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SEXUAL HEALTH CHALLENGES AS WOMEN AGE

Many women have less sex as they age, and the sex they do have gives them less pleasure. Research says this is not all down to health-related factors.

As women get older, they tend to have less sex. They may also find it less enjoyable than before. So far, studies have explained these tendencies by pointing the finger at physiological changes during and after menopause. What are the other factors?

Research has repeatedly found that women report having less sex and deriving less pleasure from it as they reach menopause and beyond. A 2015 study reveals that sexual dysfunction increases with age and is highly prevalent among menopausal women.

Why does this happen? Doctors tend to focus on the physiological aspects, such as vaginal dryness and changes in estrogen levels that may make sex more difficult or less enjoyable during and after menopause. However, these are not the only factors that have an important impact on a woman’s libido or sex life.

New research shows that the sex lives of many women decline with age due to psychological stressors and other psychosocial factors outside of their control.

The qualitative analysis of the new research revealed that as time went on, the main reason a woman would not have sex was because they did not have a partner. In most cases, this was related to widowhood. Besides not having a partner, some women also cited overwhelming family responsibilities as a reason for not seeking sexual gratification.

However, women also reported that many other factors affected the frequency of sex in their lives. By order of importance, these are:

• the fact that their partner had a medical condition that impacted their libido or sexual function

• a partner’s sexual dysfunction

• the woman’s own health issues

• physical symptoms related to menopause

• prescription medication affecting their own libido or sexual function

As for having a low libido, many women said that problems in their romantic relationships, the logistics of organising sex, and the way in which aging affected their self-image and self-confidence usually caused this.

Only a small minority reported optimistic and positive sexual experiences, the research states.

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.

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 researchers warn that sexual difficulties are often underreported, under-recognised, and undertreated.

Open communication about sexuality, including desires, needs, and dysfunctions, is important and will reduce the threshold for women to discuss sexual function. Additional sexual education for healthcare practitioners is required to facilitate this process.