Sex advice is often geared toward people who are having it for the first time, but it’s understandable that you might still have questions, even when you’re a sex veteran. After all, your body changes as you get older, and you’re not born knowing how to navigate all of this.
“Our bodies change over time, so it’s very normal to have questions about sex and sexual health at any age, no matter how experienced you are,” women’s health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider, tells Yahoo Life.
But figuring out your “new normal” in your sex life can be “even even more sexually satisfying once you learn how to navigate the hormonal and physical changes that occur with age,” Dr. Lauren Streicher, an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever, tells Yahoo Life.
Whether you’re in a steady relationship or are single, experts say these are important things to consider to keep your sex life—and sexual health—in top shape, no matter what your age.
Don’t shy away from lubrication
“As women get older, the ovaries make less estrogen,” Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. “That can cause [a woman] to be drier.” That’s why Minkin says that lubrication “is key” to having comfortable sex.
Lubrication is also important for lowering your risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Wider says. If you’re not well lubricated during sex, you can be vulnerable to experiencing micro-tears that can open you up to contracting an STI, she explains. “It's important to be aware of this and to use personal lubrication products,” Wider says.
Use protection with a new partner
Yes, protection is still important when you’re older. And yes, you can get pregnant, which is why birth control is still important in your late 30s and early 40s. "While pregnancy is a lot less likely after 40, it can, and does, happen,” Streicher says. She points to data published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that 45% of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. “Not surprisingly, the highest rate of unintended pregnancy is among women aged 24 and younger,” she says. “Surprisingly, the second-highest rate is among women over 40. In fact, unplanned pregnancies in women over 40 have recently increased because so many women in that group assume they are no longer fertile.”
STIs are still a risk, too, Streicher says. “You shouldn’t be lulled into safety, even if someone tells you they’re low risk because they just got a divorce or something,” she says. “Who knows who else they’ve been with?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using condoms to protect against the spread of STIS, nothing that “consistent and correct” use of latex condoms reduces the risk of contracting STIs and HIV. However, the CDC says, condoms, “cannot provide absolute protection.”
Minkin agrees that condoms are not perfect. “They don’t cover everything down there,” she says. “People can still transmit herpes with a condom, for example.” Still, she says, “they’re a good option.”
Keep up your Kegel exercises
Kegel exercises, which can help make the muscles under the uterus, bladder, and bowel stronger, can make sex more enjoyable, Wider says. “Strong pelvic floor muscles are important during sex,” she says. “Doing daily exercises can help strengthen and improve the tone of this muscle group.”
To do the exercises, Medline Plus recommends pretending you have to pee and then holding it. Relax and tighten the muscles that control urine flow—these are your Kegel exercises.
“The pelvic floor is challenged by pregnancy and age,” Minkin says. “It’s good to do these exercises any time, and it’s never too early to start.”
Take your time during sex
This is important at any age, Minkin says. “Most women need time to get things going, and many women and their partners are unaware of that,” she says. She recommends that couples start slowly and incorporate elements of touch and relaxation in foreplay, like giving a gentle massage.
Wider says patience during sex is also crucial. “Many women take longer to reach [climax] when compared with a male partner,” she says. “Giving yourself time to climax is important to sexual satisfaction.”
Get your HPV vaccine
The vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), an STI that’s linked to certain forms of cancer, is largely recommended for people under the age of 26, per the CDC. However, people up to age 45 who are not vaccinated may decide to have the vaccine to lower their risk of contracting HPV. “I advise women to get the vaccine, particularly if they’re newly single and not in a monogamous relationship,” Streicher says.
While the HPV vaccine has been tested in and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in people up to age 45, Streicher says she will sometimes give it to patients who are older than that if they’re at a higher risk of contracting HPV. If you’re unsure if you need this, she recommends talking to your doctor.
Get tested for STIs
If you have multiple sexual partners, Minkin recommends that both you and your partners get tested regularly. “There is no absolutely safe hookup,” she says. The CDC recommends that all adults up to age 64 get tested at least once for HIV, and that sexually active women with risk factors like new or multiple sex partners get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.
Have open communication with your partner
This is a big one, per Minkin. “One of the problems with satisfying sex is boredom,” she says. Minkin recommends having regular conversations with your partner about what you do and don’t like in bed. “If there’s no communication, there’s not going to be good sex,” she says. “Talking and working to liven things up is a good thing.”