As women go through menopause they may express greater interest in trying new ways of being intimate with their partners as a way to adapt to changes in sexual function.
That's according to a new UPMC study, published online this month in the journal Menopause, which looked at 39 women ages 45 to 60, most of whom were heterosexual. During hour-long interviews with researchers, the women answered questions including, "How do you define satisfying sex?" or "What does 'sex' mean to you?"
"Some of the women ... said [the interview] was actually a therapeutic experience," said lead author Dr. Holly Thomas. “Sex is still important to the majority of women as they get older, even to their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond."
Thomas found that some women will prioritize emotional aspects of sex if their libidos decline, but adds others might also experiment sexually to adapt to physical changes, like body pain or vaginal dryness.
"Women in our study discussed trying oral sex for the first time or incorporating the use of vibrators to adapt to some for the physical changes they experienced,” she said.
One finding Thomas found surprising is that a portion of women reported having larger sexual appetites than their partners. She said participants cited several reasons for this.
"One is that they felt that they had better knowledge of their own selves and their body as they got older, they better understood what worked for them sexually," she explained. "Another reason is that they felt more confident over time, that they felt more comfortable in their own bodies and more self-confident as they got older."
Those responses contradict the popular assumption that women’s libidos go down, causing frustration in male partners, Thomas said. Women also reported having better communication skills and feeling more empowered to discuss their sexual needs with their partner.
Thomas said she hopes to use this research to create interventions that preserve women’s sexual function by teaching mindfulness and self-acceptance. She also wants to study women aged 60 and older.