There is a myth that after menopause, women stop having sex. But it is not without good reason. Menopause is denoted by the absence of a period for 12 consecutive months, typically starting in a woman’s 40s or 50s. Leading up to this event is a period known as perimenopause.

Physical symptoms will start to appear during this transition phase as a product of biological and hormonal changes. This goes on for an average of three to five years, during which the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. As a result, sexual dysfunction escalates by close to 30%, according to a new study published in the journal Menopause.

During the period, women go through biological changes, namely the thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls that comprise vaginal atrophy. This can make sex painful.

Sexual function can also be affected by various factors, including mental and emotional states, age, chronic medical problems, and menopause status.

A majority of previous studies focused on vaginal atrophy’s effects in menopausal women. But the new study stands apart from them by assessing its effects on perimenopausal women.

The findings showed that certain vaginal atrophy symptoms like dryness are more prevalent than others in perimenopause. Vaginal dryness is a major reason for the decline of sexual satisfaction and the rise in sexual dysfunction in the years leading up to menopause.

"This study examined sexual functioning in women aged 40 to 55 years and identified a link between vaginal dryness and worse sexual function. Given the high prevalence of sexual dysfunction in women, identifying an eminently treatable contributing factor such as vaginal dryness may allow women to maintain their sexual function during the menopause transition," says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director at the North American Menopause Society.

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