The Impact of Aging on Sexual Function and Sexual Dysfunction in Women: A Review of Population-Based Studies


Richard Hayes, University of Melbourne—Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia. Tel: 613-8344-4520; Fax: 613-9347-4127; E-mail:


Introduction.  Scientific interest in the impact of aging on women's sexual function and dysfunction has increased in the half century since Kinsey described age-related changes in women's sexual activities. However, a range of methodological issues limit the conclusions that can be drawn from many published studies in this area.

Aim.  To review community-based studies investigating changes in women's sexual function and sexual dysfunction with age, taking into account confounders to aging and methodological limitations.

Methods.  Electronic databases were searched for published studies investigating changes in sexual function and dysfunction with age. A critical review was carried out.

Main Outcome Measures.  Age-related changes in sexual function and dysfunction.

Results.  There are inconsistencies in the way sexual function and sexual dysfunction are measured. Validated scales are infrequently used. Low response rates, limited age ranges, and restrictive inclusion criteria limit the generalizability of many studies. Confounders are often either not measured or not analyzed. Longitudinal studies are rare, making it difficult to separate the effects of birth cohort and aging. The evidence indicates that a woman's sexual function declines with age. This decline begins in a woman's late 20s to late 30s. Specifically, desire, frequency of orgasm, and frequency of sexual intercourse decrease with age. However, it is not clear whether arousal decreases or remains relatively constant. In longitudinal studies, decline in women's sexual function has also been detected, but patterns of stability and improved sexual function have also been observed for short periods of time. The prevalence of most sexual difficulties or dysfunctions changes little with age, with the exception of sexual pain, which may decrease.

Conclusions.  Age-related changes in sexually related personal distress may help explain why the prevalence of sexual dysfunctions remains constant with age while sexual function declines. More research is needed to demonstrate this.