During menopause and perimenopause fluctuating levels of reproductive hormones can result in changes in our libido or interest in sex. However, it’s not all about hormones and there’s no biological reason why sex can’t be great into our 80s.
How will the menopause affect your sex drive?
Lots of us find a drop in sex drive, which can be confusing and make us feel like strangers to ourselves and maybe our partners too. For some, this may be reminiscent of feelings that they had following the birth of a baby – another time when hormone levels are fluctuating greatly and libido may be low. Low libido may cause relationship problems and emotional issues of confidence and self-esteem.
A huge number of changes can be taking place in our lives at the time of the menopause. Many of us may feel that we are evolving into a ‘new me’. This transition can be exciting as well as stressful. Daily realities may include raising teenagers, supporting ageing parents, and changes in work or relationship dynamics. Our sexual identity changes and evolves throughout our lives. By understanding the physical changes that are happening, we can make practical choices so as to create a sex life that suits us now.
Many post-menopausal women find they enjoy the best sex of their lives as they are free from the worry of pregnancy and no longer need to practice safe sex. They are also free from the bother of monthly periods and the roller coaster of the monthly hormone cycle.
At a recent My Second Spring event sexologist, Emily Power Smith gave us great advice and tips on how to enjoy sex and our own unique sexuality at menopause. Many of us were surprised that her top advice included the trio – Lubricate, Masturbate and Communicate! Read more on this blog post. I’ve had great reports of a new body confidence and interest in sex from many of the women who attended the talk.
Low libido can be caused by changing and adjusting levels of sex hormones. Low libido can be caused by changing and adjusting levels of sex hormones.
Causes of low libido
Low libido may be the result of hormone imbalance and will often be associated with other symptoms of the menopause such as night sweats, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety. Some women worry about their sudden drop in sexual interest but when we get our hormones back in balance, we often find that there is an increase in sexual desire.
As oestrogen levels fall, cells in the lining of the vagina may become thinner, tighter, drier, and less elastic. Oestrogen helps the vagina to stay thick and moist. Many of us experience vaginal dryness, burning or itching. This can make sex painful. Approximately 40-50% of us experience vaginal dryness during menopause. This is why lubrication is vital – you can use a commercial lubricant or organic coconut oil is brilliant too. If using condoms make sure to use a lubricant that is suitable to their effectiveness.
Testosterone production and the adrenal glands
Throughout our lives we all have a balance of sex hormones in our systems, including oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Testosterone is fundamental to our sex drive and is involved in all aspects of sex: interest, arousal, sexual response, lubrication, and orgasm.
Women produce testosterone in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. During menopause the adrenal glands are the primary source of testosterone production we need to ensure that our adrenal reserves are strong. If we have been under undue stress for many years our adrenal reserves will be depleted.
Some of us have good testosterone production throughout the menopausal change with little change in libido. This may be due to good nutrition, a healthy metabolism and a less stressful lifestyle.
Low libido can lead to relationship difficulties. Low libido can lead to relationship difficulties.
Seek Help – a problem shared is a problem halved
It can help to talk to our partner about sex at this time. This is important because it can prevent misunderstandings in our relationships. Menopause can be a time when some of us reconsider our relationships, and it could be beneficial to consider relationship counselling or sex therapy. For some women, sexual orientation changes at menopause. The first step for many of us is to spend some time to think about what sex means to us, and what aspects of sex we find most enjoyable.
Is my lack of interest in sex a permanent change?
Q I just turned 50 and am very concerned about the future of my sex life. Recently, I find that I am much less interested in sex and worry that this is going to cause problems with my partner, who is very interested in sex.
In the past few months I feel as though I am dead inside, like there is barrier between me and my sexual feelings. I also have noticed that my vagina can be dry and itchy – I’m not painting a very pretty picture! I wonder how this body is going to manage the future and whether sex can be enjoyable again after 50. I really hope so, because in the past it has been very enjoyable.
I still have periods so I assume this is not the menopause. I think it’s difficult to feel confident about our bodies as we age and things start to get looser and sag a bit. I know we hear about lots of people who have a very satisfying sex life later in life and wonder how they do it.
Is it just the men, or do women enjoy sex later too?
This is not a problem I feel I can bring up with my GP because I don’t imagine he will have too many solutions for me. I have never really discussed my sex life with family or friends – they would normally be my support in other areas. My partner is fairly understanding as I try to keep things going as normally as possible without sharing my fears, especially because I don’t want to point out what I see as my deficiencies. However, sex is definitely becoming less enjoyable and more of a thing to tick off my busy list of things to do. Do you think this is a phase or a permanent change?
A From what you say, it sounds like you could be perimenopausal, which is that time of transition before the actual menopause. It usually starts in a woman’s 40s and can last for up to four years. In the perimenopause the ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen and this decline accelerates as she reaches menopause.
A woman is considered to have reached menopause when she has had no period for 12 months, as her ovaries have stopped releasing eggs.
With the decrease in oestrogen comes vaginal dryness, which can cause itching and irritation such as you describe. This, of course, can result in painful intercourse and nobody would look forward to that, so I’m not surprised you are experiencing a lack of desire.
No two women are the same regarding symptoms or time of onset, but if you are lucky enough to still have your mother then you can check with her when she experienced the menopause, as you will most likely start it around the same age as she did.
Regarding the vaginal dryness, make sure to use a good lubricant and if the over- the-counter products are not enough then your GP will be able to prescribe a stronger one.
I agree that it is difficult to accept the ageing process in our bodies, as we are constantly exhorted to keep our bodies beautiful, but try to bear in mind that this process is also happening to your partner and you no doubt accept him for what he is.
It should not, however, be all doom and gloom regarding the menopause. Many women are delighted that there is no longer any possibility of becoming pregnant and report a whole new lease of life regarding their sexual activity as a result.
Indeed in China the menopause is referred to as the Second Spring as women in middle age are respected for their wisdom and experience.
Updates on sex at menopause
We’ve had some great questions and answer blogs and an outstanding event – the ‘sexy talk’ with sexologist, Emily Power Smith. You’ll find lots of top tips and great information from Emily via those two links. Keep in touch with us by joining My Second Spring to make sure you hear of our next events. It’s a simple sign-up and I promise I won’t bombard you with emails. Aisling
The second talk with Emily Power Smith is reviewed here – we were hugely iinspired and it was interesting for some of us to have an introduction to sex toys via Sex Siopa.