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Why are Older Women Disappointed With their Sex Lives?


Published on 16 August 2019 09:08 AM

Recent research suggests that the vast majority of post-menopausal women are having less frequent, and less enjoyable, sex.

The study, conducted through Brighton and Sussex medical schools, questioned over four thousand women aged fifty and over. Of those included in the study, sixty five percent had partners, yet under twenty percent of the women overall were sexually active. In those women who were sexually active, only three percent (less than two percent overall) referred to pleasurable and positive sexual experiences.

The study identifies four main reasons that older women might find a consistent and enjoyable sex life inaccessible. Lack of a partner, usually as a result of widowhood, was the most common reason given for infrequent, if any, sexual experiences, at just over twenty percent. Concern over a partner’s medical condition was another highly cited reason – some women specified that erectile dysfunction in male partners prevented them from engaging in sexual activity more often. Just under twenty cited their own ill health as an issue.

Yet, though so many women reported negative, or no, sexual experiences in their older age, just under four percent of the total women surveyed had ever sought medical help or advice in improving their sexual experiences.

Some older women might also be struggling with their sexuality itself. Our recent article highlighted unique struggles faced by older members of the LGBT+ community. These included unawareness of, or disconnection from, individuals’ local LGBT communities, since there is a tendency to view so-called ‘gay scenes’ as environments designed for younger people. Our Volunteer and Community Coordinator, Emily Houlder helps run two social groups for older members of the LGBT+ community, with funding in place to launch three more.  Group members offer peer support to one another, establishing a no-judgement environment where older people might feel more comfortable seeking advice.

Of those participants who suggested that they did not engage in regular sexual activity, thirteen percent indicated that menopause symptoms were a factor. These might include a decreased sense of self-confidence, or higher levels of stress and emotionality. Menopause specialist Doctor Michelle Gordon is currently running a free workshop to help women cope with all of the unwanted symptoms of menopause, including exhaustion, weight changes, and mood swings. Joining a women’s social group, where other members will have gone through the same experience can also help in relieving symptoms, and preventing menopause from negatively impacting your sex life.

At the three wellbeing and social activity centres managed by our social enterprise, EveryDay, regular mini welfare checks come as standard to ensure customers’ health.  This is unique to the care sector, and means that any health queries – including those related to sexual health – can be confidentially communicated with a dedicated health professional.

The best way that we can combat negative sexual experiences in the older generation is through challenging the stigma surrounding older people. The stereotypical presentation of older people as non-intimate and sexless can often cause embarrassment for older people, who might feel they are somehow outside ‘the norm’ for their age.

Our annual Age Takes Centre Stage awards, which we are happily gearing up for currently, demonstrate that older people are not limited by their age, and that the idea of older people as ‘past it’, in any social activity, is wholly false.

Useful Links

  • Sheffield University have recently set up a new service, ‘Age, Sex, and You’ in order to help promote better sexual health and awareness in older adults.
  • North Tyneside council lists a range of different clinics providing sexual health services and advice across the region.
  • EveryDay’s wellbeing and social activity centres offer regular wellbeing checks – learn more about the centres, and how to book your free half day trial.

Article by Summer Dolan (Age UK North Tyneside marketing intern)