The University of Chicago News Office
Oct. 11, 2002 Press Contact: William Harms
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Unlike men, women’s sexual dysfunction does not increase with age

In contrast to men, whose erectile dysfunction increases with age, women are much less likely to have age-related sexual dysfunction, according to a paper by an expert on sexual relationships at the University of Chicago and based on a new global study to be presented today, October 10.

“Among mature women, physical factors associated with aging do not appear to consistently influence the likelihood of sexual dysfunction. Other influences, specifically, social and psychological factors, appear to have a much greater impact,” said Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Meade Distinguished Service Professors in Sociology at the University of Chicago.

Laumann is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the sociology of sexuality. He has authored or co-authored a number of important scholarly books and articles on sexuality and is a senior advisor to a panel of scholars who are overseeing a study based on interviews in 30 countries throughout the world.

Although the results were largely uniform world wide, the study also found some small variations in sexual dysfunction among older ages in some of the world’s regions. “Inability to have orgasm seems especially to be a northern European age-influenced effect,” he said.

Their latest findings will be presented October 10 at a Vancouver, Canada conference of the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health in the paper, “The Impact of Biological Aging Effects on the Reporting of Sexual Dysfunctions in Women Aged 40-80: Results of An International Survey.”

The survey, the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, funded by Pfizer, Inc., is based on in- person and telephone interviews in 2001 with 27,500 men and women aged 40-80 in 30 countries worldwide. Researchers looked at equal numbers of men and women equally distributed across four decades. The survey asked about a range of health conditions such as hysterectomies, depression and other illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. The researchers assessed whether aging increased the risk of sexual dysfunction, even when these health conditions were taken into account.

The research team examined sexual dysfunction among men and women as well as other topics related to aging and sexuality. The cross-country differences of sexual dysfunction were reported for persons experiencing the problem for two months or more. Among men, the team found increasing problems with erectile dysfunction (ED) as men age. Among women, the researchers looked at these factors: lack of interest in sex, inability to experience orgasm, pain during intercourse, lack of sexual pleasure and lubrication difficulties.

The pooled global survey found that 31 percent of women lacked interest in sex, 22 percent were unable to orgasm, 21 percent found sex unpleasurable, 20 percent had trouble lubricating, and 14 percent experienced pain with sex.

The researchers studied three age groups in detail: those aged 40 to 49, those aged 50 to 64 and those aged 65 to 80. Laumann’s paper compared the older two groups against a baseline, which was the prevalence of dysfunction among those aged 40-49. The effect of aging on the risk of sexual dysfunction was evaluated, taking into account the effects of a wide range of adverse health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and depression.

“For the pooled data, only ‘trouble lubricating’ has highly significant age effects,” Laumann said. The results for women in the United States and Canada were similar to the pooled results, he said.

Laumann directed the National Health and Social Life Survey, one of the largest surveys of sexual attitudes and behaviors in the United States since the publication of the Kinsey Reports in the 1950s. He is currently the principal investigator of a study examining the relationships between sexual behaviors and social factors in Chicago, as well as a co-principal investigator of the National Survey of Chinese Sexual Practices.
Last modified at 04:30 PM CST on Thursday, February 27, 2003.

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