Last week, a survey on the attitudes about health and sexuality in women between the ages of 35 and 49 was released by the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health and Teva Women’s Health, Inc. As you know I’ve written extensively about women’s health after 40, usually with the goal of encouraging women in this age group to redefine their wellness and medical care. Maybe someone was listening!
The survey showed that women in their late 30′s, though their 40′s, reject the idea that they are an age group in “crisis” (a word probably better suited to the economy). They don’t even like the word “midlife”. (It is rather insulting; after all we live longer and feel threatened by a prophecy that implies we’re half way out the door!) Instead, most of the women felt that they were in an age of reinvention or better yet…the age of “it’s time to be a grown up and make healthy choices.” So when I was asked by Teva Women’s Health to review the survey and discuss it via a satellite tour last week, I was delighted. Here are the main points:
The survey included 503 women between the ages of 35 and 49 who were invited through Synovate’s Consumer Opinion Panel to complete a 20 minute online questionnaire. These women matched the US Census data on age, income and region. The study was completed in June 2010.
Two thirds viewed their age as a time of transition and reinvention and 77% felt that the best years were ahead of them!
Four in five women declared they were taking steps to maintain a healthier life style. They were trying to eat right, become more conscious of food ingredients, eat more fruits and vegetables and even increased their intake of supplements. (I would have told them to take calcium, Vitamin D and folic acid…but my advice was not sought prior to the survey.)
Half the women had reduced or stopped alcohol consumption and were sleeping 6 to 8 hours regularly. (They must have become aware of the consequences of sleep deprivation…. hypertension, obesity, diabetes, not to mention auto accidents!)
Thirty six percent had reduced the medications they were taking (including hormonal medications).
Thirty six percent reduced or stopped smoking. (Yeah!)
Now some of the fun stuff…
65% were interested in keeping up a healthy sex life. And one third of sexually active women initiated sex with their partner (this was not a sexually reticent group!)
If indeed they wanted a healthy sex life, the next logical question would be (at least from me)…what did they do for contraception?
While most of the women (75%) had taken birth control pills in the past, just a quarter of women over 35 were still on the Pill. Half the women stated that they were reluctant to take hormonal birth control and 57% felt that “their bodies need a break from hormones” or that they were worried about side effects. All understandable….but of grave concern (at least for me, the gynecologist) was the fact that 24% of these women reported using NO contraception whatsoever! This percentage is truly alarming; unplanned pregnancies occur to over 50% of all women in the US and women in this age group (especially over 40) are second only to teenagers in their incidence of unplanned pregnancies!
This is where non-hormonal contraception comes to fore…Many of the women, especially in this age of “redefinition” would be ideal candidates for long-term contraception that is both hormone-free and indeed “hands-free” (no pre sex insertion and no daily need to use or take a contraceptive). A non hormonal intrauterine contraceptive (IUC) would be most appropriate. I know the term IUC seems new…but in modern, medical parlance it replaces the old term IUD. Somehow, IUC does sound better, perhaps because decades ago (before you ever contemplated contraception) the infamous Dalkon Shield IUD caused problems. The current non-hormonal IUC is called Para Gard and has been totally redesigned. This type of IUC has been used by over 160 million women worldwide over the last 20 years and studies have shown that it is safe, extraordinarily reliable (with a 99.4% efficacy), inexpensive and once inserted can last for 10 years! (I love these stats!). And if a woman wants to remove it, her fertility returns to what it would have been without contraception… immediately. Over 1/3 of women of reproductive age throughout the world have used it. Somehow the rest of the world seems more IUC wiser than the US.
Bottom line: Based on this survey, and the fact that most women between 35 and 49 plan to maintain their sex lives and their health, I hope that they will now have a “what will help me accomplish this goal” talk with their doctor. Contraceptive planning is certainly part of crisis reduction. It’s clear that women in this age group do not accept the moniker “midlife crisis”. In their more appropriately titled age of “redefinition” women should define and ensure the reliability of their contraception.