- Last week, a new study was released linking less sex and early menopause.
- Tons of media outlets covered it, writing that less sex was a possible CAUSE of early menopause… but it’s not.
- After some investigation, Cosmopolitan found the study’s findings to be not as sensational.
- The study simply linked the two, but did not note that having less sex directly causes menopause to start early. It could be that those who are predisposed to having early menopause are less likely to have sex, hence their association.
Don’t worry if you’ve recently seen scary headlines like “Having Less Sex Could Trigger Early Menopause,” “Less Sex Could Mean Earlier Menopause,” or “Having Regular Sex Can Delay Menopause, According to a New Study.” They’ve got it all wrong.
Last week, a new study from Royal Society Open Science was released, which found that sexual frequency is associated with natural menopause. However, this scientific research did not find that having less sex causes menopause to start earlier, which is what recent media coverage of the research might have you think.
In reality, the scientists simply found that there is a link between less sex and early menopause, but it is not a causal relationship. In other words, the study did not prove that one causes the other, which Cosmo has confirmed with two independent experts.
“As far as I can tell, this is a well-done study, but it’s correlative only,” writes Dr. Hugh Taylor, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital in a statement to Cosmopolitan.
“I am skeptical that having sex delays menopause. More likely, early menopause decreases sex drive and makes sex more difficult or uncomfortable.“
(So, think about it like this: If I have tons of credit card debt and also happen to not be a homeowner, you can’t say the only reason I’m not a homeowner is because of my debt. I could also not be a homeowner because my overall spending means I have less money to put toward a down payment. Or, perhaps I’m not a homeowner because the high cost of rent causes me to spiral into credit card debt in order to get by. Just because two things are associated does not mean that one causes the other. They could just be two coincidences, like me being shitty with money as a general, broader fact about me.)
To triple check that the study is not suggesting that having less sex will cause you to start menopause early, Cosmo also asked Dr. Lubna Pal, MBBS, FRCOG, MS, FACOG, director of the menopause program at Yale University, to comment on the following headlines:
“Having Regular Sex Can Delay Menopause, According to a New Study“
“Not true – study design does not allow a ’cause and effect’ interpretation; information captured on frequency of sex is very limited and does not allow clarity on what could be construed as ‘regular sex.'” — Dr. Pal
“Less Sex May Mean Earlier Menopause, Study Claims””
“Not true, see above.”— Dr. Pal
“Less Sex Could Mean Earlier Menopause”
“Not true/ one cannot assume that one leads to the other.”— Dr. Pal
“Having Less Sex Could Trigger Early Menopause, Study Finds”
“Not true – as above.” — Dr. Pal
“Less Sex Linked to an Earlier Menopause, Study Finds“
“Reasonable.” — Dr. Pal
“To deduce from reported frequency of sex being less in women who attained menopause at an earlier age that frequency of sex ‘determines’ age at menopause is both simplistic and erroneous,” explains Dr. Pal.
“A more plausible angle that the authors should have examined is whether frequency of sex may be dampened by symptomatology of transition.” Aka if someone is already going through early menopause, it might be worth investigating if that’s causing their lack of sexual desire. What’s more, the questions posed to participants in the current study implied that intimacy can only happen between a man and woman, which is restrictive, Dr. Pal notes.
The entire study is not bunk, though. In fact, the authors should be commended for the effort they undertook, Dr. Pal says. “However, caution is advised in interpretation of reported findings, as there is NO evidence provided that allows for interpretation of directionality to the observed associations,” she adds.
Basically, more info is needed in this area. And as women, we shouldn’t settle for this study (or its coverage) as definitive news that could impact our health choices. But, if one of these days, a study does prove causation between sexual frequency among women in all sexual partnerships and menopause, you can bet we’ll be first in line to report on it.
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