Having Regular Sex May Delay Menopause, According to Researchers

Experts explain why women who have sex more than once a month go into menopause later.

Having sex more often might cause you to reach menopause at a later age, according to a 2020 study.

The study, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, discovered that women who said they had sex weekly were 28% less likely to have gone through menopause than women who had sex less than once a month.

"We noticed that in existing menopause literature, there was a trend of married women experiencing menopause later—which seemed weird to us," said Megan Arnot, PhD, the lead study author and human behavioral ecologist. "Not many people had tried to explain this association, and I thought that perhaps it was adaptive in response to sexual frequency, so we decided to test that," Arnot added.

What Is Menopause, Exactly?

Menopause is a normal part of getting older. It specifically defines a point in time 12 months after a woman had her last period. During the menopausal transition, which is the years leading up to menopause (also called perimenopause), a person might experience changes in their period, hot flashes, moodiness, and other symptoms, as their body produces less estrogen. The average age a person in the United States reaches menopause is 51, according to The North American Menopause Society.

Why Can Having More Sex Cause Delayed Menopause?

The study didn't explore this, but Arnot had some theories. "It might be that women who are perimenopausal don't feel like having sex," Arnot said. "It might be that there's a trade-off between continued ovulation and stopping." In other words, if you're not having sex, then you're not going to get pregnant, Arnot pointed out, "so there'd be little point in maintaining ovulatory function."

Ovulation also requires a lot of energy from the body, and that can lower immune function, said Arnot. "So there may be a point in life where it's better off to stop ovulating and invest your energy elsewhere if you're not going to have a baby (because you're not having sex)."

So, Can Sex Stave Off Menopause?

Not necessarily. Study co-author Ruth Mace, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at University College London, emphasized that this is a link—not proof that having sex in your 40s and 50s will push back menopause. "We controlled for a wide range of variables, including estrogen hormone levels, smoking, and BMI, and the association remains, but that does not mean that sexual behavior necessarily delays menopause," Mace said.

Given that sex can change hormone levels, it's possible that this is the case, Mace added. "Or, it could be a third variable, like other hormone levels that we did not have data on."

But Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University Medical School (who was not involved in the new study), said she has "great doubts biologically" that having sex regularly would push back menopause. "The best correlation I know is family history—if mom and sisters went through menopause later, you will likely go through menopause later," Dr. Minkin said.

But, according to Christine Greves, MD, an OB-GYN at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, Florida, there's more to menopause than genetics. "Just because your mother may have undergone menopause at a certain age, that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll follow in those footsteps," Dr. Greves said. "There's a lot we're still trying to figure out about menopause and I think anything is possible."

Dr. Minkin said it may simply be that women who go into menopause later feel more comfortable having sex in the time leading up to menopause. "Certainly the later one goes into menopause would imply there is more estrogen around to keep the vagina comfortable, and I unfortunately certainly see plenty of postmenopausal women unable to have sex because of vaginal dryness and pain," Dr. Minkin said.

Having relatively frequent sex during the perimenopausal and menopausal period can also help make sex less painful with time because it may help maintain vaginal elasticity, said Dr. Greves—so having sex on the regular certainly can't hurt.

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  1. Arnot M, Mace R. Sexual frequency is associated with age of natural menopause: results from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. R Soc Open Sci. 2020;7(1):191020. doi:10.1098/rsos.191020

  2. National Institute on Aging. What is menopause?

  3. The North American Menopause Society. Menopause 101: A primer for the perimenopausal.

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