Many females over 80 years of age continue to be sexually active and remain satisfied with their sex lives. Older individuals experience physical and mental changes that can decrease sexual desire, but there are plenty of ways people can adapt to enjoy intimate relationships.

Sexual health and intimacy are essential throughout life, and sex plays an integral role in the lives of many older adults.

There is strong evidence that older women are sexually active, maintain active sexual relationships, and express satisfaction with their sex lives.

While various physiological changes accompanying aging may affect an older adult’s sexual desire and performance, older adults can enjoy sex. Many even have greater satisfaction than when they were younger.

This article discusses female aging and sex. It also explores the changes in sexual function in older females and ways they can address it.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Aging causes changes in the body that can have direct and indirect effects on sex. An example of this in females is a decline in sex hormones such as estrogen after menopause. This can lead to painful sex due to less vaginal lubrication.

About 85% of older adults also have at least one chronic condition, while 60% have at least two conditions. People with chronic diseases are more frequently affected by sexual dysfunctions.

However, this does not mean that older adults cannot enjoy active sex lives. A 2019 study surveyed people aged 55–75 on their sexual activity. Women in this group were less likely than men to be sexually active but just as likely to be satisfied with their sex life.

Learn more about sex and aging.

A 2022 University of Michigan Poll on Healthy Aging focused on the effect of menopausal symptoms on older women’s sex lives. In those aged between 50–80 years, they found that:

  • almost half — 43% — are sexually active
  • 62% were satisfied with their sexual activity
  • 1 in 4 had their partner’s health affect their sexual activity
  • 28% had menopausal symptoms that interfered with their ability to be sexually active

In a similar 2021 study on older adults’ sexual activity and satisfaction, 40% of older women were sexually active compared to 55% of men.

The same poll found that:

  • 31% of women report being sexually active compared to 51% of men
  • 40% of women agree that sex is important to their overall quality of life compared to 70% of men
  • only 12% of women report being extremely or very interested in sex compared to half of the men
  • more women — 43% — were likely to be extremely satisfied with their sex lives than men — 31%

A 2017 Australian study on sexual function in older women found that at least 1 in 7 aged 65–79 had hypoactive sexual desire dysfunction (HSDD). HSDD involves the presence of low sexual desire and sexually-related personal distress.

Learn more about female arousal disorder.

As people age, their bodies undergo various changes. In females, this can manifest in hormonal, physical, and mental changes affecting sexual functioning and desire.

Hormonal changes

Between 45–55 years, a person’s ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone, leading to menopause. This can cause a range of symptoms, including:

A 2019 study found age and postmenopausal status were negatively associated with lubrication, arousal, and overall sexual functioning in women over 40.

Menopausal symptoms also affect sexual health. In the 2022 poll mentioned above, 28% of women ages 50–80 years reported that their menopause symptoms interfered with their ability to be sexually active, and 48% of these had reduced sex drives.

Learn more about different types of female sexual dysfunction.

Physical changes

A decrease in estrogen production also causes an older person’s vagina to narrow and shorten while the vaginal walls become thinner and stiffer.

A loss of estrogen also muscle weakness, affecting supporting tissues in the pelvis. This may cause organs to protrude into the vagina, called a pelvic organ prolapse. Weak pelvic floor muscles can also cause urine to leak involuntarily.

Many will also experience decreased lubrication, which may lead to pain during intercourse, known as dyspareunia.

Age can also decrease the vagina’s acidity, making it prone to irritation and infection.

Mental changes

Shifts in female hormones as they age can cause mood changes. They also have an increased risk of depression as they transition to menopause.

Hormone changes may cause a person to experience the following mood changes:

Certain medical conditions and their treatment may cause or worsen issues with sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm.

A 2015 study found that poorer health in older people is associated with lower levels of sexual activity and more frequent issues with sexual functioning.

Women report it challenging to achieve sexual arousal and orgasm, while men have issues with erectile dysfunction.

Several medical conditions contribute to sexual dysfunction. These include:

Certain psychotropic drugs also increase a person’s risk of sexual dysfunction. These include antidepressants and antipsychotics.

Other health issues that can affect sex in older adults include:

  • Obesity: People who are obese or overweight women are more likely to have sexual dysfunction. Weight management can improve sexual function. A 2019 study found that bariatric surgery can improve sexual function in both genders.
  • Pain: Chronic pain is also common among aging people — approximately 60% of those with chronic pain report sexual dysfunction.
  • Cancer: Studies show that up to half of women treated with cervical cancers have sexual dysfunction during recovery and as they become survivors. Similarly, elderly survivors of endometrial or ovarian cancer had the greatest deterioration in their sexual function.
  • Depression: Sexual dysfunction is more common in females with clinical depression than those without.

Many older adults are reluctant to raise concerns about their sexual health to health professionals. At the same time, doctors want individuals to raise their issues themselves.

Talking with doctors and asking about sexual issues can help people gain insights into the possible ways to adapt to their conditions and receive proper treatment and evaluation when necessary.

There are many ways that older females can enjoy sex and find fulfillment in their 80s.

Expand the definition of sex

Sex may look different over the years, and older adults may not restrict it to intercourse. Couples can become creative and open to trying new things.

This can include:

  • touching
  • kissing
  • other intimate sexual contact, such as sensual touching and erotic massage

Couples may also explore the use of toys and different sexual positions pleasurable for both partners. Lubricants can help females who experience vaginal dryness.

Couples can also express intimacy through nonsexual touch, including:

  • cuddling
  • hugging
  • sitting beside each other
  • holding hands
  • backrubs and massages

Open communication

Honest communication about likes, dislikes, and issues can help increase intimacy and make sex more pleasurable.

Discussing individual desires, expectations, and fears with a partner regarding sex is also essential.

Talk with a healthcare professional

Underlying conditions, medications, and treatments may cause symptoms that can affect a person’s sexual function.

People should consult with a healthcare professional if they are concerned about the potential sexual side effects of their condition or medications they are taking.

Raising sexual health questions can help people become more aware of possible options to address the issues.

Older adults who are sexually active report greater enjoyment in life than those who are not sexually active.

Sex is also associated with several health benefits, including:

There is a significant rise in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This can be secondary to improved sexual function due to treatments for erectile dysfunction and low libido.

It is crucial to protect against STIs by using protection such as condoms, dental dams, or other barrier methods.

Screening for STIs is also important, especially if:

  • a person has multiple partners
  • starting a new sexual relationship
  • a person has risk factors for HIV

A person or a couple may also find it helpful to talk with a therapist or a certified sex therapist.

These professionals have special training to help older adults with sexual issues and offer support and techniques based on a person or couple’s individual needs.

People should discuss their needs with healthcare professionals who can refer them to appropriate organizations.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) also offers resources for people considering mental health support.

Learn more about online couples therapy.

Sexual activity and intimacy are essential throughout life. Many older females continue to be sexually active in their 70s and 80s.

While bodily changes and health challenges can affect how older adults perform sex, many strategies can help individuals maintain a satisfying and enjoyable sex life. This includes exploring nonpenetrative sex and using sex toys.

Older adults still risk contracting STDs. Practicing safe sex by using condoms and other barrier methods can help reduce this risk.

Talking with a doctor or therapist can help people address any conditions affecting their sexual function or offer strategies to improve their sex lives.