Tue, Apr 17, 2007 - Page 16 News List

A lively libido isn't only for the young

Though illness, stress, hair loss and piling on the kilos can all interfere with sexual desire as we grow older, there are plenty of strategies to awaken the two-backed beast from hibernation

By Jane E. Brody  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Here's a new word for you: obsolagnium. You may not find it in an ordinary dictionary. But if you are over 50, you may well be familiar with the concept, because it means "waning sexual desire resulting from age."

In fact, it is rarely age per se that accounts for declines in libido among those in the second half-century of life. Rather, it can be any of a dozen or more factors more common in older people that account for the changes. Many of these factors are subject to modification that can restore, if not the sexual energy of youth, at least the desire to seek and the ability to enjoy sex.

Nor is it just hormones. Addressing only the distaff half of the population, the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, in its newest work, Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause, points out: "Our sexual desire and satisfaction may be influenced by our life circumstances, including the quality of our sexual relationships, our emotional and physical health, and our values and thoughts about sexuality, as well as by the aging process and the shifting hormone levels that occur during the menopause transition."

The same, of course, is true of men. Difficult life circumstances can do much to dampen anyone's libido. Stress at work or home, looming bankruptcy, impending divorce, serious illness, depression, a history of sexual abuse and a host of medications are among the many things that can put a big crimp in your desire for sex at any age.

As people age, both physical and emotional changes occur that can influence libido. Wrinkles, hair loss, declining muscle mass and accumulation of body fat, among other age-related changes, can make men and women feel less attractive. And if you don't see yourself as attractive, your brain may respond by dampening any impulse you might have to be intimate with someone.

I have no studies to corroborate this idea, but I strongly suspect that older people who stay in shape physically, keep their brains stimulated and remain interested in a variety of activities are likely to feel more attractive and be more attractive — and thus more libidinous — than those who let themselves go to pot, as it were. I'm not suggesting that people in their 60s and 70s start dressing and acting like 20-somethings, but there are any number of age-appropriate actions that can help people see themselves — and help others see them — as sexually desirable beings.

Of course, illness, both mental and physical, can seriously disrupt a healthy libido at any age. Diseases of the adrenal, pituitary or thyroid glands can diminish sexual desire, as can depression and anxiety. Likewise, several common cancers — especially cancers of the breast, testes or prostate or the drugs used to treat them — may suppress the desire for sex.

Many commonly administered medications can interfere with sexual desire, performance or both. Among the most frequent offenders are antidepressants and antianxiety drugs, blood pressure medications and opioid pain relievers. High doses of alcohol likewise blunt desire as well as performance. Even drugs taken to curb heartburn can curb the desire for sex. In some instances, changing the dose, switching to a different drug or taking a brief drug holiday (say, for the weekend) can boost libido.

While a drug like Viagra may help a man temporarily overcome disease- or medication-induced erectile dysfunction, it does nothing to increase desire, which is essential for these potency-enhancing drugs to work.

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