It’s a myth that women don’t want sex as they age, study finds

“About a quarter of women rate sex as very important, regardless of their age,” mentioned Dr. Holly Thomas, lead writer of an summary being introduced throughout the 2020 digital annual assembly of The North American Menopause Society, which opens on Monday, September 28.

“The study showed substantial numbers of women still highly value sex, even as they get older, and it’s not abnormal,” mentioned Thomas, an assistant professor of drugs on the University of Pittsburgh.

“If women are able to speak up with their partner and make sure that they’re having sex that’s fulfilling and pleasurable to them, then they’re more likely to rate it as highly important as they get older,” she mentioned.

“That’s actually quite refreshing, that there were a quarter of women for whom sex remains not just on the radar but highly important,” mentioned Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director for NAMS, who was not concerned within the study.

“Studies like these provide valuable insights to health care providers who may otherwise dismiss a woman’s waning sexual desire as a natural part of aging,” she mentioned.

Myth busting

It’s true that previous research have discovered that women are inclined to lose curiosity in sex as they age. But women’s well being practitioners say that perspective would not jive with the fact they see.

“Some of the prior studies had suggested that sex goes downhill and all women lose interest in sex as they get older,” Thomas mentioned. “That really isn’t the type of story that I hear from all my patients.”

One challenge, she mentioned, is that previous research took a single snapshot of a lady’s want at one level in her life and in contrast that to related snapshots in later many years of life.

“That type of longitudinal study would just show averages over time,” Thomas mentioned. “And if you look at things on average, it may look like everyone follows one path.”

Thomas mentioned the brand new study used a totally different kind of study that allowed researchers to observe the trajectory of a lady’s want over time.

“We wanted to use this different type of technique to see if there really were these different patterns,” Thomas mentioned. “And when you look for these trajectories, you see there are significant groups of women who follow another path.”

High and low pathways of sexual curiosity

The analysis, which analyzed information from a nationwide multi-site study referred to as SWAN, or the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, discovered three distinct pathways in a lady’s emotions in regards to the significance of sex.
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About a fourth of the women (28%) adopted conventional pondering on the topic: They valued sex much less throughout midlife years.

However, one other fourth of the women within the study mentioned the precise reverse. Some 27% of them mentioned sex stays extremely necessary all through their 40s, 50s and 60s — a stunning contradiction of the old-age perception that all women lose curiosity in sex as they age.

“Sex is going to look different,” mentioned Faubion, who’s the director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health.

“It’s not going to look the same at 40 as it does at 20; it’s not going to look the same at 60 as it does at 40 and it’s not going to look the same as at 80, as it did at 60,” she mentioned. “There may be some modifications that we have to do, but people in general who are healthy and in good relationships remain sexual.”

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Women within the study who extremely valued sex shared the next traits: They had been extra extremely educated, they had been much less depressed, and they had skilled higher sexual satisfaction earlier than getting into midlife.

“Women who were having more satisfying sex when they were in their 40s were more likely to continue to highly value sex as they got older,” Thomas mentioned.

There is also socioeconomic components at play, she added. For instance, extra extremely educated women could have larger incomes and really feel extra secure of their lives with much less stress.

“Therefore they have more headspace to make sex a priority because they’re not worrying about other things,” Thomas mentioned.

The study discovered one other issue that was necessary to each lower-interest and high-interest pathways — race and ethnicity.

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African American women had been extra more likely to say sex was necessary to them in the course of midlife, whereas Chinese and Japanese women had been extra more likely to charge sex as having low significance all through their midlife years.

“I do want to emphasize that it’s much more likely to be due to socio-cultural factors than any biological factor,” Thomas mentioned. “Women from different cultural groups have different attitudes … different comfort levels about getting older … and whether it’s ‘normal’ for a woman to continue to value sex as she gets older.”

