Older couple sitting on a bench watching the sunset.

Sexual Health Throughout Life’s Stages

September is Sexual Health Awareness Month, a good time to spotlight the different ways sexual health concerns can change as you age. At each stage of your life, it is important to be aware of the precautions you should take to protect your sexual health. Aging also brings about physical changes in both men and women that can affect sexual function. Below are some factors each age group should consider when it comes to sexual health.

College/Young Adults

One of the most important precautions to take at any age for sexual health maintenance is to practice safe sex. However, this is incredibly important for younger adults and college-aged students because this age group is at higher risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) due to a combination of behavioral, biological, and cultural reasons. Nearly half of new STDs are acquired by young adults. Adopting safe-sex practices can help protect you from becoming part of that statistic. Before entering a sexual relationship with a partner, it is incredibly important to have a conversation about STDs. It might not feel comfortable to discuss, but it’s critical to know if a potential sexual partner has an STD. Regardless of the answer, using a condom correctly every time you have sex is an important way to protect yourself from STDs.

Another necessary precaution for young adults to take is getting into the habit of regular checkups. For college students, many campuses have health centers that offer testing services for sexually transmitted diseases you can locate through your school’s website. And when you do go in for a checkup, it is incredibly important to be open and honest with your doctor. If they don’t know the truth, they won’t be able to give you the necessary care for your personal health.

Midlife

Adults at every age can enjoy a healthy sex life, but due to aging, there can be a few more complications.

One of the biggest challenges middle-aged women face related to sexual health is menopause, which is the process that happens when ovaries stop producing eggs. Before this change, a woman can experience perimenopause: the transitional period before menopause which causes hormones (such as estrogen, progesterone, and even testosterone) levels to decrease. Symptoms of perimenopause include:
• Hot flashes
• Worsened pre-menstrual symptoms
• Irregular periods
• Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing

A woman’s desire for sex can decrease with age as well. Factors that can cause this decrease in libido include not only hormone level changes, but also medications, chronic health conditions, and even body image.

Although not as pronounced as what women go through, men also experience declining hormonal levels during midlife. . With aging comes a decrease in testosterone that plagues many men in this demographic. Some symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, depression, and sexual problems might become present.

Both middle-aged men and women should speak to their doctor concerning declining hormonal levels and menopause symptoms to receive more information on treatment methods such as hormone therapy, medications, and other options.

Seniors

One big misconception with sexual health regarding the senior demographic is that there isn’t as big a need to practice safe sex. Even though there may not be any concern regarding conception, practicing safe sex is especially important for seniors, considering rising rate of STDs in this age group. With seniors re-entering the dating market again after losing a spouse to death or divorce, some might not be used to safe sex practices, but protecting yourself every time is vital to your sexual health.

Another reason the STD rate in seniors is rising is due to the lack of screening they receive during annual visits. Due to cultural stigmas, it is common for doctors to overlook the need for screening seniors. Make sure to maintain the practice of regular checkups to stay aware of your current sexual health state and talk to your doctor if you have specific concerns.

Regardless of your age, it is important to stay on top of your sexual health needs. Practicing safe sex, receiving regular checkups, and always being open in conversation with your partners are the best ways to maintain healthy practices with your sexual expression.

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