Many sex therapists counseling older people hesitate to label a drop in sex drive a "dysfunction" when it may well just be an ordinary part of the aging process. That's the view of Joy Davidson, PhD, a New York City–based psychologist and board member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. "Not everyone perceives an age-related sexual slowdown as a problemnor should they."
Experts advise, however, that a drop in libido at any age merits a trip to the doctor. While it's true that sex drive can slow down with age in both men and women, many older people enjoy active sex lives into their 70s and beyond. In a 1999 AARP survey, 70% of all respondents who had partners had sex at least once a month. "For people who have had very active and positive sex lives, age-related hormone changes can present a real challenge," says Davidson.
There may also be broader health implications when an older person experiences a major drop in libido. Here are some conditions you and your doctor should be on the lookout for.
- Heart disease: Sex drive changes, especially in conjunction with erectile dysfunction (ED), could be a red flag for serious medical conditions, such as a heart problem.
- Depression: Aging can change your body's levels of serotonin, which helps regulate mood.
- Prescription drugs: Take a close look at the contents of your medicine cabinet. Are you taking anything that cites sex drive problems as a side effect?
- Hormonal changes: Low libido may be a result of menopause if you're female, or in older men it may stem from hormonal changes that are sometimes called "andropause." In these cases, libido may respond to medical treatment if you choose to pursue that route.
- Erectile dysfunction: It's common in older men and experts say it can cause a lowered libido in both partners.
Whatever your age, treatments for sex drive problems are the sameranging from talk therapy to medicationsexcept for the extra option of hormone replacement. "Solutions range from taking hormone therapy and herbal remedies to keeping yourself sexually stimulated and interested through masturbation," says Davidson.
After menopause, "because of low estrogen, the vagina can become dry and actually decrease in size," says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, an ob-gyn professor at Columbia University. This is especially true if a woman is not having sex. "Usually I suggest water-based lubricants. If there's no response, I give them localized estrogen and I have them use dildos or dilators to help stretch out the vagina," says Dr. Hutcherson.