It is shocking how ill prepared we are for aging. Nobody informs us of exactly what to expect with the process, so we just sit back and observe the changes as they unfold, dealing with them as best we can. Although educational books are available on many topics regarding other expected experiences, such as “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” I have yet to see “The Manual of Man,” explaining the changes we might expect to experience as time goes on. Some day I wish to author a book like that, but for the time being I will blog about what to anticipate with male sexual function as time relentlessly marches on.
“But the wheel of time turns, inexorably. True rigidity becomes a distant memory; the refractory period of sexual indifference after climax increases; the days of coming are going. Sexually speaking, men drop out by the wayside. By 65, half of all men are, to use a sporting metaphor, out of the game; as are virtually all ten years later, without resort to chemical kick-starting.”
God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis
Aging can be unkind, and Father Time does not spare your sexual function. Although erectile dysfunction (ED) is not inevitable, with each passing decade, there is an increasing likelihood. Present in some form in 40% of men by age 40 years, for each decade thereafter an additional 10% join the ED club. All aspects of sexuality decline, although libido (sexual interest and drive) suffers the least depreciation, leading to a swarm of men with eager “big heads” and apathetic “little heads,” a most frustrating combination indeed.
With aging often comes less sexual activity, and with less sexual activity often comes disuse atrophy, in which the penis actually becomes smaller. Additionally, with aging there is often weight gain, and with weight gain comes a generous fat distribution in the pubic area, which will make the penis appear shorter. With aging also comes scrotal laxity and testicles that hang down loosely, like the pendulous breasts of an older woman. Many of my older patients relate that when they sit on the toilet, their scrotum touches the toilet water. So, the penis shrinks and the testicles hang low like those of an old hound dog…Time and gravity can be cruel conspirators!
So, what can you expect of your sexual function as you age? I have broken this down by decade with the understanding that these are general trends and that you as an individual may well vary quite a bit from others in your age group, depending upon your genetics, lifestyle, luck and other factors. There are 30- year old men who have sexual issues and 80-year old men who are veritable “studs,” so age per se is not the ultimate factor.
You may wonder about the means by which I was able to craft this guide. I was able to do so through more than 25 years spent deep in the urology trenches, working the front line with thousands of patient interactions. My patients have been among my most important teachers and have given me a wealth of information that is not to be found in medical textbooks or journals, nor taught in medical school or during urology residency. Furthermore, I am a 50-something year-old man, keenly observant of the subtle changes that I have personally witnessed, but must report that I am still holding my own!
Your sexual appetite is prodigious and sex often occupies the front burners of your mind. It requires very little stimulation to achieve an erection—even the wind blowing the right way might just be enough to stimulate a rigid, gravity-defying erection, pointing proudly at the heavens. The sight of an attractive woman, the smell of her perfume, merely the thought of her can arouse you fully. You get erections even when you don’t want them…if there was only a way to bank these for later in life! You wake up in the middle of the night sporting a rigid erection. When you climax, the orgasm is intense and you are capable of ejaculating an impressive volume of semen forcefully with an arc-like trajectory, a virtual comet shooting across the horizon. When you arise in the morning from sleep, it is not just you that has arisen, but also your penis that has become erect in reflex response to your full bladder, which can make emptying your bladder quite the challenge, with the penis pointing up when you want to direct its aim down towards the toilet bowl.
It doesn’t get better than this…you are an invincible king… a professional athlete at the peak of his career! All right, maybe not invincible…you do have an Achilles heel…you may sometimes ejaculate prematurely because you are so hyper-excitable and sometimes in a new sexual situation you have performance anxiety, a mechanical failure brought on by the formidable mind-body correction, your all-powerful mind dooming the capabilities of your perfectly normal genital plumbing.
Things start to change ever so slowly, perhaps even so gradually that you barely even notice them. Your sex drive remains vigorous, but it is not quite as obsessive and all consuming as it once was. You can still get quality erections, but they may not occur as spontaneously, as frequently, or with such little provocation as they did in the past. You may require some touch stimulation to develop full rigidity. You still wake up in the middle of the night with an erection and experience “morning wood.” Ejaculations and orgasms are hardy, but you may notice some subtle differences, with your “rifle” being a little less powerful and of smaller caliber. The time it takes to achieve another erection after ejaculating increases. You are that athlete in the twilight of his career, seasoned and experienced, and the premature ejaculation of yonder years is much less frequent an occurrence.
