Older Women Maintain Libido, says Study

November 12, 2012

Older Women Maintain Libido, says Study

Study Finds Higher Sex Urges in Older Women

A new large scale study has found that many post menopausal women are sexually active and happy with their sex lives. This is especially the case if they are married or in a steady relationship. The study was funded by the government as part of the Women’s Health Initiative. Published in the journal Menopause, the study investigated 27,357 women, aged between 50 and 79. The researchers analyzed the information collected from the women and the length of time the women were followed was for between five and seven years.

The researchers found that sexual activity decreased with age. This was as expected because many of the women said that poor health or poor quality of life or losing their sexual partner culminated in a sex free lifestyle. However the researchers were surprised to find that of the women who had said that their sex life was unsatisfactory, 57% said it was unsatisfactory because they were not having enough sex. Of this group only 8% felt that they were having sex too frequently.

Other findings showed that almost 50% of the women reported having sexual activity within the year before the study started. When only asking women who were married or in a relationship that number increased to nearly 70%.

Some findings were expected. It was found that growing older, having a higher BMI, no partner or lower income made the likelihood of sex in the last year less. Health issues such as arthritis, depression or heart disease also had the same effect.

Gisele Wolf-Klein, MD is director of geriatric education at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, New York, and she says, “This is the first study that indicates that older women would actually like to have more sex”. She goes on to say that we know that older people diminish their sex drive over time. It has been assumed in the medical community that women who lacked a partner didn’t have sex and were content with the situation. She points out that this is not the case according to this study.

Wolf-Klein, who was not involved in the study goes on to say, “These people are looking for and are interested in resuming sexual activity”.

The reason for inquiring about the post menopausal women’s sexual functioning and general sexual health was to gauge what the usage of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) actually meant to these women. The trial had the primary role of trying to measure what the benefits of HRT were and if any areas of risk could be identified.

Hormone Replacement Therapy – The Risks and the Benefits

One finding which bemused the researchers was that when they looked at women at the beginning of the study on HRT they found that these women reported an increased amount of sexual activity compared to the others who did not take HRT. However when women were assigned hormone treatment as part of the study their level of sexual activity did not increase, in fact it was generally the same as the placebo group.

Study researcher Margery Gass, MD, who is also executive director of the North American Menopause Society in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, said, “I was very surprised that we didn’t see greater effect of hormone therapy in these women”.

Since the Women’s Health Initiative has begun there have been further advances in research. It is now known that HRT in the form of estrogen and progestin supplements raise a women’s level of risk for heart attack, breast cancer and stroke. Because of this discovery HRT related prescriptions have declined.

Other types of hormone treatment have increased, prescriptions for creams and pills to treat vaginal atrophy have risen. Vaginal atrophy is a condition common in the older woman showing itself as loss of vaginal tissue, inferior muscle tone and vaginal dryness.

Even with the recent findings Gass says, “As gynecologists, we see the women who are having problems, and we are totally convinced that hormones do help women a great deal if they are experiencing dryness and discomfort with intercourse”.

She believes the reason the study did not see any increased sexual activity in women taking HRT was because the study wasn’t designed to test that aspect of benefits of hormones. She also thinks that the women had just got into one habit or routine with their husbands or partners and so the pattern of sexual behavior did not change.

Sex – It’s just Another Activity!

Another finding which tends to run against conventional wisdom is that women with vaginal dryness or other physical symptoms which can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or painful reported higher levels of sexual activity than women who did not have vaginal atrophy.

Gass does say that of the women in the study about 70% reported having vaginal atrophy and they had a higher likelihood of being sexually inactive, yet the ones who remained active were very active. She believes that the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ may be at work here. The likelihood that you will be sexually active in later years is higher because you are already sexually active.

Gass relates sex as the same as any other activity, and says, “It’s just like every other part of our body, if we want to stay in shape, playing tennis, golf, running, whatever we like to do, it’s vital that we keep doing it, and this is perfectly true for intercourse as well”. She ends by saying, “If you want to be able to be comfortable and enjoy intercourse, the best thing you can do is to maintain that activity and be consistent and regular with it”.

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