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Less sex during menopause transition not associated to sexual pain: Study

by Vaishali Sharma

According to a new study, having sex less frequently during the menopause transition is not associated with an increased risk of experiencing discomfort during intercourse.

The study’s findings were published in the journal ‘Obstetrics and Gynecology.’ This 13-year research investigated whether a decrease in sex frequency is responsible for women’s experiences of sexual discomfort throughout the menopausal transition. The study also looked into other characteristics that might be linked to sexual discomfort.

“Women have been told by the popular media and some physicians that if you ‘don’t use it, you’ll lose it,’ meaning if women don’t remain sexually active, especially through the menopause transition, they will lose the ability to have comfortable sex. But this study provides some empirical evidence against this popular notion,” said Elaine Waetjen, primary investigator of the study and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC Davis Health.

Painful intercourse has been reported in 20% to 59% of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a multicenter, multiracial, and multiethnic prospective study of the menopausal transition, collected questionnaire data annually throughout the first ten visits. Those between the ages of 42 and 52 who identified as Black, Hispanic, Japanese, Chinese, or White were eligible for this study.

Over the course of 13 years, 1,087 (48.4%) of the 2,247 women who had no sexual discomfort at the start acquired sexual pain at least “occasionally.” At each visit, participants filled out questionnaires on their sexual practices, genital or urinary problems, and pain during sexual activity.

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Some of the study’s other findings:
1. Women were most at risk for developing sexual pain in late perimenopause and postmenopause, independent of age.
2. Use of systemic hormone therapy did not appear to reduce this risk of developing sexual pain.
3. Reporting of vaginal dryness had the strongest association with developing pain.
4. Engaging in oral sex and having a higher frequency of arousal were associated with a reduced chance of developing sexual pain.
5. History of sexual trauma was not associated with sexual pain among this older cohort.

“Our study results provide a critical public health and clinical message: women whose sexual intercourse activity declines do not appear to be at higher risk for developing sexual pain compared with women who maintain or increase sexual frequency,” Waetjen said. “Women and their health care professionals should focus on developing individualized strategies to prevent and treat sexual pain and not attribute pain to reduced intercourse frequency.”

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