Why a Woman’s Sex Life Declines After Menopause (Hint: Sometimes It’s Her Partner) By T. Parker-Pope
By Tara Parker-Pope
A revealing new analysis gives voice to the many reasons a woman’s sex life often falters with age.
For many women, sex after menopause is not as satisfying as it used to be. But is menopause entirely to blame?
New research suggests that the hormonal changes that come with menopause are only part of the reason a woman’s sex life declines with age. It’s true that many women experience symptoms after menopause, including vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and loss of desire — all of which can affect the frequency and pleasure of sex.
But the new study shows that the reasons many women stop wanting sex, enjoying sex and having sex are far more complex.
While women traditionally have been blamed when sex wanes in a relationship, the research shows that, often, it’s the health of a woman’s partner that determines whether she remains sexually active and satisfied with her sex life.
(Most studies have focused entirely on heterosexual women, so less is known about same-sex couples after menopause.)
“We know that menopause seems to have a bad effect on libido, vaginal dryness and sexual pain,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health in Rochester, Minn. “But what is coming up as a consistent finding is that the partner has such a prominent role. It’s not just the availability of the partner — it’s the physical health of the partner as well.”
The latest study, published in the medical journal Menopause, is based on surveys of more than 24,000 women taking part in an ovarian cancer screening study in Britain.
The women, aged 50 to 74, answered multiple-choice health questionnaires about their sex lives at the start of the study.
But the survey data are unique because about 4,500 of the women also left written comments, giving researchers a trove of new insights about women’s sex lives.
Over all, 78 percent of the women surveyed said they had an intimate partner, but fewer than half the women (49.2 percent) said they had active sex lives.
The women’s written answers about why they stopped having sex revealed the pain and sadness behind the percentages.
The main reason was losing a partner to death or divorce, which was cited by 37 percent of the women. (Women who were not having sex cited multiple reasons for the decline, which is why the percentages exceed 100.)
‘‘I have been a widow for 17 years. My husband was my childhood sweetheart, there will never be anyone else.’’ (Age 72)
Some women said life was too complicated to make time for sex — 8 percent said their partner was too tired for sex, and 9 percent of women said they were also too tired for sex.
“I feel my role in life at present is to bring up my 12-year-old son; relationships come second.” (Age 50)
….“He does not maintain erection strong enough for penetration (after prostate surgery and diabetes). My sexual activity is limited by what my husband’s health is.” (Age 59)
…Others cited mental health and addiction issues as the reason for lack of sex.
“He drinks approximately 1 to 1.5 bottles of whiskey a day. Sex is once or twice a year.” (Age 56)
“My husband suffers from anxiety and depression and this has an effect on our relationship and my sleeping.” (Age 53)
“I take an antidepressant which blunts desire for sex.” (Age 59)
….Dr. Faubion, who is also medical director for the North American Menopause Society, notes that treatments are available to help women with vaginal dryness and painful sex.
In addition, two libido drugs have been approved to help increase female desire.