The menopause and sexual functioning: a review of the population-based studies

Lorraine Dennerstein, Jeanne L Alexander, Krista Kotz
Annual Review of Sex Research 2003, 14: 64-82
Sexual problems are among the most frequently presented health concerns of women attending menopause clinics. We examine rigorous observational studies of the menopausal transition to determine whether there are changes in sexual functioning associated with the menopausal transition and the relative roles of aging and hormonal factors. We detail the methodological limitations of menopause research. We then review studies documenting the effects of aging on women's sexual functioning prior to reviewing studies that document both aging and menopausal status. These latter studies are divided into both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. In summary, there is an age-related decline in sexual functioning but an added incremental decline associated with the menopausal transition. There have been relatively few studies that have been prospective, population-based, utilised a validated measure of sexual functioning, and carried out concurrent hormonal sampling. The Melbourne Women's Midlife Health Project is a prospective, observational study of a community-based sample of Australian born women aged 45-55 at baseline. There were eight annual assessments using a self-report questionnaire based on the McCoy Female Sexuality Questionnaire and blood sampling for hormone levels. From early to late menopausal transition, the percentage of women with scores indicating sexual dysfunction rose from 42% to 88%. Decreasing scores correlated with decreasing estradiol but not with androgens. By the postmenopausal phase there was a significant decline in sexual arousal and interest, frequency of sexual activities, and the Total Score. There was a significant increase in vaginal dryness and dyspareunia and women's reports of their partner's problems in sexual performance. Women with low scores of sexual functioning were more likely to be distressed on the Female Sexual Distress Scale. In conclusion, there is a dramatic decline in female sexual functioning with the natural menopausal transition.

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