After dealing with your menstrual cycle for what seems like an eternity, you may rejoice when the time comes that you no longer must worry about period stains on your favorite undies, or the chance of an unwanted pregnancy. Yet, in the ten years or so around peri-menopause and menopause, you may experience hormonal changes, which may bring on new challenges, particularly in the bedroom. Note that this doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to satisfying sex life.
Here is the scoop on sex and menopause, as well as a few practical tips to keep the pleasure coming during your golden years.
Facts about Menopause
Menopause is nothing but a normal part of life. As you go through a natural decline in your reproductive hormones, your period will stop permanently. You can officially claim menopausal status once you have gone through 12 months without a bleed. Most women will transition into menopause somewhere between the ages of 45 to 55 years old and it can take several years for your body to make that transition.
Menopause and Sex Drive
Your hormones play an essential role in your reproductive and sexual health. Estrogen keeps your vagina healthy, while testosterone is key to your sex drive. As your estrogen level starts to dip, you may have vaginal burning, itching, or increased vaginal dryness. These symptoms can make sex more uncomfortable or even painful, ultimately reducing your desire to participate in sexual activities. Similarly, a declining testosterone level can impact your sexual function. A study in the Journal of European of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology revealed that 35 percent of women aged 50 to 60 years old reported reduced sex drive, and among them, 62 percent stated that their reduced sex drive affected their everyday lives, citing issues of mood and sexual changes.
Menopause and low sex drive
Transitioning into menopause is a turning point for many women, so if you feel like this new phase of life may be impacting your attitude, feelings, or behavior with regards to sex, you are not alone. A 2014 study of Australian women showed that they experienced a significant decline in sexual activity from 74 percent in postmenopausal women to 56 percent in late postmenopausal women as reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Likewise, a lack of sexual interest was the most commonly cited sexual problem reported among women in a global study of sexual attitudes and behaviors in the 2004 Journal of Urology.
Menopause and Orgasm
If you have ever experienced an orgasm (and I hope you have), you know that it is the most intense feeling of pleasure. But the hormonal shift that happens during menopause can affect your ability to reach your peak. Almost six percent (5.7) percent of women aged 45 to 64 and 5.8 percent of women aged 65 and older had problems achieving the big "O" to the extent that it caused distress or impacted their feelings, thoughts, or behaviors as reported in a 2008 study in the Journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. The cause? Your hormones, which affect the blood being supplied to your clitoris and vagina. Less blood to where you need it most results in reduced sensitivity in the area and ultimately, creates a less enjoyable intimate encounter.
35 percent of women aged 50 to 60 years old reported reduced sex drive
Declining estrogen impacts the health of your vulvar and vaginal tissue. Vulvovaginal atrophy is a common condition experienced by women in midlife and menopause, with as many as 45 percent of postmenopausal women being affected. The symptoms of dryness, irritation, and soreness may produce more vaginal burning or pain during intercourse (side note- other factors like vaginal infections and sexually transmitted infections can also cause pain during sex so make sure you get tested regularly, even if you are in a committed relationship). And, over time, sex with little lubrication may cause you to shy away from love making allotgether.
How to increase your sex drive during menopause
When your libido dips, sex can feel more like a chore than a pleasurable feel-good experience. And this can certainly take a toll on your relationship and your self-esteem. The good news is that by making small lifestyle changes, you can continue to enjoy a healthy and active sex life.
Deal with dryness: Use vaginal moisturizers and water-based lubricants. Internal moisturizers help build up the vaginal tissue, while external products can be applied to the vulva to relieve troublesome symptoms. Using a lubricant during sex may improve your comfort.
Check your medicines: Some medicines used to treat depression may unintentionally affect your libido or your ability to orgasm. Results from the 2016 Mayo Clinic Proceedings reported that 72 percent of women had problems with sexual desire while 83 percent of women stated that problems with sexual arousal was the most unpleasant sexual effect of taking an antidepressant.
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider if you think your medicine affects your sex life. Don't stop or change how you take your medication without talking to your doctor first.
Some medicines may unintentionally affect your libido or your ability to orgasm
Masturbation: A little solo play can help you explore your body, rev up your libido, and promote vaginal lubrication. Consider using toys, vibrators, or erotica to learn your sexual likes and dislikes, which can help you better communicate with your partner about your needs and preferences.
Communicate with your partner: Talking with your partner openly and honestly about your sexual desires can improve your sex life as you age. Don't be afraid to tell your partner how and where to touch you to turn you on. Opening up about your wants and needs in the bedroom can bring you closer and boost your libido.
Use it or lose it: Engaging in sexual activity regularly by yourself or with a partner helps you maintain vaginal elasticity and lubrication.
Consider hormonal treatment: Low-dose estrogen products like creams, tablets, or rings are usually used to treat the vaginal and urinary symptoms of menopause. These products have fewer risks than the standard hormone therapy. Still, for best results, your provider will tailor your therapy and reassess often to make sure the benefits of treatment still outweigh the risks.
Joy of Aging
Menopause may cause your sexual needs and desires to change, but that doesn't mean the end of the road for fulfilling sex life. By talking with your doctor and implementing small fixes, you can continue (or improve) your sexual experiences for years to come.