Here’s good news for middle-aged women who fear their sexual satisfaction is destined to decline: Aging can provide benefits that might make lovemaking even more enjoyable, a small study suggests.
Interviews with more than three dozen women ages 45 to 60 revealed that some were more satisfied with sex at midlife even though they had it less often.
These women “felt more confident and more comfortable in their own skin as they got older, and this allowed them to feel more free in the bedroom,” said study lead author Dr. Holly Thomas.
“They had a better knowledge and understanding of their own bodies as they got older. And they felt more comfortable and empowered to communicate their sexual needs to their partner than when they were younger,” said Thomas, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Other research has examined the rates of problems for older women, such as low libido and vaginal dryness.
These studies “typically show that sex gets worse as women move through middle age,” said Thomas. “We used a different technique, speaking to women face-to-face using interviews and focus groups, to try to see if there was more to the picture.”
The researchers interviewed 20 women and also conducted three focus groups with a total of 19 participants. Their average age was 58, and roughly half were white. All but two said they were heterosexual.
Dr. Jan Shifren, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Midlife Women’s Health Center, said, “It’s important for people to realize that everything that happens with aging is not doom and gloom, and there can even be some positive things in terms of sexuality.” She wasn’t involved in the study.
Some women in the study talked about “negative” changes in their sex lives as they aged, such as less frequent sex, vaginal dryness and difficulty reaching orgasm. But they were more likely to blame family and work stressors than biological factors like menopause, the researchers said.
Shifren said women are often urged to turn to hormone treatments when their sex lives decline. But, she added, the women in the new study are “telling us they’re experiencing these changes because they’re experiencing a lot of midlife stressors. We should not automatically say that sexual changes are just biologic. We have to remember this is a complex time in women’s lives.”