Women’s Sexual Desire Isn’t Affected By Age As Much As These Other Factors, Says Study
There’s a common notion that women’s sexual desire diminishes during midlife and beyond. We’ve seen our parents get so busy with life, they hardly ever even indulge in physical affection. We are also aware of people who don’t even sleep in the same room anymore. It seems like women just lose their libido but that is not the only truth. According to new research, only a quarter of women lose their sexual drive and another quarter actually finds sex highly important.
The research analysed the desires of over 3200 women over a period of 15 years and that led to several new findings. It threw light on the trajectory of a woman’s sexual desire across different phases in her life. Also, it can help draw conclusions on how several factors can influence a woman’s interest in sex, especially socio-economic and cultural aspects.
Dr. Holly Thomas an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh told CNN, “The study showed substantial numbers of women still highly value sex, even as they get older, and it’s not abnormal.” Thomas added, “Some of the prior studies had suggested that sex goes downhill and all women lose interest in sex as they get older. That really isn’t the type of story that I hear from all my patients.”
“We wanted to use this different type of technique to see if there really were these different patterns…when you look for these trajectories, you see there are significant groups of women who follow another path,” Thomas said.
According to the study, there are three different pathways in women’s sexual desire. Women who valued sex less in midlife comprised just 28% of the participants! In fact, around 27% of women said sex was actually still important to them in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. So, it’s not a norm that women lose interest in sex during midlife. “The majority of women (48%) fell into a third pathway: They valued a healthy sex life as they entered the menopausal years but gradually lost interest throughout their 50s or 60s,” reports CNN. So what affects sexual desire in women as they grow older?
Women’s sexual desire and their relationship dynamics
Our relationship dynamics do affect our sexual desire. It is not like we can look at sex completely from a detached pov. Having a supportive and communicative partner helps. “If women are able to speak up with their partner and make sure that they’re having sex that’s fulfilling and pleasurable to them, then they’re more likely to rate it as highly important as they get older,” Thomas said. “Are they losing a romantic partner to divorce or to death? Is a romantic partner developing health issues that make sex more difficult or inconvenient? Are they getting busy in other aspects of their life — their career, caring for grandchildren, or even grown children who are moving back in? That makes it hard to prioritize sex,” she further added.
Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health says sex will look different at different phases, “It’s not going to look the same at 40 as it does at 20; it’s not going to look the same at 60 as it does at 40 and it’s not going to look the same as at 80, as it did at 60,” she said. “There may be some modifications that we have to do, but people in general who are healthy and in good relationships remain sexual.” She adds, “Do you like your partner? Is your communication good? Even logistics can get in the way — are you in the same place at the same time?”
In fact, Dr. Thomas said that if your sex life has been more satisfying earlier, you’re likely to remain interested in sex even later in life.
Women’s sexual desire and socio-economic factors
The study revealed that women who are well educated have better sex as they grow older. That being said, it’s possible that these women are achievers, have stable finances, and hence less stress about money and other such factors. “Therefore they have more headspace to make sex a priority because they’re not worrying about other things,” Thomas said.
Women’s sexual desire and socio-cultural factors
The study found that African American women were likely to give more importance to sex than Asian women. It is possible that the reason behind this is the cultural notion in Asian countries that older women are not supposed to have sexual desires. “I do want to emphasize that it’s much more likely to be due to socio-cultural factors than any biological factor. Women from different cultural groups have different attitudes … different comfort levels about getting older … and whether it’s ‘normal’ for a woman to continue to value sex as she gets older,” Thomas said.
Fubion said, “Then there’s what society teaches us about aging women. And so for some women being sexual is somehow bad. Women aren’t supposed to like sex.” It’s true, right? Our culture looks at sex from a reproductive aspect and once you have crossed that age, you’re somehow expected to practice abstinence. Indian society will frown at an older couple making out or being physically affectionate and ask them to have some “shame”. Older women will never talk about sexual desires in the fear of being ridiculed for it.
Women’s sexual desire and Physical/psychological factors
Women are entering the menopause phase in their 40s and 50s and experience hormonal changes that can make sex less desirable and even painful. Lower levels of estrogen in their bodies lead to a lack of lubrication and vaginal sensitivity. Sex can easily bruise the vagina or make it sore, which makes intimacy an unpleasant experience for older women. Other factors like hot flashes, fatigue, irritability, etc make women lose interest in sex.
“Do they have medical conditions like hip arthritis that cause pain with sex? Or hand arthritis that can make it more difficult? Or things like diabetes where their sensation is not the same or do they have heart disease?” Faubion asked pointing that several medical conditions can affect sexual desire. However, she also said that there are ways to deal with health issues and still stay sexually active.
Meanwhile, anxiety and stress can have a negative impact on women’s sexual desire. Be it worries about financial issues, domestic duties, or being afraid of the health complications, having sex while stressed isn’t easy. “I can’t tell you enough about the impact of anxiety and stress on sex. Think of that fight or flight mechanism — your adrenaline’s pumping so you’re back in caveman days and a lion is chasing you,” Faubion explained. “Are you going to lie down on the grassy knoll and have sex when the lion is chasing you? The answer is no. And that’s how women with anxiety are all the time, so anxiety is a huge, huge factor for whether women will be sexual,” she further added.
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It’s time to stop normalizing lack of sexual desire in women as they grow older, especially since it is just one-fourth of women that experience it. Yes, the desire fades eventually but if women are concerned about it, there’s no reason to just brush it under the carpet, deeming it a biological process. Women who are less stressed, have had a satisfying sex life earlier, and defy gender-based taboos around it usually enjoy better sex, even as they grow older. Women with better relationship dynamics with their partners also value sex. “Prior research has shown that women often really do hesitate to reach out to their doctors, perhaps because they’re embarrassed or they see it as part of normal aging and don’t think it’s worth bringing up,” Thomas said.
Faubion said women must be vocal about it to their doctors and seek solutions that are feasible for them. “Bottom line: Women should talk to their providers if they’re having concerns about their sexual health. It’s an important part of life, and there are solutions for women who are struggling with that,” Faubion said. It’s time to own your sexual desire, ladies, irrespective of your age!