Sex and prostate cancer: keeping your sex life strong while getting older

Older man and woman embracing in greenhouse

Men who go through prostate cancer tend to be older, and also tend to have older partners. Sex in older age may be different, but it’s just as important (and can be just as enjoyable!) as when you were younger.

What happens to us sexually as we age?

Researchers at the University of Chicago studied what happens to sexuality as people age. They interviewed several thousand men and women over age 40 and found:

  • Sexual activity declines with age. However, even though sex drive for men and women can decline with age, many people continue to be sexually active into their 90s.

  • People who are sexually active tend to be healthier. Does sexual activity make people healthier? Or do healthier people have more sex? We don’t know for sure, but these things certainly seem to go together.

What kinds of sexual problems can older adults face, especially after prostate cancer?

People in middle and older age face some unique challenges when it comes to sex, especially if they’ve undergone treatment for prostate cancer.

Aging naturally leads to some changes that can impact your sexual function. It can also impact sexual desire and ability to perform. For example:

  • 37% of older men have trouble keeping an erection

  • 43% of older women have a lack of interest in sex

  • 17% of older women have pain during vaginal entry

Needing more time to get an erection as you get older

Most older men need more time to get an erection, even if they haven’t been treated for prostate cancer. If this is you, don’t worry. It’s pretty normal. What used to take only a few seconds at a younger age, now can take 10 to 15 minutes for an older man.

Older men will also need more time after sex before they can get another erection. For example, in men over 50, it can take up to 24 hours after sex to be able to have another erection.

37% of older men have trouble keeping an erection

43% of older women have a lack of interest in sex

17% of older women have pain during vaginal entry

Good sex is still possible when you’re older, even if it’s different because of age or prostate cancer (or both).

Despite the changes to your sex life as you age, many older adults still enjoy very satisfying sex lives. In fact, some would say the sex has never been better.

Why? There are a number of positive things about sex in older age:

  • You’re more sexually experienced than when you were younger.

  • You may know more about what you want sexually.

  • You may feel less self-conscious about having pleasure.

  • You may have more confidence about satisfying a partner.

So, if you have some years under your belt, remember there can be benefits to sex and intimacy that come with age.

Consider setting goals for your sex life after prostate cancer

You may find that during and after prostate cancer treatment, what you need to achieve sexual satisfaction changes. When it comes to experiencing pleasure and connection with a partner, it can help to set realistic goals that suit you both.

For example, if penetration or orgasm are important to you but also difficult or impossible, you might need to:

As you work toward your goals together, remember there are people who can support you. Talk to your doctor or healthcare team, or reach out to a sex therapist for help to increase your sex drive.