Though commonly associated with decreased sex drive, menopause does not necessarily signal the end of improvements to a woman's sex life, according to a recent study.
A group of British and Swiss researchers set out to examine the stability of women's sexual health over time, including changes to different aspects of sexual response in pre-and post-menopausal subjects.
Menopause, which typically occurs between ages 45 and 55, signals the end of a woman's reproductive life and the onset of various physiological and psychological changes, including the end of menstruation and temporary symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness or mood swings. Many women also report a drop in sexual desire while undergoing the change of life and its hormonal upheaval.
The researchers note that while previous studies have reported "a decline in all phases of the sexual response, as well as higher levels of sexual distress as a consequence of aging and/or menopause," longitudinal studies on sex and aging in women are generally lacking.
To address this shortage, they recruited 507 British women -- 178 pre-menopausal and 329 post-menopausal -- who provided self-reported data on their sexual functioning over a period of four years.
The results of the study, which was published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine this week, confirm that sexual dysfunction was more common among the post-menopausal women.
However, the percentage of women who saw a decline or improvement in sexual function was nearly identical in the two groups. Twenty-two percent of pre-menopausal women developed a sexual problem over the period, compared to 23% of post-menopausal women. Similarly, 7% of pre-menopausal women saw an improvement in their sexual function over the period, compared to 8% of the post-menopausal subjects.
Overall, the researchers concluded that the sexuality of the study participants remained "moderately stable" over the four years, and that the main predictors of changes in sexual functioning and satisfaction were desire and arousal.
These findings led the researchers to conclude that improvements to sexual satisfaction are still possible after menopause, despite the potentially deleterious effects of the change of life.
"For clinical practice, it is important to note that improvement of a woman's sexuality is possible even at a later stage and despite possible biological impairments that may be present," they conclude.