The attitude towards female sexuality is all set for a change. The perception that the end of a woman’s reproductive years equates to the end of her sexual life has been replaced by the knowledge that satisfying sexual activity can, and does, continue into the menopause and beyond.
A recent cross-sectional study of the sexual activities and behaviors of 2109 women aged 40–69 years indicated that approximately 75% were sexually active. Such data provide evidence that a substantial proportion of the female population are sexually active around the age of menopause and that their sexual needs are worthy of attention from the healthcare profession. Most women were married or in a long-term relationship (69%). Eighty percent had some college education, and 65% were employed. Over three fourths of the women had delivered at least one baby, and 65% were postmenopausal. Overall, 71% (n = 1,493) of the women were sexually active in the last year, with 37% reporting monthly or less often sexual activity, 33% weekly, and less than 1% having daily sexual activity. Among sexually active women, nearly two thirds were some- what or very satisfied with their sexual activity. The prevalence of sexual dysfunction was 45% in the entire group and 33% of those who reported sexual activity.
The most reported reason for sexual inactivity was lack of a healthy partner. In this study 64% of the women reported sexual activity. A higher BMI, increased physical activity, increased life satisfaction, and unmarried status were related to higher global sexual function. In a cohort of older postmenopausal women (mean age 68 years) with osteoporosis, baseline data showed that 46% reported some sexual activity, and among those women the most reported problem was difficulty with orgasm. Correlates for sexual dysfunction noted in additional studies include increasing age, low education level, and chronic disease.
This is great news, as a satisfying sex life has been found to be important for health and well-being, regardless of age. For older adults in particular, being sexually active predicts a longer and healthier life. The increased quality of sex life appears to buffer its decline.
Women’s health providers need to be aware of their patients’ continuing interest in sexual activity, screen for sexual dysfunction, and treat any dysfunction with care and sensitivity.