Many women aged 40 and older are satisfied with their sex lives, a new study shows.

About 2,100 women aged 40-69 participated in the study. All were members of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program of Northern California and part of a study on urinary incontinence.

The women completed a questionnaire about sexual activity, which was defined as “any activity that is sexually arousing to you, including masturbation.”

The results, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, show that most women were sexually active and fairly satisfied, at least, with their sex lives. The researchers included Ilana Addis, MD, MPH, of the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center.

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Here’s how the researchers describe the participants:

--Average age: 55.

--Nearly 70 percent were married or in long-term relationships.

--80 percent had some college education;

--65 percent were employed.

--More than three-quarters had delivered at least one baby.

--65 percent were postmenopausal.

--Most rated their health as being “very good/good” or “excellent.”

--Nearly half were white; the rest were closely split between blacks, Hispanics, and Asian- Americans.

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Findings from the study include:

--Nearly three-quarters of the women reported being sexually active.

--60 percent of sexually active women reported sexual activity at least monthly in the last year.

--Almost two-thirds of sexually active women said their sexual activity was at least somewhat satisfying.

--A third of sexually active women reported at least one of these problems: lack of sexual interest, inability to relax and enjoy sexual activity, difficulty in becoming aroused, and difficulty in having an orgasm.

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Sexually Satisfied Women

Sexual satisfaction was more commonly reported by black women, women with lower body mass index (BMI), and women with higher scores on a mental health test.

Sexual activity was associated with younger age, higher education level, significant relationship, nonsmoking, lower BMI, and moderate alcohol use.

Sexual dysfunction was linked to higher education level, poor health, and significant relationship, the study shows. Women with high education levels may have different stressors or different priorities and expectations about sexual activity, write Addis and colleagues.

The researchers caution that their findings might not apply to other groups of women.

Provocative Question

“If a woman reports having a sexual life that is less than perfect, at what point does she have sexual dysfunction?” asks Brenda Gierhart, MD, in the editorial. Gierhart works for the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

“I offer my opinion that the definition of female sexual dysfunction is such a problem because female sexual dysfunction does not exist as a diagnosis,” Gierhart writes. “I believe that it is a spectrum of disorders with extensive overlap between the disorders.”

Gierhart states that people should “approach all female dysfunction prevalence studies with caution until researchers accept a standard definition.”

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed By Ann Edmundson, MD

SOURCES: Addis, I. Obstetrics & Gynecology, April 2006; vol 107: pp 755-764. Gierhart, B. Obstetrics & Gynecology, April 2006; vol 107: pp 750-751. Reuters.