Sex at 95? Yes, It's Happening, and Yes, He'd Like More

A healthy sex life for the elderly may mean getting creative.

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Gramps may not be as spry as he used to be, but in the bedroom there's a good chance he's getting it on and wants more, according to an Australian study released yesterday. That goes for great-grandpa, too. What do you know? Elderly men still have a vigorous sex life.

It's true, but not quite in the way portrayed. Media coverage headlined the roughly one-third of the nearly 2,800 men from 75 to 95 years old in the study, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, who were found to be sexually active­. The label was generously applied; it meant having had some form of sexual contact, not necessarily culminating in intercourse, as little as one time during the past year. Even so, simple arithmetic left two-thirds of the men in the "inactive" category.

A key take-home message of the study, however, is more positive. Many older men do want and enjoy sex (about half of the sexually active men had sex twice or more a month and one in five had sex at least once a week), and of those considered sexually active, 41 percent would like more sex than they get. A number of barriers can thwart a satisfying sex life, the authors reported: partner uninterest, physical difficulties, ebbing testosterone, osteoporosis, diabetes, and drugs for depression or high blood pressure are just a few. But a little attention to the mind, the body, and the relationship can shrink them and allow an active sex life however you define it.

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Start by forgetting what sex was when you were younger. Your body has changed, and so should your expectations. "Grieve what you can't do anymore, but find some new things that are pleasant and intimacy-making to do," says Michael Bostwick, a professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic who lectures on sexuality and aging. If intercourse is difficult because of achy joints or osteoporosis—yours or your partner's—experiment, say experts. "You're going to have to be imaginative," says Bostwick. Talk to your doctor, buy a book, or surf the Web for a guide on different sex positions. If a woman is post-menopausal and has trouble lubricating because of the drop in estrogen, a topical cream might help; men struggling to produce and maintain an erection have mechanical and pharmaceutical aids available.

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Health problems can easily interfere with sex. High blood pressure can make arteries harden and narrow, restricting blood flow to the penis and making an erection difficult to achieve. But some blood-pressure medications, such as beta blockers, can also have a dwarfing effect on erections. Because of circulatory problems, diabetics have increased rates of erectile dysfunction and retrograde ejaculation, where semen enters the bladder instead of being ejaculated, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. By keeping your doctor privy to your full range and doses of medications, he can see how they're mixing and potentially affecting your sex life. To solve all of these problems, "prevention is better than cure," says Zoë Hyde, lead author of the Australian study and a researcher at the Western Australian Center for Health and Aging at the University of Western Australia. "Aging successfully starts with taking the steps to avoid chronic disease later in life." That, she adds, means exercising and eating well to maintain a healthy weight. Even staying mentally healthy has an effect on sex—people who are depressed often have very low sexual desire, and antidepressants can prevent erections in some men.

While you're making lifestyle changes, an attitude check may also be in order. In our culture, says Bostwick, a man is supposed to think, " 'I should still be a potent stud at 84.' Well, why? Who says? Or, 'I should be dissatisfied that I'm not a potent stud.' " But how much sex a man should have, at what age, and how to have it all are his decision, say experts—it's just important that sex is there, in a form that satisfies both people. "It's important for emotional bonding and for building intimacy," says Hyde. "It's good for our psychological health and relives stress, and of course, it's hopefully enjoyable."