deepening sense of enjoyment that sometimes characterizes this stage of maturation.
To read more about the relationship between health and sex, see "Healthy Sexuality:
Factors That Allow People to Stay Active as They Age."
Sexual performance can serve as a barometer of our physical and mental health. For
example, erection issues for men may be an early warning sign of high blood pressure, dia-
betes, or a decline in testosterone (Lindau et al., 2007). Females may experience vaginal
dryness, some loss of desire, decline in androgens, or high blood pressure and diabetes.
Medication for some medical conditions can also cause sexual dysfunction (Carpenter
et al., 2006). With respect to mental health, a common symptom of hormonal changes
is depression, which may also be associated with a decline in sexual desire (Laumann et
al., 2006). Previous generations of aging adults may have felt embarrassed to discuss these
issues with anyone, even with a physician, who also may not have been prepared to discuss
them. In one important study of 3,005 adults (aged 57-85), 38% of men and 22% of
women reported having discussed sex with a physician since the age of 50 (Lindau et al.,
2007). The current trend toward sexual literacy and the recognition that sexual function-
ing is a sign of good health and well-being in general affords both doctors and patients the
sense that talking about sexual functioning is healthy and vital to well-being in the second
half of life (Lindau et al., 2007).
How Sex Shapes Men and Women as They Age
Myth or Fact: "Older people do not have sexual desires, older people are not able to
make love even if they wanted to, older people are too fragile and might hurt them-
selves if they attempt to engage in sexual relations, older people are physically unat-
tractive and therefore undesirable, the whole notion of older people engaging in sex
is shameful and perverse" (Henry & McNab, 2003, p. 6 1). This is how two leading
specialists on aging have summarized the collective myth about sex and aging in the
We have seen that sexual desire is not extinguished as people age, but what about the
other notions: that sexual activity declines with age, because sex becomes more physically