Middle-aged women who are sexually active are likely to carry on having sex for decades after, according to a new study suggesting many women do not lose interest in sex as they get older.
In fact, most middle-aged women do not stop having sex as they age even if they are diagnosed with sexual dysfunction, especially if sex is important to them, research has found.
A team of researchers based at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recruited 602 women between the ages of 40 and 65 and asked them to report if they were sexually active, and how important they felt sex was in their lives.
Lead author Dr Holly Thomas said the results dispelled popular public perception that as women age, sex becomes unimportant, and that women stop having sex completely as they get older.
"From our study, it looks like most women continue to have sex during midlife," she said.
Typically, doctors use the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) test to diagnose sexual problems and dysfunction experienced by women. The index includes 19 questions about arousal, orgasm, vaginal lubrication and pain during intercourse.
But, "it may be detrimental to label a woman as sexually dysfunctional," Dr Thomas said, who used the FSFI test in her research.
At the start of the study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, 354 (66.3 percent) of the women reported being sexually active when they first took the test. Four years later, 228 of those women who took the test again reported still being sexually active.
Women who rated sex as important were three times as likely to remain sexually active as women who rated it as unimportant, Thomas said.
"In contrast to prior research, we found that most sexually active midlife women remain sexually active," the study concluded.
The authors also found that sexual function, as measured by the FSFI index, failed to predict whether the women continued to have sex, leading them to suggest the instrument "may be labeling women as dysfunctional when women don't have a problem."
The index's "focus on intercourse may not accurately reflect what constitutes satisfying sex in this population, yielding falsely low scores," Dr Thomas wrote.