The process of aging can usher in new adventures, growing families, and, unfortunately, low libido.

There’s a commonly believed idea that the older we get, the less desire we have for sex. What’s less understood is why. Sex scientists have hotly debated the psychology behind low libido, but new research reveals a more physical explanation for decreased sexual satisfaction in women over 40.

A new study published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), revealed that 30% of women between 40 and 55 years old were less sexually satisfied during the perimenopause years. 

Perimenopause is the period of time right before menopause when the ovaries begin producing less estrogen. Hormonal shifts during this transition can cause the vaginal walls to become thin, dry, or inflamed—otherwise known as vaginal atrophy.

Aside from the general discomfort, these symptoms also lead to sexual dysfunction. The primary symptom to blame? Vaginal dryness. 

Stephanie Faubion, M.D., MBA, the medical director of NAMS, says identifying this treatable issue “may allow women to maintain their sexual function during the menopause transition.” 

Until now, researchers have focused on women between the ages of 50 and 75 years old, linking sexual decline to menopause and postmenopause. This is the first study to recognize perimenopause as a catalyst for sexual decline.

This information can help women understand why they might be experiencing low libido and vaginal dryness before menopause. Being aware can prevent physical and emotional disconnection between partners and keep women from missing out on the benefits of sex. 

As important as it is to keep the passion alive, this study proved that the physical effects of aging can sometimes interfere. If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, here are a few approaches that might help. 

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