As we age, we have to be proactive to reduce the effect of the aging process in all areas of our life. Many expect that a decline in sexual functioning and stamina are unavoidable aspects of aging, but this is not true. There are many people still enjoying vibrant sexual satisfaction and rich intimate connection well into the later years of their lives. The following are some of the secrets for maintaining good sexual health and stamina as we age:
Stay sexually active
We all know the adage: “use it, or lose it”. In nothing is this truer than in the area of sexuality. Research shows that those who are sexually active live longer and have less incidence of disease. (Abramov, 1976; Booth et al., 1999; Davey Smith et al., 1997; Ebrahim et al., 2002; Feldman et al., 1998; Fogari et al., 2002; Giles et al, 2003; Le et al., 1989; Leitzmann et al., 2004; Persson, 1981; Starr & Weiner, 1981).
In addition, it has been shown that those who are sexually active are able to prolong their sex life and have increased sexual satisfaction in their later years. While many women experience vaginal atrophy and a decrease in vaginal lubrication, due to hormonal changes in the aging process, it has been shown that women who continue to be sexually active after menopause are less likely to have significant vaginal atrophy, and are more likely to have sufficient vaginal lubrication. (Laan & van Lunsen, 1997; Leiblum et al., 1983; Masters & Johnson, 1966; van Lunsen & Laan, 2004). Men who continue to be sexually active as they age are more able to maintain sexual functioning because of the continued blood flow to their penile tissue which delivers the needed oxygen for healthy functioning. (Montorsi et al., 1997; Zippe et al., 2001).
A study conducted over 10 years, involving more than 3500 European and American women and men, brought to light a surprising bonus for those who remain sexually active as they age. A strong correlation was found between those who had very youthful appearances and those who were very sexually active, participating in sexual intercourse at least 3 times a week (Weeks & James, 1998). Perhaps regular sex should be a part of everyone’s anti-aging plan.
Make sure your hormone levels are in the optimum range
As we age, our bodies manufacture fewer hormones. Declining hormone levels compromise sexual desire and impair sexual performance.
If your sexual desire and functioning are starting to wane, your first step should be to have your hormone levels tested. The main hormones you’ll want measured because of their impact on sexual desire and functioning are estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA and cortisol.
When estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are produced in optimum amounts you are easily aroused and sex is a delight, so you want to make sure these hormones are in the optimum range. It is also important that you have an abundant supply of DHEA because DHEA makes estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Out-of- balance cortisol levels can negatively impact the levels and functioning of your other sex hormones.
Saliva testing is the preferred method for hormone testing because it measures the free form of your sex hormones. Blood testing will tell you the total amount of your sex hormones, but some of these hormones are bound up and not able to be used by your body. Saliva testing tells you the amount of sex hormones you actually have available to be used in your body.
You can safely and naturally replenish deteriorating hormone levels and feel like your youthful, sexy self again by replacing the hormones your body is missing with ones just like the ones it used to make. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is the safest and most effective alternative for treating hormone deficiencies.
Eat foods that fuel abundant sexuality
You can literally eat your way toward better sex by eating foods that balance estrogen levels and boost testosterone production. In her book, In the Mood Again, Genie James gives the following information about how food affects sexual functioning.
Eat foods that support estrogen balance. Estrogen balance is essential for you to feel and act sexy.
Too much estrogen (estrogen dominance) causes you to lose your libido, gain weight, and feel awful all over. Women are not the only ones who can suffer with estrogen dominance. Some men can also have their sex drive sabotaged by estrogen dominance.
Too little estrogen (estrogen deficiency) compromises sexual performance and pleasure by reducing vaginal lubrication and weakening vaginal walls resulting in painful intercourse.
The way to balance your estrogen levels is to eat more phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like substances found in some plants and plant products that have a chemical structure that facilitates rebalance of your estrogen levels. Phytoestrogens are able to discern whether your imbalance is because of estrogen dominance or because of estrogen deficiency. If you are estrogen deficient, phytoestrogens will step in and make more estrogen. If you are estrogen dominant, phytoestrogens will temporarily bind to your estrogen receptors causing a reduction in estrogen activity at a cellular level.
Foods rich in phytoestrogens are:
Soy products, including soy beans, soy milk, tofu, miso, edamame, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein.
Lignans, present in seeds (flax, pumpkin, poppy, sunflower), whole grains (rye, oats, barley, wheat), fruits (berries), and some vegetables. The richest source of lignans is flaxseed.
Cruciferous vegetables decrease the body’s load of unhealthy estrogens and reduce estrogen dominance. High intake of cruciferous vegetables offers protection against cancer. They include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, celery, cabbage, kale, radishes, turnips, parsley, mustard greens, and collards.
Citrus fruits promote detoxification of estrogen. They include oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, tangerines, and tangelos.
Insoluble fiber binds to extra estrogen in the digestive tract and eliminates it through the bowels. Sources include carrots, celery, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, seeds, whole grains, whole grain cereals, whole wheat breads, wheat bran, brown rice, and couscous.
Eat foods that boost testosterone.
Testosterone is essential for healthy sexual capacity in both men and women. The following are foods that boost declining testosterone levels:
Zinc promotes testosterone production. It also inhibits conversion of testosterone into excess estrogen. Zinc increases sperm count and motility. Sexually active men should increase their intake of zinc because frequent ejaculation can use up zinc. Zinc protects the prostate against infection (prostatitis). Food sources for zinc are liver, oysters and other mollusks, poultry, beef, shrimp, crab, seeds, nuts, whole grains, lentils, tofu, peanuts, peanut butter, milk, and yogurt. Excessive sugar uses up zinc in the body.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)
Omega-3 fatty acids increase testosterone production and decrease SHBG (sex-hormone binding globulin) a hormone that ties up testosterone so that it can’t be used. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids support your nervous system which is crucial for feeling sexual arousal. Foods high in essential fatty acids are flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, hempseeds and hempseed oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, olives, avocados, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds and sesame oil, pecans, pistachio nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, some dark leafy vegetables, soybean oil, wheat germ oil, and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna).
