New Findings on Menopause, Libido, and the Importance of Sex as We Age

Watch the TV long enough, and you’re bound to be bombarded with ads promoting pills for men’s sexual health. There doesn’t seem to be many taboos remaining when it comes to talking about older men and sex, but we still seem to be lagging behind when it comes to discussing older women’s feelings about sex. True, we have begun to look more at how menopause affects women and the way they experience sex physically, and that is positive. But are we really talking about the importance of sex and sexuality to older women? Probably not as much as we should be – sex doesn’t stop after 50! Luckily, a new study is now trying to highlight this subject, and has published some interesting findings about menopause, sex drive, and the importance of sex to women as they age.

The Study

black and white picture of a caucasian woman looking out a window
Many women over the age of 50 do not talk about sex, which leads to feeling alone and misunderstood. 

It seems like our reluctance to talk about how older women feel about sex has lead to a lot of assumptions. For example, have you noticed that a lot of people assume that once a woman reaches menopause, her sex drive is going to automatically and inevitably fade away? Women over 50 (or even over 35 or 40 sometimes!) definitely have reason to complain that they are left feeling invisible, and misunderstood, especially when it comes to their sexuality. But feelings about sex are intensely personal for everyone – women over 50 included! – and can be complicated. The cure to this silence? More open, honest looks at how older women view their sex lives. 

Holly N. Thomas, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, has spent years trying to get more detailed information on older women’s sexuality out there. Thomas and her team recently presented a long-term study to answer the question of whether it’s inevitable that women lose interest in sex when they get older.

“We were interested in looking at how women’s ratings of how important sex was to them changes or stays the same as they move through the menopausal transition,” says Thomas. They studied 3,257 women over 15 years of their lives, monitoring them physically and consistently asking how important sex was to them throughout these years. Their findings were in some ways surprising, and in some ways completely common sense. 

The Findings

The problem with studies of a lot of people is that they often just show us how people feel on average. So maybe if you asked multiple women how they felt about sex as they got older, and then you lumped all of their answers together, it might look like on average sex usually gets less and less important to women the older they get. Luckily, this study accounted for that and found that, unsurprisingly, different women have different opinions on the importance of sex to them. 

According to Thomas, “If you just looked at averages of the group as a whole, it would look like how important sex is to women would go down for everyone, but we actually found three distinct pathways women commonly follow when it comes to how much they value sex as they get older. It’s important to recognize not all women are going to follow the same pathway when it comes to sex at midlife, each woman has her own unique experience.”illustration of a paper on a clipboard with a pencil writing on it, some green check marks with one red X

So how did these women view the importance of sex? While the largest group of them (45%) said that sex did actually become less important to them as they went through their 40s, 50s, and 60s, 27% said that it had remained “highly important” to them throughout the entirety of their midlife. The remaining group said that sex was not very important to them as they entered midlife, and their feelings remained the same as they got older.

So the study proves what might be obvious to any older woman (or anyone with a close relationship to an older woman!): sex can be a big part of anyone’s life! But the study also found that there are a few things that women can address to keep their sex lives an exciting and active part of their lives. 

What was it that The Rolling Stones were talking about? Satisfaction! The study found that one of the most important factors in women remaining interested in sex is satisfaction. We’re talking physical satisfaction and emotional satisfaction – sex that feels good and hits the spot in all senses of the word! If sex doesn’t feel good, then women should feel comfortable speaking with their doctors about possible solutions. 

Another factor? Psychological health. Taking care of our mental health is always important. But it is especially vital as we age and our lives begin to change, with kids leaving home and retirement making the whole structure of our days different. In Thomas’ study, she found that women who were depressed were less likely to feel that sex was important to them; she points out that there is definitely a link between depression and low libido. Women should always speak to their doctor if they’re feeling low, including if they feel like it’s affecting their sex drive!

More Talk = Better Sex?

There is nothing inevitable about women losing their sex drives as they get older. Sex does not get less important to all women simply because they hit menopause; if it was important before, it is more likely to continue to be important. But we might need to work at keeping it fresh and interesting, and realize that sex itself might start to change as we age. And we definitely all need to work on being more open about everyone’s sexuality.  

two older women talking while sitting at a table with coffee mugs on it
It is important for doctors to talk about women’s sex life, and for women to talk about any problems they face about sex.

According to Stephanie Faubion, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health in Rochester, Minnesota, “Sexual function is usually under addressed in women in general but certainly in women beyond menopause. We need to be more routinely asking women in midlife about their sexual function and whether there are barriers such as having pain during intercourse or if they’re having problems with low sexual desire that’s bothering them.”

Her main point? We should be talking with women about ways to keep their sex life active throughout their whole lives, if that’s what they want. Doctors should talk to women about how sex might look different in midlife and beyond, and nobody should feel shy or uncomfortable talking about how they can reinvent or reimagine their sex lives. Everyone should be encouraged to spice things up, or explore what feels good to them – whether it’s trying out things like talking dirty or switching from regular old missionary position sex to things like oral sex and mutual masturbation.

