When we’re kids, all we want to do is grow up. But life comes at you fast, and before you know it, early adulthood makes way for middle age. When it comes to sex and relationships, you might find that your questions and concerns change from not being ready to commit to worrying that you’re “too old” for dating apps or satisfying sex.
But, according to sexuality counselor and educator Melanie Davis, Ph.D., satisfying sex and romantic relationships do indeed happen after 60, proving that our twilight years hold a unique beauty worth looking forward to. As we age, we learn more about our needs and desires around sex and intimacy, and become more comfortable in our bodies, even if you may need to expand your dating pool.
We asked Davis 20 questions about how to make the most of your sex and love life after 60.
Will you introduce yourself and the work that you do?
My name is Melanie Davis, Ph.D., and I am based in Northern New Jersey. I’m a founding partner in the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness, providing sexuality counseling and education. My associates are a sex therapist and an OB/GYN specializing in sexual medicine. I’m the author of a curriculum titled Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Older Adults
Could you tell me about your background, including falling in love with teaching?
After a 25-year career in marketing copywriting and journalism, I returned to school at 45 and earned an MEd and Ph.D. in Human Sexuality Education. I didn’t intend to teach, but four days after earning my MEd, an opportunity to teach undergrads opened up. I discovered I had a knack for it. Like every other professor, I detest grading, but I live for those moments–whether while teaching or doing training for professionals–when I can see lightbulbs going on over learners’ heads. There are also priceless moments of connection, like a student disclosing I was the first professor he felt safe coming out to as trans or the elderly man who poignantly asked, “How do I get my partner to love me again?”
How did you become interested in sexuality and aging?
I attended the first sex and aging workshop offered at a national sexology conference. The presenter, sex educator Peggy Brick, passed around a sign-up sheet for people interested in creating an organization focused on the topic. That led to a handful of sex educators and therapists starting what would become the Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University–I’ve been co-president of it since 2010. Peggy said I was too young, at 47, to understand sex and aging , but I’m 62 now, so I guess I’ve aged into my specialty. I have face validity, you could say.
What are most men worried about sexually as they get older?
Anecdotally, based on the men I see in my practice, they worry about not feeling desired and appreciated.
What are some of the most significant physical changes to expect?
As testosterone levels lower, men tend to lose muscle mass as well as some vigor or zest for life. They may find it harder to concentrate or sleep. If they gain weight, their penis may appear smaller because of the flesh surrounding it. Endurance may decrease if someone isn’t exercising regularly. Erection and ejaculatory changes can start as early as the mid-forties, with more time and direct stimulation needed to get hard, hard-ons being less firm, and erections waxing and waning during sexual interludes.
Are ED meds such as Cialis or Viagra right for everyone?
The answer isn’t necessarily Cialis or Viagra. More often, the solution is to accept normal changes and work with them once you and your healthcare provider have checked for any medical issues. Your erection goes soft? Focus on pleasing a partner in other ways than penetration. If you can’t become erect at all, ask your partner whether they might welcome you manipulating a dildo inside them.
We hear a lot about menopause in women, but what happens to men hormonally?
Just as perimenopause can last up to 15 years for women, hormonal changes in men happen over time, starting around age 40. Typical changes include decreased muscle mass and general strength and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Some men discover they have a less spontaneous desire for sex, and they often experience changes in their erections. In addition, some men experience changes in their sleep patterns, anemia, and weight gain. Even though most of these are normal, it’s wise to talk to a healthcare provider about any changes you notice since some changes are indicators of diabetes, cardiac issues, and chronic illness, while others may be side effects from prescription medications.
What can younger men do preventatively to stay sexually active and healthy as they age, such as prostate cancer screening?
Maintaining general fitness and eating habits that protect against obesity, diabetes, and heart disease can help. The healthier the blood flow is to your penis, the healthier your erections will be. But also, mindset and relationships are important. If you’re unhappy or physically uncomfortable, you’re less likely to have a satisfying sexual life.
Do you feel that men, especially older men’s emotional needs are met enough?
In patriarchal societies, people aren’t supported in having emotional needs. “Never let them see you cry,” “Don’t show any weakness,” and all that. None of that changes as men age, yet they often need more emotional support as they retire and lose their professional identity or if they divorce and lose their identity as a spouse.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about sex after 60?
