Sex 'highly important' to a quarter of middle-aged women, study suggests

Couple wrapped in a duvet
Doctors have stressed not all women lose their libido with age. (Posed by models, Getty Images)

A new study goes against the commonly held belief that women become less interested in sex with age.

Doctors from the University of Pittsburgh acknowledged past research that suggests a woman’s libido declines over time, however, they noted that “isn’t the type of story they hear from all their patients”.

After looking at more than 3,200 women aged 40 to 55, the team found more than a quarter (27%) rated sexual intimacy as “highly important throughout midlife”.

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The doctors stressed it is “not abnormal” for a woman to value sex into old age.

Rather than dismissing a patient’s “waning sexual desire as a natural part of ageing”, they called on medics to consider other factors that may put a woman off intimacy, like vaginal dryness.

Mature Woman Experiencing Hot Flush From Menopause
Hot flushes, and other menopause symptoms, can leave a woman 'not in the mood' for sex. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

“In contrast to prior literature reporting the importance of sex decreases as women move through midlife, we found that, for a quarter of women, sex remains highly important to them throughout midlife,” said lead author Dr Holly Thomas.

Some past research suggests a woman’s libido declines with age.

“That really isn’t the type of story I hear from all my patients,” Dr Thomas told CNN.

Read more: How a woman can enjoy sex whatever her age

Other studies have tended to analyse a woman’s sexual desire during one snapshot of time, which was then compared against her previously reported libido.

The Pittsburgh doctors set out to uncover how a woman’s lust changes over a trajectory by analysing participants of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation.

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Results – presented at the virtual North American Menopause Society (NAMS) conference – revealed that for almost half of the women (45%), sex was important during early middle age, but became less so over time.

This may come down to the menopause triggering vaginal dryness, which can make sex painful if untreated.

Hot flushes and mood swings may also leave a woman “not in the mood”.

Read more: ‘Sex is much better when you’re younger,’ and other myths

For 27% of the participants, however, intercourse remained highly important throughout middle age, while for a similar number (28%), sex was of low relevance during their forties or fifties.

“The study showed substantial numbers of women still highly value sex, even as they get older, and it’s not abnormal,” said Dr Thomas.

Dr Stephanie Faubion from the NAMS – who was not involved in the study – added: “That’s actually quite refreshing; that there were a quarter of women for whom sex remains not just on the radar but highly important.”

The scientists then looked at how attitudes to sex varied among the participants of different ethnicities.

They found black women were more likely to rate intercourse as important for the duration of middle age, while the Chinese and Japanese participants tended to view sex as unimportant, or noted a decline in their libido.

The scientists put this down to sociocultural – rather than biological – factors, with different cultures varying in how they view sex among older people.

Intimacy’s importance also rated lower among the women showing signs of depression, with a loss of libido being a recognised symptom of the mental health condition.

Satisfaction between the sheets was more common among the participants who continued to view sex as highly important, as well as those who had experienced higher education.

The scientists wondered whether educated women may earn more and feel more stable in their life, allowing them to make sex a priority.

“Studies like these provide valuable insights to healthcare providers who may otherwise dismiss a woman’s waning sexual desire as a natural part of ageing,” said Dr Faubion.

“Often there are other treatable reasons, such as vaginal dryness or depression, as to why a woman’s interest in sex may have decreased.”

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