We provide insight into sexual health issues impacting women over 40, revealing how often we’re getting it on, how to get turned on and what’s up with the digital dating scene.
How often are married Canadians getting busy?
If you think single Canucks are having all the fun in the bedroom, think again. It turns out, married couples are seeing plenty of action. Research shows that the average married couple in Canada has sex once a week. A 2015 study from the University of Toronto found that a weekly romp can not only help maintain an intimate spousal connection but also boost contentment. “Although more frequent sex is associated with greater happiness, this link was no longer significant at a frequency of more than once a week,” says lead researcher Amy Muise. Bottom line: You don’t need to have sex every day to experience higher levels of contentment.
While sexual activity may wane during the first half of a marriage, the long-term forecast for wedded couples is sunny. A study published in 2015 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior looked at married adults aged 57 to 85 and found a surprising trend: The initial decrease in frequency of sex after saying “I do” becomes less steep over time and eventually takes on an upward trend (the increase in sexual activity is even more dramatic for couples in their first marriage).
I'm middle-aged and newly single. What do I need to know about safe sex?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) should be a concern for anyone in the dating arena, not just young singles. Today, more midlife Canadians are dating and having sex compared to those in previous years, but studies show that they aren’t adequately protecting themselves against STIs. As a result, the rate of chlamydia is on the rise among Canadian women aged 40 to 59—a 190 per- cent increase from 2003 to 2012. Nevertheless, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the University of Guelph and the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN), most single women (61 percent) in that same age group say they’re “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned” about contracting an STI.
In addition to chlamydia, there’s a slew of other common infections you could be at risk of contracting, including genital herpes, human papillomavirus, gonorrhea, hepatitis and syphilis. Aside from cold and flu viruses, STIs are some of the most widespread infections in the world. To complicate matters, many STIs can go unnoticed, allowing them to be passed along to others more easily.
The University of Guelph/ SIECCAN study also found that 72 percent of sexually active single women aged 40 and older didn’t use a condom the last time they had intercourse. Meanwhile, 32 percent had two or more partners in the past year. Condom use will help guard against not only infections but also pregnancy. “Many women assume that if they’re in or through menopause, then they’re no longer ovulating, but that’s not true,” says Robin Milhausen, a sexuality researcher and educator who helped lead the study. “Ovulation can be erratic through perimenopause and postmenopause.” Whether your relationship status is “casually dating” or “in a relationship,” it’s important to use protection.
How will menopause impact my sex life?
The average Canadian woman will enter menopause around her 50th birthday, and symptoms aren’t limited to hot flashes and night sweats. The lesser-known issue of vaginal dryness can affect peri- and postmenopausal women in the bedroom and beyond, and many are unwilling to talk about it with their closest friends or even their physician. Along with moisture loss, women may also experience a thinning of the vaginal walls and a change to the elasticity and colour of the vaginal tissue. These women may find it takes longer to become aroused, and intercourse may become painful. “This can be ameliorated with the use of a lubricant,” says Milhausen. “I encourage women of all ages to use lubricants for every sexual encounter. It’s better—period.” Moisturizers and a low-dose estrogen are also available to treat vaginal discomfort. Discuss these options with your physician to find the best solution for you.
What are the dating rules for women in the tech age?
For women re-entering the singles scene following a divorce or the death of a partner, the dating landscape might seem unrecognizable. Nowadays, online dating is one of the most common ways to meet a mate, regardless of age. According to Match Group, owner of several popular dating sites and apps such as Match.com and Tinder, one in three relationships begins online.
Dating websites and apps are, for the most part, free and easy to use. The market is loaded with options, including niche platforms catered to age, culture, hobby or interest (such as JSwipe for Jewish singles and OurTime for those over 50), as well as those geared toward a broader market (such as Bumble, where women initiate contact, and Happn, a location-based app).
Choose the service that appeals to you and create an honest pro- file with recent photos that reflect your personality and show you in your element whether that’s baking, gardening or practising Pilates. Success comes from keeping an open mind and taking your time. Contact potential matches, connect virtually and then meet in person to determine if there’s chemistry.
Is a dip in libido normal as I get older?
Sexual appetite can ebb and flow, and there’s no benchmark for what level of desire is normal. “This is not as easy to quantify as frequency of sex or orgasm,” says Milhausen. “Low desire is very common for women—up to 40 percent might report it at any given time.” These drops can vary by age and are not confined to menopause. “In fact, some women may experience increased desire around menopause because they feel liberated from menstruation and worries associated with getting pregnant,” adds Milhausen.
What can women expect, sexually speaking, from midlife into our 80s?
Milhausen’s research has found that many women between the ages of 40 and 59 are having more enjoyable and adventurous sex compared to a decade ago. For some women, sexual fulfillment peaks during midlife. In a 2017 study out of the University of Pittsburgh, sexually active women aged 45 to 60 said they attributed these positive changes to increased self-confidence and self-knowledge, as well as improved communication skills that have come with age.
People in their twilight years, meanwhile, are more sexually active than we once thought. The Archives of Sexual Behavior study looking at sex in marriage also found that women aged 70 and older were still sexually active, and one-third of these women had sex twice a month. “I think this number among heterosexual women could be even higher; however, there’s a lack of male partners as [women] outlive their male counterparts, or the physical health of their partner is a factor,” says Milhausen.
How prevalent is "grey divorce" and what does this mean for me and my peers?
In Canada, divorce rates among adults aged 50 and older are seeing a spike. This trend, termed “grey divorce,” refers to the increase in the fizzling out of marriages among baby boomers or those over 50. The trend has become so prevalent that even the small screen is tackling the issues faced by this group. In the Netflix sitcom Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin star as 70-year-old friends who are both newly single after 40 years of marriage.
But the rise in divorce rates among older adults can, in many cases, be a positive thing, says Milhausen. “Women, in particular, aren’t staying in relationships that are unsatisfying, and they’re now embracing the freedom to move on,” she says. “Among the women I see, many are quite excited and happy to have this renewed opportunity.”
How can I keep things interesting in the bedroom?
If you and your partner are bored in the bedroom, Milhausen suggests a few solutions to make your sex life exciting again. Visit a local sex shop with your partner, wear lingerie that makes you feel desirable (say, a formfitting corset that provides support, or a negligee for something more flow-y) or do the deed in a new location or at a time of day that’s out of the ordinary for you.