It is a widely recognized fact that roughly 40% of middle aged and older women have difficulties related to sex. During Dr. Oz's Slumber Party show, I mentioned the findings of a study revealing that, of these women, only a tiny percentage is bothered by it. Dr. Oz was astonished, and he’s not alone. Most people are surprised at these statistics … except, of course, the many individuals or couples that are perfectly satisfied with life sans sex.
In this study released a few years ago, Dr. Jan Shifren, an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Menopause Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, researched sexual problems in over 32,000 women between the ages of 18 and 100. (Yes, 100!) While about 40 % of women surveyed reported having issues such as low desire, arousal problems and difficulty achieving orgasm, only 12% indicated that those issues were a source of significant personal distress affecting quality of life. In other words, the majority of women with sexual problems were not particularly motivated to do anything to fix it. While the prevalence of sexual problems was highest in women over the age of 65, that group was also the least likely to be distressed about it.
I have always made an effort to identify patients with sexual issues such as painful intercourse, lack of libido and vaginal dryness. My first step used to be to offer solutions, but this study drastically changed my approach. Now I appreciate that while sexual problems in women are common, they do not always affect quality of life or require treatment. So when I ask a patient if she has a satisfying sex life and she says, “No,” I assume nothing and ask the follow up question, “Is this something you would like me to address?” Sometimes I’m told, “Yes, absolutely. I miss sex!” Sometimes I’m told, “I really don’t care, but I love my husband and I want to make him happy.” And more often than not I’m told, “Not really. I’m fine.”
In our sex-obsessed society it’s important to acknowledge that many individuals are not sexually active but are also not necessarily lonely, feeling sex starved, or unhappy about it. Many couples, particularly older couples, have solid relationships, intimacy and affection without being sexual.
And for those women and couples who have sexual issues that they do want to fix? Talk to your doctor. There are more solutions than you think. Even if you’re 100.