As women age, they may suffer from a lack of libido, vaginal atrophy and a smorgasbord of other sexual challenges. And yet doctors often aren't asked about these issues, meaning many women suffer in silence.
The study questioned more than 500 women aged 40 to 75 ― all currently in partnered relationships ― about the pros and cons of their sex lives. Across all age groups, the two most common sexual concerns identified were diminished or no sexual interest and inadequate vaginal lubrication. But despite these worries, the study found that 52 percent of respondents had not opened up about these sexual challenges with their doctors. Of those women who had, 70 percent indicated that they had to broach the subject first.
“It remains a stigma and a stereotype that postmenopausal women are not interested in healthy sexual function, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said lead author Sheryl Kingsberg, chief of the Division of Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, in a written statement. “Women well into their 70s and 80s would like to remain healthy and sexually active.”
NAMS Executive Director Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton said the study confirms that “better communications are needed between healthcare providers and their middle-aged women patients to address sexual function concerns.”
Kingsberg told CNN that one in 10 women of all ages suffers from a lack of libido but that vaginal dryness impacts mostly post-menopausal women. “Many women don’t realize menopause is not just about hot flashes and night sweats,” she said. “The loss of estrogen affects vaginal tissue.”
Previous studies of women aged 55 to 65 have found that 58 percent attributed an avoidance of sex to vaginal discomfort. Another 64 percent reported experiencing a lack of desire. But treatments can make the difference for women wanting to regain the satisfying sex lives they once enjoyed. Kingsberg noted that vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, as well as topically applied estrogen, could help but that many women aren’t on any sort of medication because they haven’t talked to their doctor about their sexual challenges.
“That is very disturbing. If your physician is not asking you about sexual concerns, find another one. It’s too important,” Kingsberg said. “There are many treatment options available today, and it’s absolutely essential women should be talking about this with a doctor. Women should not have to figure this out on their own.”