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Despite the common belief that women lose interest in sex as they age, a new study shows that a significant percentage of women continue to view sex as important throughout midlife. The study also identified the factors that influence which women value sex most. The study results will be presented at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) 2020 virtual annual meeting, which opens on September 28.
A number of previous studies have shown that the importance of gender is highly correlated with the sexual function of middle-aged women. Longitudinal studies have allowed researchers to examine how the meaning of sex changes as women age, and to give way to the assumption that women lose interest in sex as they age.
This new study included more than 3,200 women who participated in the Women’s Health Study across the country. The researchers tried to evaluate how various factors influenced a woman’s interest in sex during the transition into menopause. Factors included race, education, partner status, body mass index, blood pressure, menopausal status, hormones, symptoms of depression, perceived stress, antidepressants, sexual orientation, sexual satisfaction, pelvic pain, vaginal dryness, and hot flashes.
Based on this analysis, the researchers identified three different trajectories related to the importance of gender with increasing age. For almost half of women (45%), sex was important early in life and became less important over time. About a quarter of women (27%) felt that sex remained very important to them throughout midlife, and another quarter (28%) had sex of little concern during midlife.
From an ethnic perspective, black women were more likely to rate sex as important for middle life, while Chinese and Japanese women were more likely to rate sex as unimportant or see its importance decline. Other variables included women with symptoms of depression, who were more likely to be of little importance or to have decreased importance in terms of gender. Better sexual satisfaction was associated with persistently high importance of gender over time, as was higher education.
“In contrast to previous literature reports that the importance of sex decreases as women get older, we found that for a quarter of women, sex is of great importance to them throughout midlife,” says Dr. Holly Thomas from the University of Pittsburgh. Lead author of the study abstract: “How important is sex to mid-life women?”
“Studies like this provide valuable insights for healthcare providers who might otherwise dismiss a woman’s dwindling sexual desire as a natural part of aging,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, Medical Director of NAMS. “Often there are other treatable reasons, such as vaginal dryness or depression, why a woman’s interest in sex may have decreased.”
Drs. Thomas and Faubion are available for interviews before and after the presentation at the virtual annual meeting.
Perimenopause often signals the onset of sexual dysfunction, which is provided by the North American Menopause Society
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