A woman's sexual satisfaction does not require high levels of sexual desire--and in fact, does not require sexual activity at all, according to a new study that finds rates of sexual satisfaction highest among the youngest and oldest women it surveyed.
A study published Tuesday in the American Journal of Medicine found that in a group of more than 800 women between age 40 and 100, those under 55 and those over 80 were most likely to declare themselves satisfied with their sex lives. And almost half of women who had not had sex in the past month said they were sexually satisfied as well.
The study asked a group of women living in Rancho Bernardo, a suburb of San Diego, whether they had engaged in sexual activity--with or without a partner--in the past month. Researchers based at UC San Diego and Veterans Affairs of San Diego then asked them to rate their levels of sexual desire, arousal, lubrication or pain with sex, as well as how regularly they experience orgasm.
What they found was that only one in five of all the women who had engaged in sexual activity in the past month volunteered that they frequently felt a high level of sexual desire, yet 61% declared that they were moderately or very satisfied with their sex life. This was particularly true of older women, virtually none of whom reported feelings of sexual desire, but among whom almost half said they always or almost always experienced orgasm and sexual satisfaction during sexual activity.
"In contrast with the traditional linear model, in which desire precedes sex, these results support a nonlinear model of sexuality in older women, because sexual desire did not precede sexual arousal in most women," the authors wrote. Women, they suggested, "engage in sexual activity for multiple reasons, which may include nurture, affirmation, or sustenance of a relationship."
In many past studies of women's sexual health, data such as these would have been interpreted as suggesting high levels of "female sexual dysfunction." But the authors caution that before declaring a woman dysfunctional, future studies of women and sex should make sure that the mismatch between sex and pleasure is a source of distress to her. For older women, in particular, that connection may not hold, they said, noting that "low sexual desire increases with age. But distress about low sexual desire decreases with age."