After age 40, changes become more obvious. You are still interested in sex, but not nearly with the passion you had two decades earlier. You can usually get a pretty good quality erection, but it now often requires tactile stimulation and the rock-star rigidity of years gone by gives way to a nicely firm penis, still suitable for penetration. The gravity-defying erections don’t have quite the angle they used to. At times you may lose the erection before the sexual act is completed. You notice that orgasms have lost some of their kick and ejaculation has become a bit feebler than previous. Getting a second erection after climax is not only difficult, but also may be something that you no longer have any interest in pursuing. All in all though, you still have some game left.
Sex is still important to you and your desire is still there, but is typically diminished. Your erection can still be respectable and functional, but is not the majestic sight to behold that it once was, and touch is necessary for full arousal. Nighttime and morning erections become few and far between. The frequency of intercourse declines while the frequency of prematurely losing the erection before the sexual act is complete increases. Your orgasms are definitely different with less intensity of your climax, and at times, it feels like nothing much happened—more “firecracker” than “fireworks.” Ejaculation has become noticeably different—the volume of semen is diminished and you question why you are “drying up.” At ejaculation, the semen seems to dribble with less force and trajectory; your “high-caliber rifle” is now a “blunt-nosed handgun.” Getting a second erection after climax is difficult, and you have much more interest in going to sleep rather than pursuing a sexual encore. Sex is no longer a sport, but a recreational activity…sometimes just reserved for the weekends.
“Sexagenarian” is bit of a misleading word…this is more apt a term for the 18-30 year-old group, because your sex life doesn’t compare to theirs…they are the athletes and you the spectators. Your testosterone level has plummeted over the decades, probably accounting for your diminished desire. Erections are still obtainable with some coaxing and coercion, but they are not five star erections, more like three stars, suitable for penetration, but not the flagpole of yonder years. They are less reliable, and at times your penis suffers with attention deficit disorder, unable to focus and losing its mojo prematurely, unable to complete the task at hand. Spontaneous erections, nighttime, and early morning erections become rare occurrences. Climax is, well, not so climactic and explosive ejaculations are a matter of history. At times, you think you climaxed, but are unsure because the sensation was so un-sensational. Ejaculation may consist of a few drops of semen dribbling out of the end of the penis. Your “rifle” has now become a child’s plastic “water pistol.” Seconds?…thank you no …that is reserved for helpings on the dinner table! Sex is no longer a recreational activity, but an occasional amusement.
When asked about his sexual function, my 70-something-year-old patient replied: “Retired…and I’m really upset that I’m not even upset.”
You may still have some remaining sexual desire left in you, but it’s a far cry from the fire in your groin you had when you were a younger man. With physical coaxing, your penis can at times be prodded to rise to the occasion, like a cobra responding to the beck and call of the flute of the snake charmer. The quality of your erections has noticeably dropped, with penile fullness without that rigidity that used to make penetration such a breeze. At times, the best that you can do is to obtain a partially inflated erection that cannot penetrate, despite pushing, shoving and manipulating every which way. Spontaneous erections have gone the way of the 8-track player. Thank goodness for your discovery that even a limp penis can be stimulated to orgasm, so it is still possible for you to experience sexual intimacy and climax, although the cli-“max” is more like a cli-“min.” That child’s “water pistol”…it’s barely got any water left in the chamber.
You are now a member of a group that has an ever-increasing constituency—the ED club. Although you as an octogenarian may still be able to have sex, most of your brethren cannot; however, they remain appreciative that at least they still have their penises to use as spigots, allowing them to stand to urinate, a distinct competitive advantage over the womenfolk. (But even this plus is often compromised by the aging prostate gland, wrapped around the urinary channel like a boa constrictor, making urination a challenging chore.) Compounding the problem is that your spouse is no longer a spring chicken. Because she been post-menopausal for many years, she has a significantly reduced sex drive and vaginal dryness, making sex downright difficult, if not impossible. If you are able to have sex on your birthday and anniversary, you are doing much better than most. To quote one of my octogenarian patients in reference to his penis: “It’s like walking around with a dead fish.”
To quote the comedian George Burns: “Sex at age 90 is like trying to shoot pool with a rope.”
You are grateful to be alive and in the grand scheme of things, sex is low on the list of priorities. You can live vicariously through pleasant memories of your days of glory that are lodged deep in the recesses of your mind, as long as your memory holds out! Penis magic has gone the way of defeated phallus syndrome. So, when and if you get an erection, you never want to waste it!
Wishing you the best of health,
Andrew Siegel, M.D.
Private Gym website for pelvic floor instructional DVD and resistance training equipment