Sexual Activity in Middle-Aged Women Related to Importance

19-02-2014 10:17

Women in their middle years who regard sexual activity as important are more likely to regularly have sex than women who do not think sexual activity is as important, according to a research letter published online February 10 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Holly N. Thomas, MD, from the Division of General Internal Medicine, Center for Research on Healthcare, University of Pittsburgh, and the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, Pennsylvania, and colleagues conducted a longitudinal cohort study to identify factors that predict maintenance of sexual activity over time. Sexual activity is associated with "health-related quality of life."

The study, Do Stage Transitions Result in Detectable Effects (STRIDE), began in 2005 with women aged 40 to 65 years from a general internal medicine practice who answered annual questionnaires on demographic variables, menopausal status, and medical conditions.

Participants completed the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) during the fourth year of the study. This is a self-report instrument for the assessment of female sexual function. At year 8, the primary outcome was whether or not during the previous 6 months the woman had had any sexual activities with another person.

By the fourth year, 602 women were still participating, and 354 (66.3%) of them reported being sexually active (assessed as "moderately/quite/extremely"). These women were the baseline group and were more likely to be younger, white, highly educated, farther away from menopause, and partnered.

By the eighth year, 228 (85.4%) of the baseline group were still sexually active. Factors associated with maintaining sexual activity were white race (odds ratio [OR], 3.09; P = .04), lower body mass index (OR, 0.94; P = .02), and higher importance of sex (OR, 3.21; P = .01). Whether or not a woman maintained sexual activity was not associated with her score on the FSFI.

The researchers conclude that most women in their middle years report being sexually active, which counters results of previous studies. However, they point out that a limitation of the FSFI is that it focuses on penetrative intercourse and that women who think that foreplay is more important may artificially lower these scores.

Dr. Thomas is funded through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The other researchers have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 10, 2014.