More than biology: Study examines why women have less sex as they age

CLEVELAND — While it has been well established that women tend to have less sex as they age, most of the previous research on the topic has attributed this decline to biological reasons. Now, a new study conducted in the United Kingdom and published by The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) finds that there are many psychosocial contributors as well.

Postmenopausal women deal with a number of developments that make sex less enjoyable, such as hot flashes and sleep disruptions. There have already been various studies on these factors, but much less is known about how large a role more personal issues may play in postmenopausal women’s sex lives. More specifically, these issues could include body image, self-confidence, perceived desirability, mood changes, relationship problems, and stress.

So, researchers in the U.K. set out to collect more meaningful data on older women’s sexuality. The long-term study, consisting of 4,418 postmenopausal women, attempted to ascertain why women have less sex as they age, in their own words.

The study found that only half of the women participating in the study were sexually active. Additionally, the women who were sexually active displayed a decrease in all sexual activity over time. These women reported having sex less and less frequently, and when they did, it was less pleasurable and more uncomfortable.

Overall, the study found that the main reason postmenopausal women don’t have sex is due to lack of a partner, most of the time because of widowhood.

Other reasons cited by participants for decreased sexual activity included a partner’s medical problem or sexual dysfunction, the woman’s own health issues, menopause-related problems, or prescription medication side effects. Most often, participants said their sexual drives and desires had diminished due to relationship problems or perceiving themselves as being unattractive due to aging.

Only three percent of surveyed women reported having recent positive sexual experiences, but only six percent of those surveyed pursued medical guidance for their sexual problems.

“Sexual health challenges are common in women as they age, and partner factors play a prominent role in women’s sexual activity and satisfaction, including the lack of a partner, sexual dysfunction of a partner, poor physical health of a partner, and relationship issues,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director, in a statement. “In addition, menopause-related problems such as vaginal dryness and pain with sex have been identified as problems affecting sexual function, yet few women seek treatment for these issues, despite the availability of effective therapies.”

The study is published in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

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