Body Image and Identity
Regardless of the nature of a relationship, it will be affected by the aging process. For women, their sense of identity and sensuality change as it relates to their beliefs about aging. For example, age-related physiological alterations with resulting changes in body image may influence sexual interest. Women who perceive the physical signs of aging (graying hair, wrinkles, etc.) as unattractive will develop a poor body image, particularly if these women associate these changes with loss of femininity (Leiblum5).
The corresponding loss of reproductive capacity at menopause may also negatively affect some women’s body image and sexual identity. This effect is noted even in younger women undergoing hysterectomies. They may believe that the loss of their uterus or their capacity to reproduce interferes with sexual activity and orgasm and has a subsequent negative impact on their sense of femininity. The result is often a significant decrease in sexual desire since sexual activity requires some emphasis on the body which is anxiety producing and depressing for these women. However, hysterectomy may also improve sexual desire and body image due to the resulting relief from pain, embarrassing and troubling heavy bleeding, and fear of pregnancy.
Many women find the effects of menopause liberating, as they are released from birth control worries and no longer have to deal with menstruation. Ironically, as our society’s image of a menopausal woman becomes more youthful, energetic and sexy, however, the result may be more pressure for women to continue to try to meet the impossible ideal of beauty that was foisted on them at puberty. Some women may feel the expectation to look 30 when they are 50 and become distressed when their bodies change despite all efforts to the contrary. Alternatively, middle-aged women who perceive the aging process as a positive reflection of their maturity and self-confidence, may experience an enhancement in their sense of desirability and sexual desire (6).