eggtimerIf you’re in your 40s or 50s and still get a regular period, chances are, you’re curious when those periods will finally stop, indicating that you’re officially in menopause.

Well, there are several clues that indicate when you’re on your way toward this new hormone phase, including heavier and/or irregular periods, hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness and moodiness.

Now a new study in the journal Menopause reveals one more clue–and while it’s one that isn’t exactly welcome, it does help pinpoint how long it is till your last period: It’s a decline in sexual desire and satisfaction.

According to the researchers who gave 1,390 women between the ages of 42 and 52 questionnaires rating sexual desire, arousal, satisfaction and pain over the course of 14.5 years, the majority of women experienced a notable drop in sexual function 20 months prior to their last period.

Ethnicity appears to play a role in just how steep a decline women experience. The study found that African-American experienced a lesser decline and women of Japanese descent had a larger decline when compared to Caucasian women.

This drop in sexual function continued one year after the last period of the women studied and, to a lesser extent, over the five years that followed.

While it’s well-known that sexual function can decline during menopause, this is the first study to show it can be used to pinpoint when menopause will be occurring.

The good news? There are treatments for sexual dysfunction, including hormone therapies (such as vaginal estrogen cream) and hormone-free lubricants. And many women in menopause and who are post-menopausal continue to enjoy robust, fulfilling physical intimacy. So, if you’re experiencing sexual issues, ask your gynecologist for options that may help you.

[Photo: Ian Barbour]