Wednesday Bubble: sexual desire in midlife

Posted by on Apr 29, 2009 in sexual desire | 3 comments


Since I’ve embarked on this blog, I’ve run across numerous studies and articles discussing sexual dysfunction and the lack of/declining sexual desire in women entering midlife and menopause. I’ve written quite a few posts about data that suggest that ingesting hormones can help to reverse these trends as well as a post that focuses on the often overlooked health aspects. If you’ve not read them, I encourage you to do so.

However, this post is not about me; it’s about you. It’s also excellent fodder for your partners and I hope that they derive some important tidbits.

I ran across some fascinating research in the online ahead of print edition of the Journal of Sexual Research that will hopefully burst a few bubbles about desire, more specifically, how women (versus researchers) define and characterize sexual desire and whether there is a huge difference between women with and without female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD, the inability to attain or maintain a sexual excitement (genital lubrication, swelling etc.).

The researchers, who based their study on one-one-one interviews with 22 women, mean ages 45 to 55, noted several challenges when characterizing sexual desire:

  • Is it a  state or action?
  • Is it spontaneous and responds to a stimulus?
  • Does it  precede, follow or is it indistinguishable from sexual arousal?

They added that for women in midlife, social context is also important; mass media, for example, creates unrealistic expectations and culturally perfect images that are not easily recreated in real life or in midlife. Notably, the distorted views that midlife women have towards their bodies have been shown to influence sexual response more than menopausal status.

Here are some key findings:

  • Both women with and without FSAD expressed that physical touch was a common trigger or enhancer  of sexual desire. Physical proximity was also important, that is, feeling comfortable or safe. Additionally, visual stimuli (e.g. seeing their partner or appealing aspects of their partner, watching erotic films) were common stimulators
  • One of the most recurrent themes was that perceived desirability was important: if women felt desired by their partners, they felt more desire. However, their desire was also influenced by their partners’ desire, sexual response, and emotional state of mind, such as depression
  • Nearly all the women said that experiencing an emotional and intellectual connection to their partner was essential and the “goal of her desire” (as opposed to simply reaching orgasm or having intercourse)

Overall, the researchers found that women’s descriptions of sexual desire varied little regardless of  arousal difficulties. They noted that current measures of sexual desire in clinical studies do not take into account factors such as emotional influences, responsive desire and the importance of context. Rather, they assess how frequently women experience spontaneous sexual desire.

They concluded that  “what is deemed dysfunction on a questionnaire might not be dysfunction in reality.”

The key take-away from this study is that women have varying definitions of desire that only become clear when they reflect on them for a period of time. The answers, rather than divergent based on medical conditions, actually converge the longer that women reflect on their experiences.

I am not suggesting that hormones have no role to lay in how we perceive sex and respond to sex as we age. But I find it heartening to see that there are other controllable essential factors that come into play. Be open to the experiences before you and don’t take the answers as THE answers.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Anais Nin


  1. 4-29-2009

    This is fascinating researching. 🙂

    • 4-29-2009

      I agree Rosy. Thanks for reading!

  2. 4-30-2009

    What a great post.

    Terrific insight:

    “Be open to the experiences before you and don’t take the answers as THE answers.”


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