Stages of your sex life: How does sex change as you age?
on Nov 14, 2022
Sexpert reveals just how much life events can impact our sex lives.
We all know that as we progress from childhood to adulthood our bodies go through countless changes. Puberty hits us hard and many of us might think that once we’ve endured that part of our adolescent life we’re in the clear. But unfortunately for us, Mother Nature has other ideas.
From menstruation to menopause, to mental health issues and uncomfortable medical conditions, there are many more stages of life that we go through as we age. While you may be aware of how these events can impact your body, did you know that they can also affect your sex life?
Experiencing changes in our sex lives is totally normal as we age and develop, and there’s a whole load of factors that can throw things out of balance. So to help you better understand the ways in which your sex life can change, with the help of Ness Cooper, clinical sexologist and therapist at www.thesexconsultant.com, we’ve put together a guide to some common stages people go through and what they might mean when it comes to getting intimate.
Menstruation, mental health and more: What do they mean for your sex life?
Most women out there will know that, if you have a typical menstrual cycle, your sex drive tends to increase around your time of the month thanks to a spike in sex hormones. However, it’s important to bare in mind that this isn’t a universal rule: periods can differ from person to person, and some people will only experience minor libido fluctuations, while others could find that their sex drive goes as wild as their hormones do throughout the month.
Whether you choose to have sex on your period is entirely up to you. If you’re in the mood, there’s no reason to hold off on having some fun as long as you’re comfortable with it - period sex is totally natural, and totally healthy! In fact, it can even be a fantastic way to ease cramps and perk yourself up if you’re feeling blue. If you don’t feel up to getting frisky with your partner during your time of the month, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a little solo play instead.
Everyone who menstruates will eventually have to go through menopause, and it’s usually not a walk in the park. Unpleasant symptoms like irregular periods, hot flashes and mood swings are common in the lead-up to menopause, and it can be hard to feel sexy when your body is going through such a big change.
Despite the challenging symptoms, there’s no need to stop having sex because of menopause. Sex is a great way to boost your mood during this time, and common issues like dryness and reduced sensitivity can be easily solved with the help of a good lubricant (and maybe a vibrator or two for some extra stimulation).
Ness says: “During menopause, the body’s hormones can change a lot and affect individuals’ sex lives, from their desire, libido, satisfaction, ability to orgasm, and even how they produce vaginal lubrication. Menopause can also cause brain fog which can make some individuals less motivated to engage in sex or solo masturbation.
“Additionally, orgasms can become harder to reach during menopause due to reduced blood flow to the vulva and clitoris, using sex toys that are suction-style, and regularly recommended by psychosexual therapists may help some who struggle with clitoral erections during and after reaching the menopause.
“Communication is one of the best things when working through sexual difficulties from menopause, particularly as some symptoms can make individuals feel disconnected not only from their partner but themselves too.”
Similar to the menstrual cycle, the different stages of pregnancy can affect the body in different ways, and the experience will differ from person to person. It’s not uncommon for your sex drive to go into hiding during the first trimester, only to come back with a vengeance in trimester two – and if it does, there’s no reason not to enjoy it! Sex is usually totally safe during pregnancy. So as long as you haven’t been told to abstain by a doctor, you’re all good to go.
To help people understand how they can enjoy and adapt their sex lives throughout pregnancy, Ness says:
“Desire, arousal, orgasm and sexual satisfaction can be affected during the various stages of pregnancy and postpartum. Whilst sex is safe for many individuals during pregnancy, the worry around sex during and after pregnancy can be one of the biggest contributing factors as to why someone’s sex life may lessen during this time.
“Communication about sexual concerns has been shown to have a positive effect on increasing sexual satisfaction, enjoyment and wanting to explore both partnered sex and masturbation more.
“Sex positions that push your hips apart may be more uncomfortable, particularly during the final trimester, when joints can become laxer. Some may find positions such as cowgirl difficult due to this. Using position pillows and a pregnancy pillow between knees or thighs can help stabilise joints during different sex positions. A pillow under the lumbar spine when in positions that require being on your back may help reduce back pain.
“Some may find they may have to mix things up a bit more during pregnancy, depending on occurring conditions that happen from hormonal changes, but these can be navigated through exploring different positions, sex toys, support pillows, and communicating about your concerns with your sexual partner, and even discussing them with your midwife or healthcare provider.”
