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Body image, not menopause, causes lack of desire

November 13th, 2005

Dr Petra

Over the past few years there’s been a growing number of stories saying that women’s lack of desire post-menopause is due to hormonal factors. And the solution has been to medicalise women’s lack of desire and prescribe hormonal treatments.

A new piece of research from Penn State University tells us something different.

The research, published in the Journal of Sex Research, suggests that women’s lack of desire is more to do with their changing body image, not their hormone levels.

The study revealed women who saw themselves as unattractive were more likely to report a drop in sexual desire and activity over the previous decade. They studied 307 heterosexual women aged 35-55. 21% were pre-menopausal, 63.5% were experiencing some menopausal changes and 15.5% had passed the menopause.

Nearly 21% of participants couldn’t think of even one attractive thing about themselves, and also stated they’d an overall feeling of dissatisfaction about their bodies. They particularly hated their thighs, hips, legs and tummies.

Given the endless pressure on women to slim down and look young, and to have smooth tummies and cellulite free legs, its not surprising women reported disliking these body areas. It may be that pressure from consumer products is increasing women’s anxieties and in turn making it impossible for them to feel confident or enjoy sex.

It’s also concerning that the very areas that are visible within sex – the legs, bottom, tummy or thighs – are areas women despise. If you’re noticing these areas during sex it’s going to obviously interfere with your ability to get excited.

2/3 of the women stated they either wanted sex less than 10 years previously, or they had sex far less often than a decade ago.

Interestingly when the women did have sex they reported a high level of enjoyment – 72% said they were physically and emotionally happy with their sexual relationships.

Dr Patricia Barthalow Koch, associate professor of biobehaviour health and women’s studies, who led the research said in a report from the Washington Post: “Our results suggest that ‘treatment,’ via medication, of menopausal effects for this purpose seems unwarranted in light of the findings that menopausal status did not have a significant impact on the sexual responding of the women in this study”.

Further research is planned to examine the link between body image and female sexuality.

Perhaps before we see treating women with hormones as our first step we need to address issues of body image, insecurity and lack of confidence.

This research actually offers a lot of scope for women’s magazines. It’s a robust study from a respected journal that clearly indicates the cause of many women’s lack of desire. It’s not difficult to base a story on this, nor to provide a number of positive strategies to help women feel more positive about their bodies – and therefore enjoy sex more.

The question is will magazines even notice this research is out there, and will they write about it? Whilst magazines are quick to leap on hormonally based explanations for women’s lack of desire, they’re less keen to look at other factors that get in the way of our arousal. Perhaps because they play a major role in getting us worried about our bodies to begin with?

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