The effects of aging on sex hormone levels are more obvious in women than in men. In women, most of these effects are related to menopause, when the levels of female hormones (particularly estrogen) decrease dramatically, menstrual periods end permanently, and pregnancy is no longer possible. The decrease in female hormone levels causes the ovaries and uterus to shrink. The tissues of the vagina become thinner, drier, and less elastic (a condition called atrophic vaginitis). In severe cases, these changes can lead to itching, bleeding, pain during intercourse, and a need to urinate immediately (urinary urgency).
The breasts become less firm and more fibrous, and they start to sag. This change makes finding lumps in the breasts more difficult. Because the breasts change with aging, finding lumps that could be cancer is harder. Some experience a (minor) growth in size and increased hair.
Some of the changes that begin at menopause (such as lower hormone levels and vaginal dryness) interfere with sexual activity. However, for most women, aging does not greatly detract from the enjoyment of sexual activity. Not having to worry about becoming pregnant may enhance sexual activity and enjoyment. The use of lubricants solves the dryness problem.
In men levels of the male hormone testosterone decrease, resulting in fewer sperm and a decreased sex drive (libido), but the decrease is gradual and marginal. Most men experience a sinuslike need for sexual activity. They will feel high needs at some points in time while at others they even resent the thought of it. This influence judgment and honesty.
Although blood flow to the penis decreases, most men can have erections and orgasms throughout life. However, erections do not last long, slightly rigid, or require more stimulation to maintain. A second erection requires more time. Erectile dysfunction (impotence) becomes common as men age and is often due to a disorder, usually a disorder that affects blood vessels (such as a vascular disease) or diabetes.
The levels and activity of some hormones, produced by endocrine glands, decrease.
Growth hormone levels decrease, leading to decreased muscle mass.
Aldosterone levels decrease, making dehydration more likely. This hormone signals the body to retain salt and therefore water.
Insulin, which helps to control the sugar level in blood, is less effective, and less insulin is produced. Insulin enables sugar to move from the blood into cells, where it can be converted to energy. The changes in insulin mean that the sugar level increases more after a large meal and takes longer to return to normal.