One of the motivations for my work with women both in my practice and through MiddlesexMD is the difference staying sexy makes for women in their relationships. I’ve heard anecdotes on both sides of the issue: from women who feel the intimacy with their partners drifting away, and from women who’ve reignited their sex lives and feel a burden lifted in their relationships as they and their partners re-engage.
So I was especially interested to see a study announced this month that puts some numbers to those observations. The study was led by Adena M. Galinsky and Linda J. Waite through the University of Chicago’s Center on Demography and Economics of Aging. I’m waiting the full text of the study, but an article in The Washington Post provides some interesting highlights.
A healthy sex life helps couples dealing with physical illness. Illnesses, especially chronic ones, can stress a marriage at any age. The study results showed that couples with more sexual intimacy viewed their marriages more positively in spite of illness.
Assessments of relationship quality are tied to frequency of sex. To put it plainly, couples who had sex more often were more likely to say they had a good relationship. In other studies, good marriages have been shown to prolong life—and certainly quality of life.
At any age, we can “expand [our] idea of what sex is,” according to Amelia Karraker, postdoctoral fellow at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan. I look forward to studying this part of the study in detail, because many of us grew up thinking sex equals vaginal intercourse. When that becomes uncomfortable or less pleasurable, too many of us think we’re done with sex.
This study’s data encourage us to keep sex as a part of our lives for just as long as we’d like to. When sex changes for us, we only need to learn about what’s different and how we can compensate (and engage our partners along the way). When we abandon that part of ourselves, we accept an unnecessary loss—to ourselves and our relationships.
“Wellbeing in older age incorporates both psychological and physical wellbeing as well as sexual wellbeing, which can occur at the intersection of those two,” Karraker said. Or, to put it another way: Sex is part of our physical and emotional health. Our whole lives.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.