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Improving Sexual Health in Older Women

Hormone Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

An image of a chalkboard with sexual health written on it and a stethoscopeAs women get older, many find they are increasingly less interested in sex. This can happen for a variety of reasons, from health issues and hormonal changes to the stresses of work, relationships, and raising children. Understanding the causes of declining sexual health in older women can be a first step in finding ways to work with and accept changes that have come in this intimate area of life.

Declining Interest in Sex

Many studies on sexual health in older women have found a marked drop in interest in sexual relations as women age. According to a 2008 Chicago study, lack of interest in sex among older women is prevalent. It found that 45.5 percent of women between the ages of 57 and 64 are reportedly not interested in sex. Meanwhile, 37.6 percent of women from age 65 to 74, and 49.3 percent of women from age 75 to 85, have also expressed disinterest in sex.

In some cases, this lack of interest in sex can be due to issues with sexual health in older women. Persistent problems in sexual desire, response, pain, or orgasm among women are medically recognized as female sexual dysfunction (FSD). Aside from affecting a woman’s sexual satisfaction, FSD can also affect intimate relationships. This can cause a strain in the relationship and, ultimately, become a source of stress that, in turn, decreases sexual desire.

Potential Reasons for Reduced Sex-Drive In Older Women

There are a number of common factors that can also cause an older woman to become disinterested in sex. These include:

Societal Expectations

Many women feel pressured to match stereotypical expectations concerning sexual behavior. This can result in a sense that the frequency, quality, or conditions of sex should meet up to a certain standard that may not be right for an individual woman or couple. This can create additional pressure, expectations, or need for negotiation that prevents many women from wanting to deal with sex.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Sometimes, sexual health in older women can become compromised as a result of an underlying medical condition. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and coronary artery disease. However, even relatively mild conditions like hormone imbalances, insomnia, gaining weight, feeling tired, or early stage adrenal fatigue can affect your ability to feel aroused and satisfied.

Stress

This is the kind of stress that everyone tends to experience regularly. Sources of this type of stress include finances, work, studies, relationships, career, and many others. It can be emotional, environmental, or physiological. In other words, it can also come from inside your body, due to health issues or lifestyle factors. And this type of stress over the long-term can affect your entire life.

NEM Hormone CircuitTypically, when the body needs to respond to stress, it activates its NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response system. This system is composed of six circuits of organs and systems that work together to address stress. Once the stress has passed, all of the organs in the NEM system need to return to normal function. However, when stress continues to persist and becomes chronic, these systems can become overworked.

In the hormone circuit, consisting of the reproductive organs, the thyroid, and the adrenal glands, the adrenals work to produce the stress hormone cortisol in response to stress. Under chronic stress, the body favors the production of cortisol over other hormones, depriving it of the necessary sex hormones it needs for healthy reproductive function. Research has shown a direct correlation between stress and decreased levels of arousal, desire, and satisfaction in women.

Eventually, the adrenals can no longer keep up with the production demands of chronic stress, resulting in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). One of the symptoms of AFS that many suffer from is reduced sex drive. If a disinterest in sex is a source of stress, this can create a feedback loop, worsening both stress and sexual health.

Hormone Imbalance

Most women experience a decline in the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone as they get older. There is a 75 percent reduction of progesterone in women’s bodies between the ages of 35 and 50. Meanwhile, there is a 35 percent decline in estrogen during this period. If these hormones decline at imbalanced rates, it can create too much of one, leading to hormone imbalances. These hormone levels also decrease as women enter menopause. This also creates further hormonal imbalance and contributes to problems with sexual health in older women.

A decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels can lead to a decreased interest in sex. These low levels can also cause dry vaginal tissues. As a result, sex can become uncomfortable and even painful.

Ways to Improve Sexual Health in Older Women

If sexual health issues are caused by medical issues or relationship difficulties, you may want to seek out professional help. There are many excellent doctors that specialize in women’s health, and many therapists can help you develop tools for and perspective on how you and your partner practice intimacy. Taking steps to resolve these issues could be a necessary part of improving your overall sexual wellbeing. If stress is a factor, trying stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, journaling, time with friends, and enjoying hobbies, is a great way to reduce stress.

