To Faubion’s point, we have plenty of ways to treat physical issues that come with menopause that can disrupt a woman’s sexual life, such as vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, and vaginal atrophy (which is the thinning of the vaginal walls due to reduced estrogen levels). But a lot of older women, who tend to hold more traditional views on sex, don’t tend to seek out help with these sexual issues. The researchers behind the Menopause study cited a prior study that showed 72% of women diagnosed with vulvar or vaginal atrophy had never told their doctor about their symptoms.
“Perceived barriers to seeking help include feelings of embarrassment, discomfort, or failure, but also beliefs that ‘sex is private’ or that sexual problems are part of normal aging or ‘something to live with,'” they wrote. “Open communication about sexuality, including desires, needs, and dysfunctions, is important and will reduce the threshold for women to discuss sexual function.”
The data from this study was gathered in the 2000s, meaning we’re talking about women who spent their young adulthood in the 1950s to 1970s. Needless to say, sexual attitudes have changed quite a bit from then to now—people are way more comfortable discussing their sex lives openly, women are largely empowered to enjoy sex without the shame and outside the confines of marriage, and we know a lot more about how menopause works and how to directly address a lot of its physical symptoms. It’ll be interesting to observe how millennial and Gen-Z women who’ve grown up in this more sex-positive climate will navigate their sex lives later in life, after menopause, and into their senior years. We may see that a lot of our assumptions about “older women” and their supposedly lowered libidos may be more based around cultural factors than anything intrinsic about women.
For any women today who’ve been through menopause or are dealing with its unpleasant sexual side effects, don’t be afraid to talk about it with your doctor and your partner. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a wonderful intimate life if you want it. (Just in case, here are a few ways to explore your sex life as a senior if and when the mood strikes.)