That it doesn’t happen, that older adults aren’t sexually attractive, that hotness requires a six-pack abdomen and a firm butt, and that all vaginas are dry and all penises are limp. The misconceptions are cruel and inaccurate.
What are some of the fears about aging that people get right?
This varies from culture to culture. In white culture, there’s often an assumption that older people aren’t sexual, but that’s not necessarily the case for other races and cultures. It is true that media images stop representing older adults as hot and desirable. It’s especially true that women become invisible as sexual beings. It is also true that bodies change, and not always in welcome ways. However, there are accommodations that can be made for that.
Society is terrified of aging, but will you talk about some changes in sex and relationships to look forward to after 60?
(See above: White people are terrified, but not all people are, so generalizations aren’t wise.) A few things to look forward to include: older adults know what we want, and many of us aren’t afraid to communicate that . We tend to be less embarrassed about our own bodies and more accepting of our partners’ bodies. We can laugh at things that might mortify younger lovers–flatulence, sagging skin, anti-snoring devices, support pillows and assistive devices, and the need to get up to pee one or more times a night. Good older lovers also focus more on sensual pleasure than on performance or orgasm so that sexual interludes can last for a long, long time!
Why are we so scared about aging? Does it all boil down to fear of death?
Aside from fears of being alone or feeling less useful to society, I believe the terror comes from realistic fears about our dreadful insurance system in the US, which can deny coverage for necessary health care, assisted living care, and medically assisted death with dignity. When my mom’s doctor refused meds that would allow her to die rather than live six more months with a painful lung condition, she refused to take meds keeping her heart pumping. She died within five days, and on each of those days, she asked, “Why is it taking so long to die? I don’t want to be alive anymore.” She, and others like her, should have the right to die when living is too painful.
Do you hear about older men finally embracing orientations, kinks, or other aspects of sexuality as they mature?
It’s never too late to be your true sexual self! There is no age limit on when you accept your own sexual identity and interests, whether you go public or not.
Does one need an erection to enjoy sex?
If you take erections and orgasm off the “must-have” list, you open the door to massage, body rubbing, making out, oral sex (fun even without an erection), role play, finger play, sex toys (for clitorises, vaginas, penises, balls, and butts), sexy talk, romance, kink, and more.
Should we broaden our definition of sex?
I often talk about the benefits of non-goal-oriented sex with older adults because it takes the pressure off. Try replacing “sexual activity” with “sensual activity,” and there are all sorts of new possibilities.
What relationship changes do men after 60 often experience?
Retirement can be a huge change in self-identity, financial freedom, and the time couples spend together. A relationship that cruised along smoothly will be disrupted once partners have nothing but time together.
How can couples navigate these changes?
It can be useful for each person to find outside interests, like volunteering, hobbies, socializing, etc., so they aren’t bumping into each other constantly or telling each other the same stories over and over again. My friend was a homemaker all her adult life but got a job at 65 once her husband retired because he wouldn’t stop advising her on the best way to cook and load the dishwasher. Some couples take separate vacations so they can return to each other with renewed desire.
Do you see long-term couples still happy and having sex after 60? Can you help ease some of the agist fears that everyone ends up alone, sad, and horny?
I know many happy couples who have sex well into their older years! The key is to adapt to the way their partners and their sexual desires are evolving. I also know couples who met each other after age 60, so it’s not impossible. Men can improve the odds of finding a partner by considering people their own age, plus or minus 10 years. So many straight older men on dating sites limit their search to women 20-30 years younger, but the qualities they say they seek are those of older women with maturity. Many wonderful women choose to be alone rather than deal with the disappointment of being ghosted or judged for their age, gray hair, or a few extra pounds. Another thing that will help men find lasting relationships is to avoid expecting sex right away. Older women often want to be appreciated for their brains and personality rather than being a release valve for a man’s sexual urges.
Is there anything that I haven’t asked about regarding sex after 60 for men that you think is crucial to the conversation?
In no particular order: Keep high-quality silicone lube on hand (Uberlube and Swiss Navy are great); get tested for sexually transmitted infections at least every six months if you or your partner have multiple partners; keep internal and external condoms and dams on hand for vaginal, anal, mouth-to-genitals, and mouth-to-ass play; visit your local or online adult toy store with a partner and ask a salesperson for recommendations; practice impeccable personal hygiene from head to toe; put a towel on the bed, so no one worries about lube, cum, or other leaks; and read books by senior sex blogger Joan Price.
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