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The demands of modern life are more likely to affect the sex lives of middle-aged women than the menopause, a major study has found. Women in their middle age today have often married and had children later than their predecessors.
This has seen them dubbed “the sandwich generation”, as they end up looking after their children and their elderly parents. They are also more likely to still be in work.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Glasgow and University College London, questioned more than 2,000 women aged between 40 and 59 to see what factors had influenced their sex lives.
The teams, whose work was published in the Journal of Sex Research, found age and menopausal status were less important in determining levels of sexual satisfaction, function, and frequency than relationships, lifestyle, and a woman’s health status.
It found that while a third had not had sex in the past month, less than half of this proportion were “dissatisfied” with their sex lives.
In follow-up interviews, few linked their menopause with a decline in the quality or frequency of sexual activity.
But women did describe “hectic schedules” and the “challenges of combining family, work and social lives”. They also cited financial and relationship difficulties, worries about family members, the twin demands of children and caring for ageing parents, who both needed practical help and emotional support.
Kaye Wellings, lead author and professor of sexual and reproductive health research at LSHTM, said: “Many women in middle-age today are still working and supporting dependent children and elderly parents, while sometimes coping with their own emerging health issues. We hope the findings are reassuring, showing women they’re not out of line with others at this time in their lives.”
Shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said the UK needs a “national conversation”.
In a speech at the Women’s Institute in London, she called for a greater discussion of the pressures faced by women aged 45 to 64.
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