The center floor

The majority of women (48%) fell into a third pathway: They valued a wholesome sex life as they entered the menopausal years however regularly misplaced curiosity all through their 50s or 60s.

There are a variety of emotional, bodily and psychological components that would possibly have an effect on how a lady views sex, specialists say. Most could be divided into 4 classes:

Medical situations: As women enter perimenopause of their 40s and 50s, they start to expertise hormonal adjustments that may cause sex to change into much less satisfying and even painful.

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The drop in estrogen causes the vulva and vaginal tissues to change into thinner, drier and more easily broken, bruised or irritated. Arousal can change into harder. Hot flashes and different indicators of menopause can affect temper and sleep high quality, resulting in fatigue, nervousness, irritability, mind fog and melancholy.

Many medical situations can come up or worsen throughout midlife that may have an effect on libido.

“Do they have medical conditions like hip arthritis that cause pain with sex? Or hand arthritis that can make it more difficult? Or things like diabetes where their sensation is not the same or do they have heart disease?” Faubion requested.

“But there are modifications that we talk about all the time to help people remain sexual, even for quadriplegics,” she mentioned. “There are ways to stay sexual despite disability.”

Mental and emotional concerns: The psychological part of sex can have a enormous affect on a lady’s ranges of sexual want. A historical past of sexual or bodily abuse, struggles with substance abuse and melancholy, nervousness and stress are main gamers on this class.

“I can’t tell you enough about the impact of anxiety and stress on sex,” Faubion mentioned. “Think of that fight or flight mechanism — your adrenaline’s pumping so you’re back in caveman days and a lion is chasing you.

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“Are you going to lie down on the grassy knoll and have sex when the lion is chasing you? The reply is not any. And that’s how women with nervousness are on a regular basis, so nervousness is a enormous, enormous issue for whether or not women shall be sexual.”

While the study did not look specifically at anxiety, results showed women with more symptoms of depression were much less likely to rate sex as a priority in life. In addition to the emotional impact, a reduced libido is a side effect of many antidepressants prescribed to treat depression.

Partner component: Women in midlife can also face dramatic and disturbing changes in their romantic lives that can take a major toll on their interest in sex.

“Are they shedding a romantic companion to divorce or to loss of life? Is a romantic companion growing well being points that makes sex harder or inconvenient? Are they getting busy in different elements of their life — their profession, caring for grandchildren, and even grown kids who’re transferring again in? That makes it onerous to prioritize sex,” Thomas mentioned.

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Even if they have a companion, relationships could have had ups and downs that can have an effect on how a women feels about intimacy with their important different.

“Do you want your companion?” Faubion asked. “Is your communication good? Even logistics can get in the way in which — are you in the identical place on the identical time?”

Social mores: Society also affects how a woman feels about sex. Religious, cultural and family values about the topic can play a large role in sexual ease and satisfaction.

“Then there’s what society teaches us about getting old women,” Faubion said. “And so for some women being sexual is in some way unhealthy. Women aren’t supposed to love sex.”

“I’ve see loads of women in my clinic within the 60 to 65 age group who by no means obtained any sex schooling, their companions by no means obtained any sex schooling, and they don’t actually want to learn about all that stuff.”

What’s to be done?

Of course, if a woman isn’t bothered by a lack of sex, then there’s no reason to see a doctor, Faubion and Thomas stressed. But they both said that past studies have shown that about 10% to 15% of women who do have a lower interest in sex are bothered by it and would like to seek a solution.

There are many ways in which physicians can help, including medications and therapies, but first a woman must reach out and talk to her doctor.

“Prior analysis has proven that women typically actually do hesitate to achieve out to their medical doctors, maybe as a result of they’re embarrassed or they see it as a part of regular getting old and and don’t suppose it is price citing,” Thomas said.

“Bottom line: Women ought to discuss to their suppliers if they’re having issues about their sexual well being,” Faubion said. “It’s an necessary a part of life, and there are answers for women who’re fighting that.”

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