More Than Menopause: Partner’s Sexual Dysfunction Behind Low Libido For Many Older Women

PITTSBURGH — It’s very common for women in their 60s to report a lack of libido. Up until now, this has largely been viewed as a side effect of menopause, but a new study finds there are a variety of reasons for this development among older women. Dozens of women were interviewed by researchers, and one problem that kept coming up had nothing to do with the women themselves — many said their lack of sexual desire was caused by sexual dysfunction in their partners.

“If a woman is having sexual problems, what’s going on with her partner may be contributing. Sex doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” comments lead author Dr. Holly Thomas, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, in a release.

Statistically, 40% of women over the age of 60 in the United States report low libido, and 10% of that group admit that they are bothered by their diminished sexual drive. So, in an effort to better understand these changes on both a physical and psychological level, the research team held interviews with three 12-woman focus groups. Also, 15 additional women were interviewed in a private setting, so they would feel more comfortable discussing the topic.

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Over the course of these discussions, five themes regarding libido problems were continually brought up by participants: postmenopausal vaginal symptoms, erectile dysfunction in partner, fatigue or bodily pain, life stressors, and negative body image.

The study’s authors say they were surprised that so many women identified erectile problems in their partner as a significant reason why they themselves weren’t desiring sex nearly as much as they had in the past.

“Some women find workarounds, but others get stonewalled by their partner because he feels defensive,” Dr. Thomas says. “As women we’re encouraged to be accommodating, so we learn to tamp down our own needs and desires, and prioritize those of others.”

Another interesting finding was that many women reported simply being too stressed out by other responsibilities to focus on sex, despite the fact that they’re retired from their careers and their children have moved out. One example of such a situation was a participant who cited the emotional burden of caring for her sick mother, combined with the stress of supporting her daughter through a substance abuse recovery program.

While this study was fairly small, it is still among the first to investigate the causes of low libido in older women beyond just menopause and hormones. Furthermore, Dr. Thomas believes the intimate nature and small sample size of the study allowed it to produce results that may have been lost in the shuffle among a larger participant group.

The study is published in the scientific journal Menopause.

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