According to a report in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, there are clear-cut benefits to regular sexual activity. "It may help reduce or stop some menopausal symptoms. Women who maintain a consistent sex life are less likely to experience hot flashes. There is a close association between increasing irregularity of menstrual cycles, hot flashes, declining estrogen levels, and declining frequency of intercourse.
"Regular sexual activity might have a protective action against lowering hormone levels and therefore its absence is associated with the disruption of cycles. The discomfort of hot flashes and other associated symptoms might have an inhibiting effect on sexual behaviour...But the association between hot flashes and reduced frequency of intercourse may result from some common third variable."
Another theory concerns the hormones in a partner's ejaculate. These might be absorbed through the vagina walls and keep them more robust. It is suggested that this is why women who enjoyed love making before menopause continue to do so afterwards, and may be even more keen than before. It is an interesting theory because the male hormones in ejaculate contain prostaglandins, and an excess of prostaglandins can cause the uterus to contract with period cramps.
Yet another theory suggests that freedom from the risk of pregnancy heightens a sense of freedom in bed. This was a popular theory until a few women reported that the risk of pregnancy has been a sexual "turn on." Now it was gone, they were no longer as excited or keen.
Use It or Lose It?
Does the "use it or lose it" maxim apply to the vagina? Maybe, when any muscle group is not worked over a long period of time, it atrophies. First, it loses strength and stamina. Then, and only after very prolonged time, it withers and dies. This is true for tissue, nerves, blood vessels, all the body organs, including the vagina. The more any tissue is exercised, the less risk there is of "disuse atrophy."
Midlife men have the same risk, only to a greater degree. A penis which is not regularly exercised will rapidly succumb to disuse atrophy. This rarely happens. The penis erects at night during REM sleep, and stays erect for 20 minutes or more at intervals during each night. Even in extreme old age, men without partners (and some with) masturbate to relieve sexual tension and because they enjoy the activity. By these methods, the penis is regularly exercised and kept healthy.
The same phenomenon occurs with clitoral erection. The vagina is not involved, though it may produce the sweating phenomenon during REM sleep; research is still needed. Be wary of indulging in excess sexual activity in order to avoid the risk of vaginal atrophy.
Keep in mind that other maxim: moderation in all things.
Neither menopause nor aging changes sexual desire of itself. Of far more relevance are the levels of activity before menopause, expectations of continuing activity, general state of health, and the presence of an. active partner. At midlife, a woman can find her partner has erection problems. She may be divorced, widowed, or otherwise on her own. Marriage to an older man carries a risk of early widowhood because men die five to seven years earlier than women. In some cases, and often cruelly, a woman can be abandoned by her spouse at midlife.
Sexual activity can improve after menopause if there have been troublesome periods, constant infections, or fears of unintended pregnancy. Self-pleasure (masturbation) is the natural outlet for women on their own. It is not unknown for a woman who has a selfish partner to become assertive and stop all activity if she perceives him as boorish and unloving. Could this new and feisty attitude be due to the effects of testosterone showing through?
According to one study, nearly half of the women involved said that they masturbated in their 50s. This fell to one-third at age 70 and over. Two-thirds of the men in their 50s masturbated; this fell to just under half at age 70 and over. Those having orgasms ranged from 83 percent of women in their 50s to 74 percent in their 70s and over. 91 percent of men had orgasms in their 50s; and 73 percent in their 70s and over.
Sex is like fine wine. It gets better with aging.