Sexual satisfaction in women plummets during early menopause: Study
The menopausal transition, sometimes called perimenopause, can begin several years ahead of menopause and preventive treatments could be beneficial.
Perimenopause may signal the beginning of sexual dysfunction, say experts, though very limited information exists on perimenopausal women.
However, researchers now suggest that sexual dysfunction among women increases by nearly 30% during perimenopause and vaginal dryness is the main culprit. Sexual dysfunction refers to a problem that prevents a person from experiencing satisfaction from sexual activity.
The findings, the research team says, indicate that preventive treatments for vaginal dryness could be beneficial for premenopausal, as well as menopausal women.
The menopausal transition, sometimes called perimenopause, can begin several years ahead of menopause. During this time, women may experience spotty menstrual cycles, hot flashes, and other changes, says the National Institute on Aging, US.
The researchers - from the University of Udine, Italy, and the University of Catania, Italy - say the study is important as the definition and diagnostic criteria of female sexual dysfunction are still being debated and its prevalence in postmenopausal women is still unclear. However, figures between 35.9% and 86.5% have been reported in different countries.
"This study examined sexual functioning in women aged 40 to 55 years and identified a link between vaginal dryness and worse sexual function. Given the high prevalence of sexual dysfunction in women, identifying an eminently treatable contributing factor such as vaginal dryness may allow women to maintain their sexual function during the menopause transition", says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) medical director.
There are many definitions of perimenopause, but experts generally agree that it begins with irregular menstrual cycles - due to declining ovarian function - and ends a year after the last menstrual period.
According to the research team, there are multiple factors that can negatively affect sexual function, including mental and emotional status, aging, chronic medical problems, and menopause status. Decreasing estrogen levels during the menopause transition causes a variety of biological changes in a woman's body, leading to vaginal atrophy - which is, the thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls.
The researchers say that while previous studies have documented the effect of vaginal atrophy on menopausal women, their study is one of only a few to assess impact during perimenopause, a transitional time before menopause when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen.
Their findings show that vaginal dryness most often has the greatest effect on desire, arousal, lubrication, and overall satisfaction.
"Certain symptoms of vaginal atrophy, such as vaginal dryness, are much more prevalent during the menopause transition largely as a result of vaginal dryness, sexual satisfaction scores decreased while sexual dysfunction increased by about 30% during the perimenopause years. Vaginal dryness may be the main player in determining female sexuality in the perimenopausal period", says the study published in Menopause, the journal of NAMS.
"It suggests the need for prospective studies to investigate whether selective treatment of vaginal dryness improves female sexual function in the 40 to 55 age range", the findings state.