It is no longer news that many women do not find sexual activity as satisfying as they get older. This phenomenon has been attributed to certain biological changes, but a group of UK researchers have found that there are also psychological dimensions to it.
Medical experts usually refer to physical and biological changes, including a drop in hormone levels, as being responsible for reduced interest in sexual intimacy among women during and after menopause.
Vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and painful intercourse are some biological factors that make sex less satisfying for women.
This UK study provides more knowledge of psychological changes that lead to reduced satisfaction and low libido. These changes contribute to reduce the number of postmenopausal women who regularly have sex greatly.
Results from the study appeared in the journal Menopause, of The North American Menopause Society.
Reduced sexual activity
This research focused mainly on more than 4,400 postmenopausal women taking part in the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOS). Each of the subjects was at least 50 years old. The average age of the participants was 64 years.
Initially, researchers got the data of 24,305 women obtained using the Fallowfield’s Sexual Activity Questionnaire (FSAQ).
FSAQ is a popular tool for assessing self-reported sexual activity. It measures sexual desire, frequency, pleasure, and discomfort.
Of the entire cohort, 4,418 women agreed to participate in the qualitative free-text analysis. The answers provided by this group in the rest of the survey sections helped to spell out the reasons behind the initial responses.
Baseline results – before the annual screening began – showed that around half of the women were sexually active. Researchers, however, observed a drop in all facets of sexual activity during the study.
Intimacy became less frequent, less pleasurable, and more uncomfortable over time.
Less than one-quarter of the women were sexually active in the course of the study.
Reasons for the drop in sexual activity
The leading factor responsible for lack of sexual activity was having no partner. This was mainly because a good number of the women were widows.
Around 65 percent of the participants that were studied had a sexual partner.
A common reason these engage in sexual activity less often was the medical condition of their partner. Sexual dysfunction in a partner and a woman’s own health issues were also key factors.
“The findings from our qualitative research show that partner availability and good health, in both women and their intimate partners, are key factors for sexual activity in women after menopause,” said study co-author Helena Harder, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Sussex, England.
Prescription drugs and symptoms of menopause were among other reasons the women engaged less often in sexual activity.
Perhaps, more notably, the researchers found that psychological factors common after menopause play a major role in this phenomenon. Among these are stress, self-confidence issues, relationship problems, mood changes, and negative body image.
The mental factors were observed to regularly play a part in low libido issues in the women.
Of the participants, only 3 percent disclosed having positive sexual experiences. Yet, the majority of the rest did not seek medical help – only 6 percent did.
“Lack of communication, both between healthcare professionals and women, and women and their partners hinders appropriate support for those who need it,” Harder said.