Erectile dysfunction is the medical term for struggling to get or maintain an erection, and it’s a very common problem that can make sex a struggle for people with penises. There are many possible causes for ED, including hormone imbalances, obesity, and certain diseases and medications, and it tends to be more common among older people.
Ness says: “Erections can go through various stages, and some of these can make it difficult for them to become fully hard from flaccid, and sometimes sex toys can help not only get an individual to full erection but also support them with maintaining it during sex. There are even sex toys that can be used when fully flaccid to still penetrate a partner during various sexual positions if desired.
“Talking about any concerns you have with a partner and discussing sexual fantasies and desires with them consensually may help make dealing with erectile dysfunction easier. Communication and consent can also increase the success of using sex toys to help with ED too.”
Here are three top tips for those struggling with erectile dysfunction:
“Explore lubricants that offer different sensations such as cooling lubes as these can make the penis become more sensitive to certain stimulation.
“Penis pumps can be a great ways to help increase blood flow to the penis and can be used just before sex to encourage an erection. Some individuals also just enjoy the sensations they offer too as they can be an enjoyable way to experience stimulation, particularly vibrating pumps.
“Cock rings help maintain an erection, and vibrating ones can also encourage blood flow further to the area. Although many advise to only use these for a maximum of 30 minutes a time.”
Mental health struggles
Mental health struggles are sadly common and conditions like depression and anxiety can affect more than just your mood: they may also lower your libido and make it difficult to enjoy sex like you used to.
It’s always important to get help and treatment for any kind of mental illness, whether that be through therapy or through medication. However, some forms of anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medication can have an impact on your sex life through side effects such as finding it difficult to orgasm.
“Antidepressants can affect an individual's ability to orgasm as they can affect how our body reacts to various hormones and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which are important during orgasm. This can make it harder for individuals to experience orgasm. Some antidepressants can also affect the automatic nervous system and make individuals more sensitive to the cold or heat as well as change how their body regulates other body functions.” says Ness.
“Whilst on antidepressants individuals may find they need to stay extra hydrated and use a water-based lubricant to help increase their body's ability to respond to sexual stimulation and pleasure. Some antidepressants may cause some to experience brain fog, particularly during the early stages of taking them, and this can make it harder for some to relax into sexual fantasies and think about sex or masturbation.
“Mindfulness practices around bringing awareness to how the body responds to sensations have been proven to help individuals experience greater sexual pleasure when struggling with sexual dysfunction caused by antidepressants.”
What do we wish we’d known sooner about changes to our sex lives?
If any of the information above was a surprise to you, you’re definitely not alone. Many adults aren’t aware of just how much their sex lives can be affected by things like their menstrual cycle or a bout of depression, and those who are aware usually wish they’d found out a lot sooner.
To investigate this further, we asked over 2,000 adults what they wish they’d known sooner about factors that might influence their sex lives. We discovered that the main thing participants wish they’d known sooner about their sex life is that having sex on your period is both normal and healthy (31%).
This is closely followed by people wishing they’d known that it’s normal for things such as depression to impact your ability to orgasm (28%) and that it’s normal for your sex drive to change without a significant event occurring (27%).
What the zodiacs wish they knew sooner about sex
As well as discovering the general consensus of what Americans wish they’d known about their sex lives sooner, we also took a deep dive into how this varies depending on what your star sign is.
We found that actually, there was also a general consensus between the zodiacs, with there being a top five things that they wish they knew sooner. Cancer (34%), Leo (32%), Virgo (31%), Libra (30%), Capricorn (39%) and Aquarius (31%) all wish they knew that having sex on your period is normal and healthy sooner. Taurus (30%) and Gemini (26%) both wish they knew that periods can lead to a higher sex drive.
Aries (31%) and Pisces (36%), both wish they knew that it’s normal for your sex drive to change even without a significant even occurring . Scorpios wishe they knew that it’s normal for medications to impact your sex drive (28%), and Sagittarians wish they knew that it’s normal for things such as depression to impact your ability to orgasm (40%).
Methodology & sources
Results were gathered from a survey of 2,016 US consumers (aged 16+) carried out from 09/09/2022 - 12/09/2022.
Ness Cooper - clinical sexologist and therapist at www.thesexconsultant.com