Is sexual intimacy important to you?
Four years into the study, 534 of the participants completed a questionnaire called the Female Sexual Function Index, or FSFI. A total of 354 reported that they were sexually active at that time.
Four years after that, these women were asked: “During the past six months, have you engaged in any sexual activities with a partner?” (The question included the italics.) For 85.4% of them, the answer was still yes.
“In contrast to prior research, we found that most sexually active midlife women remain sexually active,” according to the researchers, four women from the University of Pittsburgh.
Several factors helped predict whether women were likely to keep their home fires burning. Women who reported on the FSFI that sex was “moderately,” “quite” or “extremely” important to them were 3.21 times more likely to be sexually active four years later than were women who said it was “not at all” or “not very” important to them. In addition, white women were 3.09 times more likely than women of other races to remain sexually active, as were those who reported a lower body mass index (women with higher BMIs were 6% less likely to keep having sex).
One factor that did not predict a woman’s likelihood of remaining sexually active was the quality of her sex life (as measured by the FSFI survey). That led the researchers to write that “midlife women have many reasons for engaging in sex that go beyond ‘quality.'”
The immediate counter-response I often get for making statements like the above is, “If I don’t care much about it now, why would I care if it died?”
By way of response, let me simply repost part of the brilliant musings of this 30yr vet of the industry: (But do read the whole thing and the link to his own primary article.)
My third suggestion in that post read as follows:
“Sex is both a pleasure and a responsibility.
Now before you get all up in arms, hear me out. I’m not suggesting that women have a duty to provide sex to their husbands, whether or not they like it. What I mean is this: feeling needy and full of desire is a vulnerable state for everyone; many (most?) of us have some issues about being that vulnerable and few people enjoy the experience of frustration. If your partner asks for sex and repeatedly hears “not tonight,” eventually he or she will find the experience unbearable and shut down. He or she may begin to look elsewhere to have those needs fulfilled. Both of you have a responsibility to keep sex alive in your relationship. Sometimes you might simply do the deed as a way of giving, an act of generosity; you might even find you enjoy it more than expected once you get started. Don’t have sex if you’re too angry or full of hatred, of course; on the other hand, never withhold sex in order to inflict pain.
Years ago when I was working in a law firm to put myself through I college, I knew a woman named Sheila who once told me: ‘When it’s going okay, sex is about 25% of a relationship; when it’s not, it’s about 75%.’ I’m not sure if she had the percentages right, or even if I fully agree with her, but to this day I see her point. When sex isn’t going right, it’s the elephant in the room and a huge source of shame for both partners. While I don’t see good sex as the answer to relationship problems, I personally find that having good and regular sex makes me feel more generous. The minor irritations that might become major problems just don’t seem to matter as much. The resentment a partner feels in the sexual arena can easily spread to other areas, transforming everyday relationship molehills into mountains.”
I still subscribe to this point of view, but I’ve also developed some further thoughts on why an ongoing sex life is important in long-term relationships.
In my experience, in relationships where sex eventually breaks down, it’s because the partners ultimately aren’t able to face their own shame, damage or limitations. The excitement of early sexual passion – the feeling that we’re part of a unique and amazing couple, mutually idealizing one another – serves as a powerful defence against underlying shame, but it eventually fades as the relationship becomes more real. We come to see one another more clearly and honestly. On an unconscious level, many of us than experience a return of the shame we escaped through idealized sex. The exciting sexual arena is no longer a haven from shame but a place where we may experience it even more intensely. Projecting unbearable shame into our partners also makes them unattractive, another obstacle to ongoing sex. Eventually, our defences against intolerable shame kill off desire and our sex life dies.
By contrast, successful long-term partners manage to keep their particular sexual lives vital, with all their quirks and imperfections. One of my middle-aged clients and her husband have a day each week when they generally try to have sex. Her hair is entirely gray, he’s overweight and has back issues; there are other physical complications, but more often than not, they manage to have satisfying contact that brings them closer. It helps defuse the kind of shame-trading that too often comes to characterize many unhappy marriages. You can often tell the difference between couples who have a satisfying sex life after many years and those who don’t: do they still feel proud of one another, or do they undermine each other in subtle ways, exposing them to criticism and ridicule?
In my opinion, sex matters, even after many years of marriage. Being found “beautiful,” in whatever sense, is a powerful salve to underlying shame.
I’d like to comment on that — but I actually can’t top what he already had to say…