Doctors agree that we should all be having fun in whatever way works for us (even if they say it in their own doctor language!) Says Faubion, “We have to modify our expectations about sexual functioning as we get older. Sex may not be always be penis and vagina sex; I have that conversation often with my patients.” Most importantly, we need to acknowledge that sexual intimacy in some form remains important for pretty much everyone throughout their whole lives. 

The takeaway from studies like this is that we cannot make assumptions about anybody’s feelings, especially on subjects as personal as sex and sexuality. The way to cure our tendency to dismiss older women’s sexuality, and to validate their feelings and support them? Be more open about it! It’s time to ditch old stereotypes and taboos and allow everyone to live their fullest, most satisfying lives.

How to Own Menopause AND Your Sex Life

Hot flashes. Mood changes. Chills. Slowed metabolism. And worst of all, vaginal dryness. These are just some of the symptoms that accompany menopause.

When the time comes, menopause will be a new phase of your life, and that phase comes with changes. Your biggest concern may be sex-related.  The main culprit stealing the fun from sex is thin vaginal walls, or even the dryness we talked about earlier.

women smiling with menopause and sex life
Keep a bright outlook! Not everyone experiences life changes in the same way.

These problems all stem from lower estrogen levels. When menopause occurs, your hormone levels decrease, and this can trigger unwanted changes. The physical ones can be uncomfortable enough, but with such a huge role, lowered estrogen (and testosterone) can wreak havoc on your libido, energy levels, and more. 

However, it’s not all bad. Some women report their lives improving after menopause! There are simple fixes to these problems that’ll have you back in the saddle in no time.  

Exercise Your Sex Drive

Want to revive your sex drive? Simple, just exercise more. 

The healthier you feel (and are), the sexier you will feel, which aids in good mental health. Confidence and proper self-care are key factors in a healthy sex life. Weight-lifting, cardio, even yoga can give you a wellness boost; things you can feel in both mind and body. 

It also doesn’t hurt to be stronger, and keep up your stamina in the bedroom!

Lube Is Important

Out of all these issues, vaginal dryness is the easiest to treat. Personal lubricant, or “lube” as it is affectionately called, is sold over the counter at grocery stores and pharmacies. No need for a prescription. 

Apply a water-based lube before you have sex. Why water-based? Well, water-based lubricants are less sticky than oil or petroleum-based lubricants, making for an easier clean-up. Also of note, some condoms can dissolve in oil-based lubricants. If you want to practice safe sex, then steering towards water-based is a good rule of thumb.

woman in pink making a face about menopause
Supplements? Lube? Uncomfortable conversations? This doesn’t seem like fun, but these ways are manageable, and they can open new doors.

These lubes relieve the dryness, and you can enjoy sex again without the pain. If you want a more natural lube, coconut oil also works great. Just make sure that you don’t have a coconut allergy!

Testosterone Replacement

We tend to focus on men when it comes to testosterone supplements. It’s an easy fix for their erectile dysfunction or other male issues. However, everybody uses testosterone, just in different ways.

Women’s sex drive can also be boosted with a little testosterone. Talk to your doctor about it if it intrigues you, but know that there are side effects that come with it such as thinning hair and acne. Like most hormone supplements, successful use is directly tied to your body chemistry, so remember to pay close attention if you choose this route.

Let’s Get Physical, Physical

Have more sex. Yes, you read that right.

Menopause can make sex painful, so it is understandable when you say it hurts. We went over the thinning and dryness issues earlier. However, the more penetrative sex you have, the better equipped your body will be to keep your vaginal walls thick. It’s kind of like exercise.

Arousal leads to blood flow down below. And don’t worry if you lack a sex partner, masturbation works just as well.


It’s hard to talk about menopause; it’s not the sexiest issue out there, and many women aren’t looking forward to this time of life.

On top of societal concerns, you have to deal with vaginal dryness, painful sex, lowered libido, and more. The last thing you want to do is bring up how sex has to change. It’s not a conversation anyone is prepared to have.

However, communicating these issues with your partner will only bring you closer.

woman smiling in a sweater about menopause solutions
More communication can only make your relationship stronger! Think of sexy ways to keep life interesting.

Help them to understand the changes you are dealing with and ways you can have more enjoyable sex. If you are open about it, you gain assistance while you walk this difficult path Plus once you get it out in the open, it’s just a matter of time and teamwork.!

Your sex life does not have to end once you go through menopause. Yes, it might cause pain when having sex, and yes, you might not want to have sex as much, but maybe you’ll find it’s a blessing in disguise. Communicating and exploring your body can only improve sex. 

Like any uncomfortable situation, you can take the best from it and move forward. With menopause, there are alternatives to kick it in the butt, and still have a great life. 

Confidence is important. Do not let the word menopause define you. Take it on with a positive attitude and own it!