(WOMENSENEWS)--Here's some really really good news. A recent up-tick in research on post-menopausal women's sex lives has revealed a treasure trove of benefits.
Much of what we are learning comes from female physicians and scientists, especially from the Mayo Clinic, who have done pioneering work on women's sexuality after menopause. These include Dr. Janice Swanson; Dr. Mary Gallenberg, who studies testosterone therapy for women; and Dr. Jacqueline Thielen, who studies the differences between women and men's sexuality.
But plenty of other researchers are also making contributions and here's a sampling of their collective findings.
Frequent intercourse can be associated with lower blood pressure in stressful situations such as speaking in public, according to research published in the 10th edition of the book "Biological Psychology," edited by James W. Kalat (Wadsworth Publishing, 2008).
Researchers at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., have also found that having sex once or twice a week is linked to higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, or IgA, which protects against all types of infection.
In another study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, it was found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of a fatal heart attack by 50 percent, compared to those who had sex less than once a month. For that study, scientists followed 914 people for 20 years. This work was reported by Carl J. Charneski, Ph.D., and Francis Brennan in their book, "Feeling Good is Good For You" (Rodale Press, 2003).
Not only that, sex strengthens pelvic floor muscles. It produces the same benefits as doing Kegel exercises and it builds the capacity for more pleasurable orgasms. It also helps strengthen the bladder, which may help some avoid bladder surgery.
More Pleasure, Less Pain
Sex reduces pain. An orgasm releases the hormones oxytocin and endorphins (the brain's pain and anxiety reliever) so that pain declines. This means that the pain from arthritis, headaches and most other pain is reduced, according to a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine.
Oxytocin has other benefits too. Its release promotes deep, rapid-eye-movement (or REM) sleep. Good sleep is linked to such benefits as maintaining a healthy weight and lowering blood pressure.
At a conference on aging a couple of years ago, I heard a psychologist say women who ignore or repress their sexual needs are more vulnerable to behaviors like smoking, overeating or taking prescription drugs to relax.
The need for sexual contact lasts a lifetime. Older women may feel anxious due to changes in their bodies that have come with advancing age. Yet, there's plenty of advice for vaginal dryness and other sexual issues older women sometimes have.
Many lubricants such as K-Y Jelly alleviate dryness very well and are available at any drug store. They are applied to the labia and penis before penetration to assure easy entrance and pain-free thrusting.
It's also important to communicate your changing needs. Few men understand what it takes for a woman to come to orgasm. Don't be shy. Your lover wants to satisfy you but can't if you're not open about what's best for you. Only 20 percent of women can have an orgasm through vaginal penetration. Most women need direct stimulation to the clitoris.
With all the benefits and pleasures of sex after menopause we can be assured that sexual activity is life-giving and a pleasure to enjoy throughout our lives.
Marie Arlene Cameron has a master's degree in public health from the University of California at Los Angeles and 18 years of experience in health care administration. She has written the book, "Rebooting Your Life – A Women's Guide to Being Vital, Productive and Sexy After 55" and blogs at Reboot Your Life Today.
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