Physical and Mental Aspects of Maintaining Sexual Health in Older Women


Stephen Holzapfel, MD, CCFP, FCFP, Medical Director, Sexual Medicine Counselling Unit,
Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre;
Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine,
University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.

Sexual function and self-perception is integral to our sense of self and well-being. Yet we live in a society that desexualizes older people, especially women. Aging women experience changes in their sexuality that are often associated with negative effects on mood. Can we help women who are distressed by these changes?

Mood and Sexuality Changes Associated with Menopause
Most women make the transition through menopause with few long-term negative effects on their sexuality. Two-thirds of women in relationships are still sexually active in their 60s, with a gradual decline to about 25% of couples in their 80s. While many are comfortable with these changes, some are distressed by the loss of physical intimacy. The absence of a partner due to death, divorce or partner illness curtails women's sexual lives more often than do their own medical issues. Aging men face increasing erectile dysfunction, with one in seven men experiencing complete impotence by age 70.1 Given that North American women marry men who are on average four years older than themselves, and that men die six years sooner, most women face up to a decade of widowhood.

Laumann et al.