Sex goes downhill for women after the menopause, scientists discover

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Bad news for women going through the menopause, new research suggests sex gets worse after 'the change'.

A study of more than 4,000 post-menopausal women found over three quarters were sexually inactive, even if they had a loving partner.

Caring for an ill spouse, lack of libido and erectile dysfunction were found to be the biggest bedroom barriers.

Some specifically blamed the menopause, with night sweats, hot flushes and changes to their body shape putting them off getting intimate.

In fact, just three per cent of the women reported having regular sex and being satisfied between the sheets, the study found. 

A study of 4,000 post-menopausal women found three quarters were sexually inactive (stock)

A study of 4,000 post-menopausal women found three quarters were sexually inactive (stock)

The research was carried out by the University of Sussex and led by Dr Helena Harder, a research fellow at Sussex Health Outcomes Research and Education in Cancer.

Dr Stephanie Faubion, medical director of the The North American Menopause Society, who was not involved in the study, said: 'Sexual health challenges are common in women as they age.

'And partner factors play a prominent role in women's sexual activity and satisfaction, including the lack of a partner, sexual dysfunction of a partner, poor physical health of a partner and relationship issues.

'In addition, menopause-related problems such as vaginal dryness and pain with sex have been identified as problems affecting sexual function, yet few women seek treatment for these issues, despite the availability of effective therapies.' 

Numerous past studies have suggested both sexual satisfaction and a desire for intimacy decline after the menopause.

'The change' causes a woman's hormone levels to fluctuate, which can trigger everything from vaginal dryness to insomnia and 'vasomotor symptoms' (VMS).

VMS occur when the blood vessels constrict or dilate, leading to night sweats and hot flushes.

Low self-esteem, mood swings and relationship breakdowns may also make post-menopausal women less inclined to be intimate, the researchers wrote in The Journal of The North American Menopause Society.

However, studies have also shown staying sexually active into old age helps people feel 'young again', 'attractive' and 'desirable'. 

The researchers felt there is limited information about sex and ageing 'from the perspective of older women'. 

They therefore analysed comments on sex that were collected during the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening. 

Around half of the 185,693 postmenopausal women, aged 50-to-74, were sexually active when the screening started in 2001.

Over the four years the screening ran, the participants' sexual frequency, pleasure and comfort all declined. 

Of the more than 185,000 women who were analysed initially, 4,418 were randomly selected for a follow-up after they made 'free-text comments' in the screening's questionnaire. 

Out of these more than 4,400 women, 2,883 (65 per cent) had an 'intimate partner'.

However, the majority (77 per cent) were sexually inactive, with just 995 having regular intercourse.

Those who were not having sex largely blamed their single status (44 per cent).

Most of these singletons were widowed (29 per cent) and claimed to find it difficult to meet men, or lost interest, after their spouse died. 

One 72-year-old said: ‘I have been a widow for 17 years. My husband was my childhood sweetheart, there will never be anyone else.'

Some women claimed they were sexually inactive due to a separation or divorce (4.2 per cent).

One participant, 50, said: 'There is no sexual activity in my life at present because I do not have a partner.

'I feel my role in life at present is to bring up my 12-year old son, relationships come second.'

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