Just because social attitudes toward sex at older ages are more positive than in the past does not mean that all older women have positive feelings about sex, according to an Australian study.
The researchers found that nearly 90 percent of the women over 70 in the study had a low sexual desire, and a much smaller proportion were sad. The combination of low desire and related distress is known as hypoactive sexual desire dysfunction (HSDD), and almost 14 percent of the women had.
Older people are increasingly remaining sexually active, and sexual well-being is important for them, says senior author Susan R. Davis of Monash University in Melbourne.
“This is probably because people of this age are healthier than people of that age in the last decades,” Davis told Reuters Health by e-mail.
A random national sample of women aged 65 to 79 was contacted by telephone and invited to participate in a women’s health study. Those who agreed to receive questionnaires asking about demographics, partner status and health history, including the symptoms of menopause, vaginal dryness, pelvic floor dysfunction, depression symptoms, sexual activity, and grief.
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Of the 1,548 women who completed and returned the questionnaires, about half were married or together, 43 percent had pelvic surgery and 26% had cancer of a kind. About a third had symptoms of the menopause, and one in five had vaginal dryness during intercourse.
In the entire sample, 88 percent of the cases, low sexual desire, 15.5 percent had sex-related personal distress, and women with both, that have qualified for HSDD, 13.6% of the group as reported in the Menopause.
That is lower than previously reported for this age group in the past, and similar to how many women report HSDD life, Davis noted.
“Given how conservative women of this age, we were surprised that more than 85 percent of the women completed all the questions on the desire and sexual need, so we can really rate, most of the participants in the study,” Davis said.
Vaginal dryness, pelvic floor dysfunction, moderate to severe depressive symptoms and having a partner were all associated with a higher likelihood of HSDD. Sexually active women, together or not, more often had HSDD than others.
“We would never label women with a low/reduced sex drive, to have HSDD,” Davis said. “In our study, 88 percent had a low desire, and only 13.6 percent had HSDD, this is because low desire is not a problem if you don’t suffer from.”
Vaginal dryness, in connection with HSDD in this study, can well be handled by a low-dose vaginal estrogen, which is effective and safe, ” she said.
HSDD was also associated with urinary incontinence, depressive symptoms and hot flashes and sweating, she said.
“Even talking about the issue with a health care professional who is interested and sympathetic is a good start,” Davis said. “Conversely, health care professionals must realize that many older women remain sexually active and care about this issue.”