Menopause & Sex: Emotions, More Than Hormones, Affect Function

As a woman nears menopause, her relationships -- not just her hormones -- may affect her sex life.

That’s according to two new studies on sexual dysfunction in women approaching menopause.

The studies were presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

The first study comes from researchers including John F. Randolph Jr., MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan.

Randolph’s team studied an ethnically diverse group of nearly 3,300 women nearing menopause.

Every year for up to six years, the women provided blood samples and reported how often they had wanted to have sex in the previous two weeks, ranging from “never” to “daily.”

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Sexual Desire

The researchers measured the women’s sex hormones in the blood samples. No clinically meaningful patterns stood out with regard to sexual desire.

But the women’s surveys yielded other clues.

Greater sexual desire was “very strongly associated” with factors such as the women’s satisfaction with their current relationship and the availability of a sexual partner.

Lower BMI(body mass index), high self-rated health, and being premenopausal were, to a more modest degree, linked to sexual desire.

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Sexual Function

The second study comes from researchers who included Clarisa Gracia, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania.

They studied sexual function and interest in more than 400 healthy women aged 35-47.

For three years, the women provided annual blood samples and completed surveys about their sex lives.

The blood samples showed that low levels of a hormone called DHEAS were associated with sexual dysfunction -- something Randolph’s team didn’t find to be true in their study.

No other hormonal patterns stood out in this study.

But other aspects of the women’s lives had an impact.

Postmenopausal women were about twice as likely as premenopausal women to report problems with sexual functioning.

“Lubrication, orgasm, and pain were specific aspects of sexual functioning negatively affected by menopause,” the researchers write.

But menopause wasn’t the only important factor.

Women without sexual partners, with high anxiety, and those with kids under the age of 18 living at home were also more likely to note sexual dysfunction, the study shows.

The bottom line from both studies: Hormones aren’t the only influence on women’s sex lives around the time of menopause. Emotions and relationships may also matter.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

SOURCE: American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s 62nd Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Oct. 21-25, 2006.