Most of us—whether we're in our 20s or 80s—enjoy healthy sex lives. But sometimes we struggle with performance issues or a lack of desire. According to a recent study at the University of Chicago Medical Center (published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine), in which 1,550 sexually active women were interviewed, 43 percent reported low desire, 39 percent said they had problems with vaginal dryness, and 34 percent said they were unable to reach orgasm. On the other end of the spectrum, researchers found that while sexual activity declines somewhat with age, many women (and men) are enjoying sex well into their 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Rule out health problems. A sluggish sex life may have more to do with physical or emotional problems than with age, says Stacy Lindau, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study. Diabetes, thyroid disease, anemia, childbirth, menopause, hysterectomy, and any medical problems that affect the sex hormones estrogen or testosterone can all result in a decreased sex drive. So can stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems.
Stay vital. A regular sex life is an integral part of any healthy, loving relationship, but moods and circumstances can get in the way. To help you keep your appetite robust, we look at the most common reasons women don't want to have sex and how to deal with them.
REASON 1: Lack of desire
For some couples, life gets in the way of sex, and before you know it, months go by without any activity. A low sex drive may be the body's response to a lack of sex, says Lindau. Fortunately, reheating a tepid sex life is simple and fun.
- HAVE MORE SEX. If you have an active partner, the most natural way to reclaim your sexual desire is simply to start having sex. Make dates for it, if you have to. It may feel forced at first, but as you carve out time for intimacy, it will feel more spontaneous.
- CREATE A MOOD. As you make an effort to build your appetite, find ways to be romantic. Give each other massages or go out for a candelit dinner.
- STAY CONNECTED. Angela Esposito (not her real name), 53, says that staying connected in subtle ways like holding hands has made her sex life better than ever after 24 years of marriage. "I'm so much more relaxed about sex now," she says. "There's less pressure to perform well and often, and I know that many small acts like having a good laugh or giving each other back rubs will naturally lead to sex."
REASON 2: Feeling sluggish and overweight
Carrying too many pounds not only affects your self esteem, it can also throw your hormones out of whack. "Extra fat can produce excess estrogen, which imbalances your hormones and triggers mood swings, and can lead to diminished sexual desire,"says Susan Lark, M.D., author of Dr. Susan Lark's Hormone Revolution (Portola Press, 2007). Changing eating and exercise habits can correct that and help restore desire.
- START EXERCISING. Physical activity improves sexual function because it helps lift and sustain energy levels; it also increases blood flow to the genitals, increasing your capacity for sexual arousal.
- DEVOTE TIME TO YOURSELF. Before she had children, Sandy Bereux, 41, enjoyed sex with her husband at least three times a week. But with each birth, she found herself less and less interested, until they had no sex life at all. "After my third child, I was 20 pounds overweight,"she recalls. "Sex was the last thing I wanted."A friend suggested Sandy try yoga as a way of doing something that was just for her. "Almost immediately, parts of my body felt as if they were awakening from a deep sleep,"she recalls. "I felt sexy again."She started initiating sex with her husband, and they soon returned to their thrice–weekly routine.
- CHANGE YOUR DIET. "Stick to lean sources of protein like seafood and poultry and use rice and soy substitutes instead of red meats and dairy products, which elevate estrogen levels in the blood,"says Lark, adding that soy foods and ground flax seeds help reduce estrogen production, and a high–fiber diet helps eliminate estrogens so they're not recycled back into the bloodstream. Avoid foods high in fat and low in fiber: They block the elimination of estrogen from the body, says Lark.