Having a regular sex life allows women to postpone menopause by ten years, researchers from University College London have found. Moreover, it is not even necessary to have a partner. The work was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Menopause is the last menstrual period that occurred during the independent work of the ovaries. Natural menopause is associated with age-related depletion of the ovarian follicle storage. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the case of menopause before the age of 40, they talk about ovarian wasting syndrome.
Today, the most popular explanation for the onset of menopause in humans is the “grandmother hypothesis”.
Biologists suggest that women live longer than they can reproduce in order to help children raise grandchildren, thereby constantly relaying their own genes. It is also believed that menopause is caused by an evolutionary accident or "inconsistency" arising from the initially shorter life span of a person.
Previously, scientists have already paid attention to the fact that in women in marriage, menopause occurs somewhat later. They attributed this to both physiological and psychological factors. It was assumed that the body of a woman who has a regular partner "postpones" menopause due to the possibility of having children.
From an evolutionary point of view, menopause is believed to be a signal that a woman no longer needs to take care of her children and she can take care of her grandchildren. Such physiological changes made it possible to avoid reproductive conflict between generations and to provide care and protection for the growing offspring.
The new data do not contradict this version, however, they show that the matter is not at all in the presence or absence of a husband.
In 1996-1997, scientists surveyed 2,936 women aged 45. They reported how often they have sex (including oral) with a partner, mutual caresses, and masturbation. All of these were classified as manifestations of sexual activity.
Most often, women would have sex or masturbate about once a week. 64% of them said they had sex in the last seven days.
Further observation of these women showed that over the next 10 years, those who had sex or masturbation once a week were 28% less likely to have menopause than those who did not. Those who had sex once a month experienced menopause before the age of 52, 19% less often than women who did not have sex.
Living together with a partner and even just having one did not affect the results in any way: only the sexual sensations themselves played a role.
“Menopause is, of course, inevitable,” says Professor Ruth Mays, one of the study's authors. "Nevertheless, the results of the work show that its occurrence depends on the likelihood of becoming pregnant."
“The results of our research show that if a woman does not have sex and does not have the opportunity to become pregnant, the body will not waste energy on ovulation, because it is pointless,” adds Dr. Megan Arnot. "Perhaps this is how he maintains a certain balance, redistributing energy to other areas, for example, in caring for grandchildren."
There is also evidence against the grandmother hypothesis. In 2008, American anthropologists analyzed statistics on the fate of mothers and grandmothers from various families who lived in the central regions of Costa Rica from 1500 to 1900. In their opinion, a good correlation between the life expectancy of women in the post-reproductive period and the number of grandchildren born to her daughters could speak in favor of the “grandmother's hypothesis”.
However, the picture turned out to be different: the number of children of the woman herself correlated with life expectancy after menopause.
Moreover, the longer women lived, the fewer grandchildren they had.
Of course, it is impossible to consider this a 100% refutation of the "grandmother's hypothesis", the researchers noted - various unaccounted factors could play a role. However, this is a reason to question the theory and consider other options, they say.