Many of us have been told the older we get, the more sex fades away from our lives. This common misconception has led young and even middle-aged people to be uncomfortable with the idea of growing older. However, new research presented at the Annual Meeting of The North American Menopause Society in Orlando, Fla., found while some women and their partners reported lower libidos with age, they were experiencing the best sex of their lives.

“We were surprised to find a group of women who said that sex actually got better for them as they got older,” said Holly Thomas, lead author of the study, Today reported.

Aging brings physical changes in women that can sometimes affect the ability to have and enjoy sex. For example, a woman may notice changes in her vagina; it can shorten and narrow; and the vaginal walls can become thinner, and stiffer, according to the National Institute on Aging. Most women will have less vaginal lubrication, or vaginal dryness, and report a low libido from hormone fluctuations, like testosterone, which affects sex drive for both men and women.

Rather than collecting data on the well-known problems for older women and sex, Thomas and her colleagues took a new approach. The researchers spoke to women during face-to-face interviews, and focus groups, to “allow women to speak their own words regarding their experiences.” This way they "can capture nuances and individual variations in women’s lived experiences of sexual function during midlife" according to the study.

Interviews with more than three dozen women between the ages of 45 to 60 revealed sexual satisfaction was higher at midlife, even if they had sex less often. These women had better knowledge and understanding of their bodies, and how they work when it comes to sex. It made them feel more comfortable in their skins and bodies.

The ability to feel more comfortable in their skin also led them to develop a higher self-confidence to express themselves sexually, and to communicate their needs with their partner.

“When they were younger they didn’t feel empowered to say that is not working for me," said Thomas.

Some women in the study did acknowledge the "negative" changes in their sex lives, like less frequent sex; vaginal dryness; and difficulty reaching orgasm. However, what the researchers found surprising was these women were more likely to blame family and work stressors than biological factors, like menopause. Moreover, they actively modified their expectations related to sex by putting more emphasis on “the emotional and intimacy aspects of sex, or adapting the sex acts themselves," said Thomas.

A study in September found moderate amounts of sex can promote good heart health for men and women. For women, the researchers suspect the female sexual hormone released during orgasm may play a role in promoting women's health. Meanwhile, men who have sex once a week or more faced two times a greater risk of experiencing cardiovascular events than older men who are sexually inactive. In other words, sex at old age can lead to good heart health, but men should take into account sex frequency.

Sex at any age can be beneficial. While growing old comes with its pros and cons in the bedroom, couples are starting be active and get creative by adopting new positions and activities. Earlier this year, a survey by the University of Guelph and the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) found people over 40 are still having sex, and becoming more adventurous in bed with more than half admitting they were more interested in trying new things to boost pleasure than they were a decade ago.

Growing old doesn't have to be all doom and gloom; after all, the quantity of sex may be less, but the quality only gets better.

Source: Thomas H. Hamm M, Hess R et al. Changes in sexual function among midlife women: “I’m older… and I’m wiser.” 2016 Annual Meeting of The North American Menopause.