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Women's sexual satisfaction increases with age, new study reports

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
libido, sexuality, sexual satisfaction, orgasm, menopause, seniors

SAN DIEGO, CA - Despite a decrease in sexual desire (libido) as a women age, women report an increase in sexual satisfaction, according to a new study published in the January edition of The American Journal of Medicine. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, CA and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, California. The majority of the women reported sexual satisfaction increases with age, and arousal and orgasm are frequent, despite having low sexual desire. The study authors noted that women are prompted to engage in sex for multiple reasons, including sustaining relationships even when libido wanes late in life.

In recognition of decreased libido in older women, a “Female Viagra” has been marketed by BioSante Pharmaceutical Inc. Unfortunately, however, the drug manufacturer reported on December 15 that the product had failed to be proven effective in late clinical trials. Interestingly, the new San Diego study reports that decreased libido does not dampen sexual activity in many older women.

"A more positive approach to female sexual health focusing on sexual satisfaction may be more beneficial to women than a focus limited to sexual activity or dysfunction," noted author and Susan Trompeter, MD in a press release. She and her colleagues referred to earlier studies that reported that a decreased sexual desire correlates to low levels of arousal and orgasm. For example, a 2006 study of 50,000 women ages 18 to 101 reported the most common problem regarding satisfaction was low desire.

The study group was comprised of 1,303 older women who resided in the community of Rancho Bernardo, CA. They were mailed a questionnaire on general health, recent sexual activity, sexual satisfaction, and the Female Sexual Function Index. A total of 806 of 921 respondents (87.5%) aged 40 years or older answered questions regarding recent sexual activity. Their average age was 67 years (average number of years since menopause: 25). Most of the women were upper-middle class; 57% had attended at least one year of college; and 90% reported good to excellent health. Half (49.8%) reported sexual activity within the past month with or without a partner; the majority reported arousal (64.5%), lubrication (69%), and orgasm (67.1%) at least most of the time; however, one third reported low, very low, or no sexual desire. Although frequency of arousal, lubrication, and orgasm decreased with age, the youngest (under 55 years) and oldest (over 80 years) women reported a higher frequency of orgasm satisfaction. In addition, emotional closeness during sex was associated with more frequent arousal, lubrication, and orgasm; estrogen therapy was not. The authors reported that, overall, two thirds of sexually active women were moderately or very satisfied with their sex life, as were almost half of sexually inactive women.

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The authors concluded that despite a decreased libido in one-third of the women, half the women were sexually active, with arousal, lubrication, and orgasm maintained into old age. The added that sexual satisfaction increased with age and did not require sexual activity.

Reference: The American Journal of Medicine

Editorial comments:
Menopausal and postmenopausal women can experience decreases in libido, orgasm, and frequency of intercourse, commonly because of changes in bodily function due to menopause; however, decreased libido may also be due to depression or marital problems. Lack of estrogen results in thinning and dryness of the vagina; this problem can make intercourse painful. Some of these women do not have a libido problem; however, they avoid intercourse because of the discomfort. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can keep vaginal tissue healthy and can often improve libido. Also, estrogen cream can be applied topically to the vagina.

Depression can be treated with psychotherapy, with or without antidepressant drugs. Marital problems are best managed with couples therapy. The marital difficulties can either be the cause or the consequence of changes in sexual activity. In the latter case the marital discord resolves with the return of regular intercourse.

Robin L. Wulffson, MD