iffy, balky erections can be unnerving.

Upsetting as sexual changes after 40 may be, they make evolutionary sense. The biological purpose of life is to reproduce life. As women leave their reproductive years, there’s no longer an evolutionary imperative to continue reproductive sex, i.e. intercourse, so there’s no biological reason to make it comfortable through continued production of natural vaginal lubrication. Meanwhile, men can father children into old age, but until fairly recently in our species’ evolution, few men lived beyond 40 and even fewer fathered children late in life. As a result, there was no evolutionary reason to preserve reproductive function past that age. Biologically, older men who no longer father children, don’t need intercourse—or the firm erections that make it possible. But these days, as age-related sexual changes occur, most older couples keep trying to have intercourse. Lubricants and erection drugs usually help … for a while.

After 50, sexual changes continue. Intercourse may become increasingly uncomfortable for women, even with lubricants, and even with drugs, many men suffer increasingly balky erections, and some develop ED. These changes make intercourse more problematic—and for many older couples, impossible.

Unfortunately, many people believe that sex and intercourse are synonymous, that if they can’t enjoy the old in-out, sex must be over for them. That’s a shame. Retiring from being lovers makes relationships less intimate and ignores the deep human need to experience gentle, sensual touch. Other couples decide to adjust their lovemaking to accommodate age-related changes. Doing so means evolving lovemaking away from intercourse and substituting more kissing, cuddling, whole-body massage, toys, and oral sex.

Recent studies show that older couples who remain happily sexual evolve their lovemaking away from intercourse. Two studies of thousands of men over 50 show that, despite extensive advertising and media hype, only about 10 percent have even tried erection drugs, let alone become regular users. Many older men figure: If I’m not having intercourse, I don’t need erections, so why take the drugs?

Finally, men don’t need erections to have orgasms. That’s right. Even with an older, balky, or even flaccid penis, a comfortable setting, vivid erotic fantasies, and a woman’s loving—and vigorous—caresses are enough to trigger climaxes that feel as enjoyable as ever.

My wife and I not about to let aging interfere with our marital intimacy. Change is challenging, especially sexual changes. But when older couples help each other through the transition away from intercourse, they often discover a deeper, richer eroticism—and love each other even more.