Have you started to think of sex as just one more item on your to-do list? If so, is lovemaking pretty much at the bottom of that list with everything from work to shoe shopping to Skyping with the grandchildren taking precedence over getting frisky? Then you're far from alone. The 2011 WomenTALK survey commissioned by HealthyWomen.org found that a whopping 66% of the 1,031 respondents reported having sex only once a week or even less often. What's more, just 42% of the women said they believe that sex is very or extremely important to overall health.
"That's a serious misconception," says psychiatrist Naomi Greenblatt, MD, the Medical Director of TheRockingChair.org, a site dedicated to women's health throughout the lifespan. "Especially for the 43% of the HealthyWomen respondents between the ages of 50 and 65 plus, taking advantage of the wellness and anti-aging benefits of an active sex life is vital."
Greenblatt points out that while younger women may give dalliances with their men short shrift because of crammed schedules and the demands of small children, Boomers have their own set of reasons for giving sex low priority. "This is a transitional time in a woman's life and relationship," she says. "Perimenopause, menopause, and an empty nest can cause mood swings that kill libido. Physical changes can also contribute to decreased desire. Yet ironically, avoiding intimacy becomes a vicious cycle because sex has been shown to be a natural anti-depressant, a pain reliever for conditions such as arthritis, and an excellent way to ease menopausal symptoms such as sleeplessness and irritability."
Also, a distinct advantage for women of a certain age is that sex combats some of the signs of aging. Greenblatt cites research done in Scotland by David Weeks, M.D. showing that women who were engaging in regular sexual activity were perceived to be 7 to 10 years younger than their calendar ages. In the study, male volunteers guessed the women's ages after observing them through a one-way mirror. "The fact that women -- and older women in particular -- dismiss the wellness and anti-aging benefits of regular sex is unfortunate," Greenblatt concludes.
Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, executive director of HealthyWomen, agrees. “Our research shows that women don’t understand the physical benefits of an active sex life,” she says. “Beyond the positive effect of forming closer bonds for couples, sex can decrease stress, strengthen pelvic floor muscles, increase immune system function, and burn calories.”
However, Battaglino is quick to mention that emotional and psychological factors at midlife and beyond are not the only reason women eschew lovemaking. "Menopause can cause many women to experience vaginal dryness as well as pain during intercourse," she says.
She advises sufferers to start by using water-based OTC lubricants such as KY Jelly to ease the symptoms. "Oil-based products like petroleum jelly can break down condoms," she warns. "If you're using protection because of the possibility of STIs with a new partner, be sure to pick a water-based friction reducer."
Battaglino goes on to say that some women experience severe vaginal atrophy and may be candidates for topical vaginal estrogen. "A good example is Premarin Vaginal Cream," she says. "You need a doctor's prescription and you should follow directions closely. We no longer keep women on PVC indefinitely and we recommend lower doses than in the past. The cream will plump up vaginal tissues but most women only need this help for a short period of time as they adjust to the changes in their bodies."
And so? Whatever your justification has been for letting sex fall to the bottom of your bucket list, try rethinking that rationale so you can aim for an attitude adjustment. Frequent frolics between the sheets may be just what you need in order to boost your wellness quotient and look younger in the bargain!
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