Women who have sex more are at a reduced risk of experiencing early menopause, a new study found. The new finding raises the possibility of lifestyle practices as a predictor of when menopause will occur.
A team of researchers at University College London has found that having less sex makes early menopause more likely. Women who engage in sexual activity weekly or monthly may manifest a lower risk of having menopause early compared to those who report having sex less than monthly, according to the study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Women who reported having sex at least once a week had a 28-percent reduced risk of having early menopause than those who had sexual activity, which included sexual touching, oral sex, self-stimulation, or sexual intercourse, less than monthly.
"The findings of our study suggest that if a woman is not having sex, and there is no chance of pregnancy, then the body 'chooses' not to invest in ovulation, as it would be pointless. There may be a biological energetic trade-off between investing energy into ovulation and investing elsewhere, such as keeping active by looking after grandchildren,” Megan Arnot from UCL Anthropology and the first author of the study said.
"The idea that women cease fertility in order to invest more time in their family is known as the Grandmother Hypothesis, which predicts that the menopause originally evolved in humans to reduce reproductive conflict between different generations of females, and allow women to increase their inclusive fitness through investing in their grandchildren,” she added.
The study was based on data collected from 2,936 women who were enrolled in a US menopause study, dubbed as the SWAN cohort in the 1990s. The study involved women who were 45 years on average at the beginning of the study and a majority were married or in a relationship.
None of the women had entered menopause yet at the start of the study. However, about 46 percent started to experience the transition to menopause when the study started, reporting symptoms of period changes and hot flashes. The other 54 percent were in the pre-menopausal stage, showing no symptoms of menopause and having regular cycles.
The women were asked questions about their sexual activity, including whether they engaged in sex with their partner, how often they had sex and other sexual activities, and whether they performed self-stimulation, in the past six months.
In the study, a majority of the respondents (64 percent) reported weekly sexual activity. Over the 10-year study period, 45 percent (1,324) of the women had natural menopause at the age of 52.
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive age. It kickstarts the end of the menstrual cycle. The diagnosis comes after a woman reports not having a menstrual period for 12 months and it occurs normally in their 50s. However, some women have it earlier in their 40s.
Along the way, women experience menopausal symptoms that can be irritating and uncomfortable. These include vaginal dryness, irregular periods before stopping permanently, hot flashes, night sweats, chills, sleep problems, thinning of the hair, weight gain, dry skin, slowed metabolism, mood changes and loss of breast fullness.
After menopause, women may have an increased risk of medical conditions due to decreased estrogen levels. For one, a menopausal woman is more likely to have a cardiovascular disease such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Osteoporosis is also more likely in menopausal women, which involves having weak and brittle bones. The condition increases the risk of having bone fractures. Other conditions include decreased libido, decreased sexual function, and urinary incontinence.