The main function of the female reproductive system is to produce sex cells and hormones. As women age, a number of naturally occurring changes take place in the female reproductive system.
According to the American Academy of Health and Fitness (AAHF), the most striking part of a woman's aging process occurs at menopause which happens between the ages of 45-65.
Menopause is a normal part of a woman's aging process, wrote the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The ovaries stop releasing eggs and the menstrual period stops. However menopause isn’t the only change.
A transition period, called the climacteric, lasts for many years before and after the last menstrual period.
This aging process changes hormone levels; causes physical changes in the woman's entire reproductive tract; and emotional changes said NIH.
The hormones produced by the ovaries, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, begin to decrease around menopause. Healthy Aging for Women Baby Boomers reported that as these hormones levels fall, a number changes occur.
The vaginal walls become thinner, less rigid and lose some elasticity. The vagina becomes shorter. It produces less lubrication and at a slower rate during sexual arousal. The pH environment changes and makes the vagina more susceptible to yeast infections.
The labia majora and minora also become thinner and their secretions decrease. These changes can result in painful intercourse.
Merck Manuals said with aging, there is a decrease in the amount of muscle, ligaments, and other tissues supporting the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum. As a result, the affected organs may sag or drop down.
This can cause a feeling of pelvic pressure or fullness, difficulty urinating, loss of control of urination or bowel movements or painful intercourse.
Reduced estrogen levels have also been linked to osteoporosis, anxiety, depression, hot flashes, and sleep problems wrote AAHF.
Merck Manuals added that with less estrogen to stimulate milk ducts, breasts decrease in size and may sag. The connective tissue supporting the breasts also decreases, contributing to sagging. Fibrous tissue in the breasts is replaced with fat, making breasts less firm.
Women may experience emotional changes as well. Mayo Clinic wrote that while some may enjoy sex more without worrying about pregnancy, naturally occurring changes in body shape and size may cause others to feel less sexually desirable.
NIH wrote women may experience changes in their sex drive and their sexual response may change, but aging doesn’t prevent women from being able to have or enjoy sexual relationships.
Merck Manuals continued that after menopause, ovaries and adrenal glands continue to produce male sex hormones which help maintain sex drive, slow the loss of muscle tissue, and contribute to an overall sense of well-being.