Vitamin A is necessary for the production of testosterone. Foods rich in vitamin A are egg yolks, liver, cod liver oil, and full-fat milk.
Eat foods that help increase your circulation
Good blood circulation is essential for sexual sensation and pleasure. Sexual arousal and orgasm are dependent on optimal blood flow to the genitals. The following are circulation-stimulating foods:
When you are sexually aroused, nitric oxide is released, which causes blood vessels to expand, facilitating engorgement of the penis and clitoris. L-arginine is the amino acid that is used to create nitric oxide. To increase your sexual sensations of pleasure add these L-arginine-rich foods to your diet: Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachio nuts, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds), oatmeal, salmon, halibut, shrimp, tuna, cod, poultry, dried beans, chickpeas, eggs, green vegetables, garlic, and dark chocolate.
Oxidants accelerate sexual aging. Antioxidant-rich foods that enhance sexual functioning include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and green leafy vegetables), citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines, tangelos, and grapefruits), tomatoes, bell peppers, beets, red grapes, and berries.
Good cholesterol foods
High levels of bad cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) can clog your arteries, increase your chances of heart attack and stroke, and decrease sexual desire and performance. High levels of good cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) on the other hand, can protect against heart attack and stroke, and promote sexual health. HDL carries cholesterol away from your arteries and delivers it to your liver, where it is removed from the body. Good food sources for HDL cholesterol are avocados, olive oil, apples, oatmeal and oat bran, cranberries and cranberry juice, fish, and fish oil (Hawkins, 2010).
Spices that enhance circulation
Cayenne (red pepper) accelerates blood flow, and ginger improves circulation. Garlic improves blood flow by preventing accumulation of plaque in the arteries.
Drink lots of Water
Drinking eight glasses of water or more will give you more energy and support hormone balance needed for optimum sexual stamina and functioning.
Avoid fast foods, foods high in saturated, refined polyunsaturated, or trans fats, and over-consumption of simple carbohydrates. Avoid over-consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
Many people believe that alcohol enhances their sexual experiences, and they drink alcohol to help them loosen up and feel less inhibited. Most people don’t realize that alcohol actually works against sexual functioning. Alcohol lowers oxytocin, which is the hormone that makes us feel bonded to our lover through touch (Crenshaw, 1996). Alcohol also reduces DHEA, negatively impacting sexual functioning and causing premature aging (Crenshaw, 1996).
Smoking and substance abuse contribute significantly to sexual dysfunction. In addition to damaging the respiratory system, smoking does considerable damage to the body’s circulatory system. Carbon monoxide fumes from cigarettes bind with hemoglobin in the blood, reducing the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity. Carbon particles also reduce red blood cell count and lead to deformation of the heart valves. These factors all combine to create cardiovascular problems that cause the arteries to harden (arteriosclerosis), reducing blood supply to peripheral regions, especially the genitals. These circulatory problems sabotage a man’s ability to achieve and maintain erections, since erections are dependent on blood flow to the penis. In addition, smoking reduces sperm counts and increases sperm mortality (Annely, 2010). Smoking also decreases a woman’s ability to feel sexual pleasure since arousal and orgasm are dependent on adequate blood flow to the genitals.
Exercise for sexual fitness
Most Americans are exercising less as they get older, not realizing the dramatic impact exercise could have on their sexual capacity.
Regular exercise increases hormones needed for sexual desire and enjoyment of sex.
A 2002 British research team studied men aged 55 to 65 and found that those who ran regularly had on average 25 percent more testosterone and 4 times more human growth hormone (HGH) than men who were healthy but didn’t run regularly (MacDougall et al., 1992). Another study showed men’s testosterone levels peaked 48 hours after lifting weights and that the harder the men trained, the more their natural levels of testosterone increased (Roberts, et al., 2007).
Exercise elevates endorphins that contribute to sex drive and sexual pleasure.
Much like a runner’s high, it has been found that the more one experiences the frequent and intense endorphin release that comes from regular exercise, the easier it is to experience sexual arousal and pleasure. Research has shown that women who exercise frequently experience arousal more quickly and are able to enjoy more intense orgasms
(The 2008 Orgasm Survey).
Exercise improves erectile function by increasing blood flow to the genitals.
A 2004 research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that 30 percent of obese men who previously had erectile dysfunction were able to sustain firm erections after two years of regular exercise (Esposito et al., 2004).
Exercise impacts sexual pleasure and frequency
A study at Bentley College in Massachusetts found that women who exercised three to four times a week engaged in sex more often and enjoyed it more than the test group who were more sedentary (Painter, 2009). A study conducted with 60 year old swimmers found that they were enjoying the same sexual frequency and satisfaction as those twenty years younger (Penhollow & Young, 2004).
Exercise influences sexual self esteem
A study done by Penhollow and Young in 2004 found that seventy-one percent of women who rated themselves as above average in sexual desirability also reported they were above average in their physical fitness.
Keep your thinking positive
Your brain is perhaps your most important sex organ. It is true that what you believe determines what you can achieve. If you think you can do something, usually you can. Conversely it’s rare that we ever achieve something we don’t believe we can do. We empower or limit ourselves based on what we think. Those people that are having great sex well into their later years expect to be able to do so. So while you’re getting your body in shape to have more sexual stamina, make sure that you are also exercising your power of positive thinking.
About Colette Malan:
Colette Malan is an individual, marital, and family psychotherapist and an