Female Sexuality During and Following Menopause

  • Diane S. Fordney


The most important finding about sexual expression in aging women is the appalling lack of study and information about it. For the 30 million people over the age of 60, approximately 85% of whom are women who will live to an average age of 70 years, such omission is another index of neglect (Strean, 1983). Wharton (1981) published an annotated bibliography on sex and aging covering slightly over 1100 references, which include public addresses, meeting presentations, book chapters, books, and foreign as well as English language articles. It is fair to estimate that only 25% of those references are to research studies — of all levels of quality — in sexuality. The majority of articles are on men only rather than women or paired male and female populations. My own literature search discovered less than 100 articles studying the sexuality of aging women, and many of those were simple restatements of other articles rather than original research studies. Nonetheless, mythologized statements about an older woman’s sexuality recur over and over. The best intentioned of these are statements that a woman has no obligatory loss in function with aging (Brown et al., 1978; Butler and Lewis, 1978; Diamond and Karlen, 1981; Mancini, 1983; Scheingold and Wagner, 1974; Simpson and McKinney, 1970). However, a deestrogenized woman will have definite anatomic and physiological changes that adversely affect her functioning sexually, and there are postmen-opausal changes that appear to be uncorrected by estrogen replacement (Diamond and Karlen, 1981; Marten, 1981; Masters and Johnson, 1966; Scheingold and Wagner, 1974). The worst myths are that when she develops dysfunction with increasing age the dysfunctions are almost always psychogenic and that a majority of older women have very little or no sexual interest. As to the former, there is absolutely no information about subtle decrements in a woman’s vascular, neurologic, metabolic, and endocrine function accompanying aging and disease processes in aging, and a global attribution to psychological ill health is both unfair and unwarranted. Certainly, for aging males (40 and over) the literature of the last 5 years would seem to attribute almost all erectile failure, the most significant male dysfunction, to an organic state. The reality probably rests somewhere between for both sexes. Statements concerning little or no desire in aging women blithely disregard prominent factors about women partnered with inactive men, the high disproportion in numbers of women to available men by age 55, and the social factors of poverty and deprivation these “excess” women endure. As in other areas of sexual interest, arousal, behavior, and function, it would seem that loss of sexual desire is more the result of other problems than a de facto cause.


Sexual Behavior Sexual Activity Sexual Dysfunction Sexual Desire Sexual Arousal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diane S. Fordney
    • 1
  1. 1.Health Sciences Center, College of MedicineUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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