Published Mar 31, 2014, Everyday Health
Ask pretty much any postmenopause woman with thin dry vaginal tissue who has experienced the pain of “sandpaper sex” and she will tell you that her “solution” to prevent repeat agony is to go into avoidance mode. Aside from the obvious loss of physical pleasure, it stands to reason that cleaning out the linen closet at 10 PM instead of a rendezvous in the bedroom is likely to have a negative impact on one’s relationship. And while that assumption has long been made, up until now, few scientific studies have specifically looked at the impact of genital dryness and pain with sexual relations.
The CLOSER study, published this February in the journal Menopause, studied over 4,000 women with vaginal dryness as well as their male partners, to get some insight into the impact on the other half of the dry/painful vagina equation. As part of the study, lead investigator, gynecologist, and menopause expert, Dr. James Simon, surveyed menopausal women between the ages of 55-65 and their male co-habitating partners and found some promising results.
With the kids finally out of the house, middle-age should be all about “couple’s time.” However, 64 percent of women studied reported experiencing pain with intercourse and 58 percent avoided intimacy as a result. A majority of women also reported a significant decline in libido (hardly shocking since most sane people don’t desire or enjoy painful sex).
For the most part, the men surveyed understood their female partners’ avoidance was the result of painful intercourse and respected that sex was no longer pleasurable. A significant number of guys abandoned attempts at intimacy or intercourse all together. In fact, 30% of couples completely ceased having sex even though only 6% of men stated they were less attracted to their partners.
According to Dr. Simon, “This study is one of the most important investigations to look at the impact of postmenopausal vaginal dryness on male partners. Other early studies have shown that men are more likely to have erectile dysfunction if their partners have dry vaginal tissues because of increased difficulty of penetration, but also for fear of being the cause of the pain. This is the first comprehensive study that looks at the effect of vaginal dryness and painful intercourse on the couple.”
Most importantly, the study also looked at the impact of treatment and unsurprisingly found that when women used a local vaginal estrogen therapy things got a whole lot better. Not only did the woman’s discomfort decrease, but so did her partner’s. In addition, a significant number of couples that opted for treatment ultimately felt more “connected to their partners.
However, despite the positive outcome of treating this common problem (at least 45 percent of postmenopausal women experience symptoms of vaginal dryness), more than half of American women are unaware that several safe, effective therapies exist. Instead, they simply accept the loss of comfortable, pleasurable sex as a “normal part of aging.”
So yes, my rally cry in this blog and in my upcoming book, Love Sex Again, is that women’s sex ability needs to be addressed, not only to enhance quality of life for women, but for men as well.