Most women who are sexually active when
they enter middle age continue to engage sexually as they grow older, even if
they were diagnosed with sexual dysfunction, new research shows.
"There's this popular public
perception that as women age, sex becomes unimportant, and that women just stop
having sex as they get older," lead author Dr Holly Thomas told Reuters
"From our study, it looks like most
women continue to have sex during midlife," she said. "It may be
detrimental to label a woman as sexually dysfunctional," said Thomas, from
the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.
Sexual dysfunction diagnosis
Psychologists and doctors have been
debating the value of diagnosing women with sexual dysfunction since soon after
the 1998 release of the erectile-dysfunction pill Viagra set off a search for a
female version of the blockbuster drug.
Doctors use a test called the Female Sexual
Function Index to diagnose women's sexual problems. The index includes 19 questions
about arousal, orgasm, vaginal lubrication and pain during intercourse.
In the current study, 354 middle-aged and
older Pittsburgh women who reported being sexually active when they first took
the test took it again four years later.
More than 85% of women reported that
they remained sexually active when they took the test the second time between
the ages of 48 and 73. Nevertheless, those women generally scored low on the
sexual-function index, with an average score of 22.3 - below the cut-off of
26.55 considered sexually dysfunctional.
The authors were surprised to find that
sexual function, as measured by the index, failed to predict whether the women
continued to have sex.
They theorised that the instrument
"may be labelling women as dysfunctional when women don't have a
problem," Thomas said.
The index's "focus on intercourse may
not accurately reflect what constitutes satisfying sex in this population,
yielding falsely low scores," she and her colleagues write.
Race, weight, relationship status and how
important women deemed sex – rather than their scores on the sexual-function
index – were the most important predictors of sexual activity, according to
findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Women who rated sex as important were three
times as likely to remain sexually active as women who rated it as unimportant,
White women were most likely to stay
sexually engaged, the researchers found.
So were thinner women. "Whether that
has to do with health or body image, we don't know," Thomas said.
Predictor of longevity
Prior research has shown that obese women's
sexual function may return after bariatric surgery and significant weight
loss. "We've seen from other research that a healthy sex life is a
predictor of longevity," Thomas said.
"So understanding sex might have
broader implications for overall health," she added. "To narrowly
focus on the physical symptoms and to try to look for a magic pill to me isn't
going to work. I'm more interested in a holistic approach, not just physical
factors, but also emotional and relationship factors," Thomas said.
Older women enjoy sex more
Older women lack important information about sexual health
These days, more older women are admitting that they are sexually active