If you’re interested in boosting your sexual health and libido, there are also many steps you can take. You’ll find that many of the remedies that seek to improve sexual health in older women are also for the most part remedies that boost your health overall. They increase blood flow, calm you, reduce oxidative stress, ensure you have enough nutrients, and encourage flexibility.

Making sure you are including these practices in your lifestyle is a great way to boost sexual health in older women as well as to boost overall health, quality of life, and longevity. With these, you can’t go wrong.

An image of an older couple sleeping peacefully in a white bed

  • Get a good night’s sleep. Ensuring that you get enough sleep regularly helps your body’s insulin response and blood sugar levels. This also keeps your cortisol levels more stable. This helps prevent the compromising of your body’s ability to produce adequate levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone as you age. Having healthy levels of hormones is a great step in protecting your sexual health.
  • Check your hormone levels. If low or imbalanced hormone levels are a problem for you, it could be a good idea to talk with your doctor about testing your hormone levels and potentially getting hormone replacement therapy. Hormone imbalances are very common in women around menopause. This is not a good option for everyone though, as certain types of hormone replacements can trigger cancer, and it is important to ensure you have your levels tested accurately and that your hormone replacements are natural and FDA approved.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Make sure that your meals contain whole foods, lean protein, and vegetables. This balances out your energy levels throughout the day. Eating foods that contain collagen, bromelain, folic acid, healthy fats, and antioxidants are also great ways to boost your health and sex drive. Anti-inflammatory foods are also great choices. Some of these foods include olive oil, avocado, ginger, basil, saffron, garlic, bone broth, watermelon, pineapple, banana, and - of course - dark chocolate. It’s also a good idea to make sure you are getting enough vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and B-complex vitamins.
  • Exercise regularly. Engaging in regular physical exercise helps the body achieve better energy levels, improve flexibility, increase blood flow and sensation, improve stamina, and more. What’s more, exercise has also been shown to uplift your mood and stimulate the release of hormones, which in turn, can improve your libido. This may explain why a Texas study associated acute exercise with enhanced sexual arousal. And in addition to boosting your libido, exercise can help protect your mind into older age and prevent dementia as well, making it a great option regardless of your sex life.
  • Practice meditating. Doing some regular meditation can help relax your mind and prevent stress from wreaking havoc on your overall health. It can help you to achieve a better mindset, be more present in the moment, and find more joy in life. This mindset can also help soothe stress, rebalance your hormones, overcome relationship difficulties, and improve your sex life.
  • Do some yoga. To many, yoga is more than just an exercise. It is a lifestyle that encourages mindfulness, relaxation. and healing. According to various studies, yoga has been found to reduce depression, lower anxiety, and improve conditions such as high blood pressure and joint pain. A 2009 study also found that practicing yoga regularly can enhance one’s sexual orgasm, arousal, desire, and satisfaction.
  • Make sure to Kegel. Kegel exercises involve strengthening the muscles of your pelvic floor and vagina. These muscles are often stretched and weakened by having children, as well as aging. To do Kegel exercises, you squeeze like you are trying to stop the flow of urine for about 10 seconds, and then relax for 10 seconds. You can do them in sets while sitting in traffic or waiting in line, and they are a great way to improve your muscle tone and sexual satisfaction.

Conclusion

An image of two couples in a team huddle smilingThere are many ways to improve sexual health in older women, but many of these ways involve discovering what the problem is in your individual case, and finding the right way to address it. Seeking out professional women’s doctors and therapists can be your best bet if you have medical challenges or relationship difficulties getting in the way of your sexual health. If you have been under chronic stress and suspect adrenal fatigue is preventing you from enjoying the sex life you want, it could be a good idea to seek out specialized adrenal fatigue coaching, as this complex condition is often one many doctors are unaware of. Finally, taking steps to care for your health overall, like exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and reducing stress in your life are great ways to improve your sexual health and happiness as well.

 
© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam's Key Question

When the body experiences stress, the adrenal glands respond by producing the primary stress hormone cortisol. And as stress persists, the body continues to prioritize the production of cortisol over other hormones, including essential sex hormones. This reduced output can negatively affect sexual health in older women.

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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