Does the penis ever get bored? | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 05.10.2017
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Does the penis ever get bored?

It gets harder and harder for men to get hard as they age. Sorry, but it's true. Is it just that they're bored of sex or are there biological reasons for a lower sex drive?

Sex education is an odd thing in the UK, as you may well expect. At least it was when I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s. "No, sex, please, we're British!" and all that caricatured nonsense. I remember someone came to my school at some point and said something. It was clearly a bit vague or I'd remember more.

At home, my father thought I should be out there, having a go with anything in a skirt, while my mother countered with a simple: "I don't want to be a grandmother!" almost every time I left the house. She needn't have feared, though, because I had been schooled in sex by an American rapper. Honest. It's true. The most instructive advice I ever got on the wily ways of my penis was from Kool Moe Dee and two lines from his song "Go See the Doctor."

"If I see another girl and I get an erection,

I'm walking in the other direction …"

It was a song about sexually transmitted infections, safe sex, and wearing protection. With the growing AIDS epidemic on everyone's mind, or thereabouts, it was timely, albeit a little sexist, advice. I stuck to it for years.

Sexualkundeunterricht (picture-alliance/dpa)

Sex education in 1980s England ... a bit on the vague side

But now as I grow older I'm beginning to wonder how long I'll even have a say in the matter. I mean, does the penis ever get bored? Not bored of partners but more fundamentally of sex as a thing. And if it does, is that boredom only ever one-way?

Read more: Love, sex and romance going strong in Germany, new book says

Hefner's harem

It was Hugh Hefner's passing that triggered it. I wondered, was this 91-year-old, living with a plethora of Playboy bunnies active to the end, or were his most intimate bunnies more like nurses to an aging legend, patting him gently with a "there, there," while wiping dribble from his chin? "Now don't forget your greens, Hef. Open wide!"

Men in their 90s do still have sex and not all of them rely on stimulants, such as Viagra (Sildenfil) or Cialis. Erectile dysfunction drugs are technically known as inhibitors, rather than stimulants - as it's their job to stop an enzyme called phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) working too quickly.

Hugh Hefner Gründer Playboy Magazin Bunnies (picture alliance / Globe-ZUMA)

Hugh Hefner, playboy in every sense of the word, with his harem of bunnies in 1983

But even men "juicing" their libidos with pills like these have to be interested enough to get aroused in the first place, or the pills won't work, and no matter how busty the bunny, they will be lumbered with a limp member.

Waking hard

A good sign of a healthy penis is whether you wake up with an erection. That's what doctors say anyway. It may be uncomfortable, but it means you've slept well, you're free of stress and happy. 

But what if you are truly bored of sex, bored of all the humping, grinding and groaning, the bad breath and false teeth, and the pretending you'd rather do this in that way than watch the footie, or, I don't know, clip your toe nails?

Don't laugh: it can happen.

A study published in 2017 by BMJ Open reported that 15 percent of men and 34 percent of women among the participants had experienced "a lacking interest in sex." This was based on a survey of 4839 men and 6669 women, aged between 16 and 74, in opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.    

Now, the numbers are not all as straight forward as that. There are various reasons why people lose or lack interest in sex, and not all of them are about age, but they are similar for men and women.

For instance, if you've experienced what the researchers call "non-volitional sex" or if you've had a sexually transmitted infection, you may lose interest. Being unemployed is a downer too. Interestingly, though, retired women were "less likely to lack desire." Also, and this is odd, having sex will actually lower your interest in it. Who said sex gets better with practice, hey? Instead it sounds like laying off and getting some kip (shut-eye) will do you wonders.  

Ages of sex

The thing is, I'm told the older we men get, the less we sleep - so, so much for being well-rested and starting the day with a canoe in your PJs.

In any case, there are other issues inherent in men that suggest if we do indeed lose interest in sex, it might have less to do with boredom and more to do with biology. Boredom? No such thing. As an aging Larry David tells his wife Cheryl in Curb Your Enthusiam "I'm available for sex all the time, basically, … so whenever you want it just tap me on the shoulder." Unless, that is, a dog bites his privates, but that's another episode.

As for the rest of us, when we age, our testosterone levels drop by about 1 percent each year from the age of 30. This can cause a decrease in mobility, energy, and less sexual function, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Men don't experience a menopause, as women do in their 40s or 50s, but the lower testosterone levels are cited as a reason why older men have fewer orgasms - from an average of three per week in a man's 20s to less than one a week in his 60s.

But this is no "hard and fast" rule. Plenty of men and women continue to enjoy sex well into their 70s and sometimes into their 80s. And we haven't even touched on masturbation. You may find that comforting.

In another recent study published in The Lancet, and conducted by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, researchers found that the rate of new HIV diagnoses among the over 50s had increased in the 11 years from 2004 to 2015. More than 54,000 new cases were reported among the over 50s in this period, which is about one in six new diagnoses. And most of these cases were among heterosexual men, rather than women. Sixteen countries, including Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Norway and other countries in Eastern and Central Europe, saw a rise in new infections in the over 50s.

And perhaps most worrying is the fact that older men tend to be diagnosed later (63 percent) than young adults. The infection tends to be more advanced and "their immune system is already starting to fail," say the researchers.

So remember, if you have any questions, queries or doubts, don't take my word for it, and never take or stop taking medication - like Viagra - without first seeking professional medical advice.

To wit, you "go see the doctor!" And my eternal thanks go to Kool Moe Dee.



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