Sexually satisfied but feeling frumpy: It's body image, not 'the change'

Penn State researchers, who analyzed the responses of midlife women, ages 35 to 55, to a survey on body image, have concluded that the emphasis in U.S. culture on being young and thin has a more important influence than menopause on sexual functioning and satisfaction.

Dr. Patricia Barthalow Koch, associate professor of biobehavioral health and women's studies who led the study, says, "The success of Viagra for men has created a heightened interest in marketing hormones and other medications to midlife women to insure sexual functioning and satisfaction. Our results suggest that 'treatment,' via medication, of menopausal effects for this purpose seems unwarranted in light of the findings that menopausal status did not have a significant impact on the sexual responding of the women in this study."

Analysis of the survey results showed that, regardless of the woman's specific age, she was more likely to consider herself more attractive when she was 10 years younger whether or not she had been through menopause. In addition, there was no significant statistical relationship between a woman's perception of her own attractiveness as she aged and her current sexual satisfaction.

Koch, who was installed as president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality earlier this month, added, "There has been a dearth of research examining the relationship between body image and women's sexual response. These new results support a link between body image and sexual responding that needs further study."

The study is detailed in a paper, "Feeling Frumpy": The Relationships Between Body Image and Sexual Response Changes in Midlife Women, published in the current issue of The Journal of Sex Research. The authors are Koch; Phyllis Kernoff Mansfield, director of the Tremin Research Program on Women's Health; Debra Thurau, Penn State graduate with an M.S. in health education; and Molly Carey, former project manager, of Tremin.

The researchers u

Contact: Barbara Hale
Penn State

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