In a logical prequel to the Septuagenarian Sex Shocker, this just in: middle-aged women who are sexually active continue to have sex! Even if they’re diagnosed with sexual dysfunction—a term that’s beginning to lose scientific credibility, and not soon enough.
Here’s the backstory: when Viagra hit the market in 1998, it was so successful that researchers embarked on a search for a female version. A metric was necessary, so physicians devised a test called the Female Sexual Function Index. Only it turned out to be a lousy predictor. More than 85 percent of women in a University of Pittsburgh study reported remaining sexually active despite scoring poorly on the Index. How come? Because its “focus on intercourse may not accurate reflect what constitute satisfying sex in this population,” concluded lead author Dr. Holly Thomas. It “may be labeling women as dysfunctional when women don’t have a problem.”
Good news for women: no dysfunction, no need to medicate. Bad news for Pfizer, which sank millions into a Viagra for women to no avail, because—wait for it—female sexual response is complicated! Drugs were able to produce the symptoms of arousal, but didn’t address the actual problem, which in women is often a lack of sexual desire. Sex also changes over time, with intercourse becoming less important relative to kissing and intimate touching. One constant: women who rated sex as important were three times as likely to remain sexually active as those who didn’t. Yet big pharma’s search for a lucrative magic pill to “cure” the female libido continues.
If the industry really wants to learn more about sex past midlife, how about a more holistic view that takes emotional and developmental factors into consideration? And how about including women in their 80s and 90s in studies? A 79-year-old woman complained to Dr. Camelia Davtyan, Director of women’s health at the UCLA Comprehensive Health Program, that she was bleeding during intercourse. The doctor prescribed daily vaginal lubricants and vaginal estrogen. “How am I going to use these results for her?” she asked. “I can’t because she’s too old.” Perhaps it’s one reason she’s lived so long; a healthy sex life is a predictor of longevity.