Editor's Note: This article was originally written by Harry Lodge, M.D.
If isolation is a type of emotional death, sex is the opposite, bringing with it the benefits of touch, emotional connection, love. And, not surprisingly, it's a healthy thing to do.
The Importance of Sex
Studies suggest that men live longer in direct proportion to the frequency of sex, while women live longer indirect proportion to the quality of sex. Sexuality is more important than physical sex, and if you can't have sex for some reason, snuggling works almost as well. Either way, have an intimate sensual relationship with your partner
Are You Sexually Active?
For couples where both partners remain physically active, the best predictor of an active sex life as you age is havingan active sex life in your forties and fifties. By that time, sex has already gone out of many relationships (not always to the detriment of the relationships, which can remain loving, if not passionate). But if you make it to forty with a good sex life, you are statistically set for the long haul. Sexually active older couples have sex about six times a month, a frequency that continues into their nineties! Sexually active couples live longer and their marriages are more likely to last. Sex may become somewhat different with age, but people consistently report that there is just as much pleasure in it.
Assuming you have a partner, and assuming you never lost or can reclaim your sexuality, there is one final potential barrier, which is the physical ability to have sex. Here are some of the common challenges and how they can be overcome.
· Endurance: If you can climb a flight of stairs, you can have sex. Maybe not athletic sex, but satisfying sex.
· Physical injuries: Bad hips, weak knees and sore backs pose challenges - but not insurmountable obstacles as long as there is tenderness, affection and a good sense of humor.
· Vaginal dryness: Dryness and pain during sex are obstacles, but ones your doctor can almost always help you with. Vaginal moisturizers like Replens and good lubricants like Astroglide work very well. If that's not enough, estrogen therapy, either in pill or cream form, is a good option for many women.
· Erectile dysfunction: If you just can't seem to "perform" anymore, Viagra is remarkably effective. Even though we use far more medications than we need to in this country, this is one area where they can make a real difference in your quality of life.
· Illness: Very few physical disabilities actually preclude sex in the long run, but broken bones, cancer, heart attacks and obesity all deliver antisexual messages. No one feels particularly sexy during chemo, but millions of men and women reclaim their sexuality after strokes, hip replacements, radiation and long stays in rehab hospitals.
While physical aging poses challenges, it rarely imposes barriers. A sense of humor and tenderness go an awfully long way toward keeping us sexual as we age, and so does a stubborn refusal to give up on it.
Mind Over Matter
Approach aging with a positive mind and you can keep your sexual self awake. If not, you'll give in to our culture's relentless message that youth and sex are synonymous. This is particularly true if you let yourself go (a big blow to your self image and sexuality). Besides, the decay of sedentary living creates a subtle form of physical depression that affects your libido as much as your heart and immune system. Your sexual energy ebbs, an event all too easy to see as"normal," simply because it's a common occurrence. Luckily, this particular blow against sexuality can be reversed at any age. So give your partner a sexy kiss this evening and see where your new and vibrant self takes you.