Are You Ever Too Old To Be Thinking About Sex?
By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on December 04, 2011 • Updated March 04, 2021
Discuss Sexual Function Concerns With Your Physician
I continue to be amazed and dismayed by stories my female patients share with me in the office. A not uncommon theme is hearing a postmenopausal women tell me that her former healthcare provider dismissed her sexual function concerns.
While it is true that the purpose of the sex drive is to encourage reproductive aged persons to engage in sexual activity for the purpose of procreation, that does not mean that post-reproductive aged persons can not expect to have a satisfactory sexual life.
Postmenopause Painful Intercourse Can Be Treated
We live in the "age of Viagra" where advertisements for treatments for male erectile dysfunction (so-called ED) blare. And where do consumers hear about treatments for a dry, atrophic vagina? No where. The loss of estrogen that occurs in many postmenopausal women causes marked changes in the female genitalia. I tell my patients it is like "reverse puberty" in that the genitalia can become infantile with a small, contracted vaginal opening with thin friable tissue. This condition is EASILY treated and EASILY prevented. Since women do not "see" their vaginas like men see their erect or not-so-erect genitalia, it is not surprising that many women do not connect painful intercourse or even complete inability to participate in sexual activity with their partner based on the dramatic changes that have occurred to their genitalia.
I have women describe that they feel like "shards of glass" are ripping them. They tearfully describe how distressing it is that their husband of several decades is very understanding and does not "want to hurt me". They are perplexed as to why this has happened and when they try to talk to their doctor about this (perhaps the same doctor that has prescribed an ED medicine to their partner), they are simply told they are "too old to think about sex." Well, this makes my blood boil.
All women need to understand, that at all ages and stages of life, they are entitled to a healthy vagina! And if you run in to any insensitivity from your health care provider, or are told "you are too old" then I would recommend that you fire your physician!
Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be In Charge!
-Holly L. Thacker, M.D.
Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Thacker is also the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. Her special interests and areas of research including menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health.
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