Sexual Function in Older Women and the Role of Physical Therapy

Every aging woman who has experienced menopause knows that it changes her body, from bone loss and a higher risk of heart disease to bladder leakage, also known as urinary incontinence. Menopause can change your body’s ability to function sexually as well, including your level of sexual desire.

Physical changes that affect sex

Some of the physical changes that make sex difficult are predictable and typically occur post-menopause. Being aware means that you can plan for these changes and address them so you can continue to enjoy sex long after menopause has brought you to a new stage of life.

Common predictable changes include:

  • Vaginal atrophy. The walls of the vagina become thinner and drier, making them more prone to inflammation. This can make sex painful.
  • Urinary tract symptoms. Some women get more urinary tract infections after menopause (which can be brought on by sex), while others feel the urge to urinate at inopportune moments (such as during intercourse). You may also get up to urinate multiple times each night, which can make you too tired to want to have sex.
  • Diminished sexual interest. The hormones that spark sexual desire change as we age. This makes it harder to get aroused or even think about wanting sex.

Individual influences on sexual function

In addition to the barriers that women generally can expect to occur with aging, any individual can experience conditions that further disrupt sexual function or just change the way you experience sex as you age.

Factors proven to influence older women’s sexual activity and attitudes toward sex include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Medication for depression and anxiety
  • Amount and quality of sleep
  • Level of alcohol consumption
  • Socioeconomic status

Solutions for Improving Sexual Function as Women Age

When it comes to dealing with the predictable barriers, you have a lot of options for handling the issues that come up. You could try physical therapy for urinary issues. The therapist will likely work with you to strengthen your pelvic floor so you will have fewer urinary tract problems.

Solutions for sexual function include finding a lubrication option that works for you to combat vaginal dryness. Even if you are enjoying sex, there are measures you can take to try to improve improve sexual function:

  • Sleeping 7-8 hours each night
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Exercising 30 minutes at least 3 times a week

If you’re still struggling, further options include estrogen supplementation, vaginal estrogen suppositories, testosterone supplements and more. Each of these options should be overseen by a doctor. Seek out your primary care physician or your OB-GYN, who can help you find and implement a solution or a combination of solutions that will make sex fun again.

Women can and should enjoy sex for as long as they want to. Knowing your body and when to talk to a doctor will help extend the longevity of your sexual life.

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