The Advantages: Call of the Cougar
As a new study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin posits, female sex drive may actually increase as a woman's sex hormones and fertility decrease.
"Women with declining fertility think more about sex, have more frequent and intense sexual fantasies, are more willing to engage in sexual intercourse, and report actually engaging in sexual intercourse more frequently than women of other age groups," say the study authors.
It seemed surprising to many when the findings were announced, but the researchers have an explanation: They theorize that our female ancestors were so accustomed to losing children to disease, war, or starvation that they evolved to crave more sex—at a relatively advanced age—to produce more babies.
The Challenges: The Perils of Perimenopause
"By 40," says Glenn D. Braunstein, MD, an endocrinologist and chair of the department of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, "a woman's testosterone levels will be about half the level they were at twenty-five."
And yes, that drop certainly affects libido. For the average woman who enters perimenopause (defined as the 4 or so years leading up to her final period) in her late 40s, fluctuating estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels may put a damper on bedroom bliss. Irregular periods and even her first hot flashes may appear.
To smooth things out, Steven R. Goldstein, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center and immediate past president of the North American Menopause Society, prescribes low-dose birth control pills for many of his patients "to turn off the ovaries' erratic estrogen production and replace it with a small, consistent influx of estrogen every day."
If dryness and discomfort develop, local estrogens—placed directly into the vagina in the form of a suppository, cream, or "ring"—can improve lubrication and pleasure for many women. (Estrogens that are applied locally to the vagina are widely believed to be safer than oral estrogens, which carry some cancer risks.)
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