Sex is always a tricky subject, but it becomes even trickier as we age. As we get older, we tend to experience profound shifts in the way we see the world and the ways our bodies work, and all of these changes can shatter our perception of how a “normal” sex life looks and feels. To make things even more complicated, men and women (or partners with a significant age difference) will undergo different changes at different rates, which can cause relationship problems unless you can communicate clearly with your partner.

If you or your partner seem to be a little less interested in sex with every year that passes, there’s probably a good explanation related to the physical and emotional changes involved in aging. Here are a few of the most common for you to consider and use to start honest conversations about sex and aging with your partner.

  1. Too tired (really).

It’s the age-old excuse that we’ve all heard and said before: “I’m just too tired tonight.” It may sound like a flimsy reason to avoid sex, but there’s good evidence behind it. In a 2008 study about work, sleep, and sex by the Sleep Foundation, researchers found that many people who work beyond the set hours of the work week (whether at their workplace or by taking work home with them) struggle to get enough good sleep and have less interest in sex. In this study, 20% of respondents said that they “have sex less often or have lost interest in sex because they are too sleepy.” If your partner is consistently too tired to have sex, take their words at face value—the topic warrants a real conversation. If possible, cut out unnecessary time and stress caused by work first. If that’s not immediately possible, brainstorm ideas together to improve the quality of your sleep and sex at the same time, such as reserving the bedroom only for those two activities and getting on a more consistent sleep schedule.

 

  1. Changes in men’s sexual arousal

The sexual response cycle in men is highly influenced by hormonal changes that come naturally with aging. Starting in their early twenties, the amount of testosterone a man’s body produces slowly decreases, which can result in longer time required to achieve full erection, less intense orgasms, and longer time required to recharge after each sexual encounter. These changes can be frustrating and embarrassing to deal with, and they often lead to a dramatic decrease in sexual engagement. However, the effects of decreasing testosterone don’t need to be a source of shame if your partner is getting older. Instead, they can be an opportunity to relearn and rediscover different approaches to sexual pleasure. For instance, if it takes longer for your male partner to get an erection or have an orgasm, don’t treat that like an obstacle—treat it like an opportunity to enjoy longer, more thorough sexual experiences together.

 

  1. Changes in women’s sexual arousal

Just like in men, aging causes many changes to the sexual response cycle in women. According to Heidi Godman, executive editor of Harvard Health Letter, the onset of menopause can cause dramatic changes in how a woman experiences sexual pleasure. “When the ovaries stop making estrogen,” she writes, “the vaginal lining becomes thinner, there’s less vaginal elasticity, muscle tone, and lubrication, and arousal takes longer. As a result, women may experience decreased libido (a lack of interest in sex), difficulty with lubrication, pain with penetration, [and] difficulty or inability to climax.” For these issues, strategies like using high-quality lubricant and devoting plenty of time for foreplay (to ensure that she’s fully warmed up and ready for sex) can make sex much more pleasurable.

Some research suggests that a woman’s attitude toward sex during aging plays a critical role as well. Godman writes that “a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that women between the ages of 40 and 65 who place greater importance on sex are more likely to stay sexually active as they age. In other words, if it’s important to you, you’ll keep on doing it.” This is good news for women who want to maintain a strong and healthy sex life as they age—continue making physical intimacy a priority, and you improve your chances of having a fun and enjoyable sex life well into your later years.

 

  1. Changing interpersonal priorities

When people are young, sex is often very important in romantic interactions. However, aging often cools a person’s burning interest in sex and makes them more interested in other kinds of intimacy, such as the intimacy that comes from spending quality time together, trying new hobbies, or having deep conversations. This isn’t necessarily a bad change, but it is important to speak honestly and openly about this shift so that neither partner feels sexually rejected. As always, maintaining respectful, loving dialogue is key to finding a balance that will satisfy you and your partner as you enter new phases of life.

 

  1. Bored of the same old sexual habits and routines

If you’ve been having the same kind of sex for years (especially if that sex has been with the same partner), you and your partner have probably become a little desensitized to the experience. If your partner seems less interested in sex, it’s very likely that you just need to spice up the experience. Talk about one another’s sexual fantasies, research new positions to try, or even just try leaving the lights on while you get intimate. Even very small adventures outside your comfort zone can make a big difference in the bedroom, bringing back an element of excitement and unfamiliarity that can re-energize your sex life overnight.

Age can change many aspects of sexuality, but getting older doesn’t mean you have to settle for an unfulfilling or nonexistent sex life. Instead, talk openly with your partner about any changes you personally experience, don’t be afraid to do a little research, and spend time together figuring out how to overcome the obstacles and embrace the unique joys of sex in your older years.