Libido – what to expect in the menopause…
Whether you have been happily married for decades or if you have recently found a new partner the menopause is likely to shake up your sex life in ways that you may not have expected. Finding ways to come to terms with your changing body shape, maintaining our flexibility and discovering how to be intimate as you both move into a more mature phase of life certainly needs to be discussed if you want to keep the sparks alight.
There are a few aspects of the menopause that may end up influencing the way you think and feel about having sex. It’s not unusual for women to put on weight during or after the menopause as fluctuating hormone levels tend to slow down the metabolism resulting in changes in body shape. These hormone changes may also impact skin and muscle tone so you might not feel as toned as you used to, meaning you could be less eager to undress. Other major symptoms of the menopause include tiredness, anxiety, headaches, being overwhelmed, low mood and sleep issues, so you could be more likely to be muttering the words – not tonight darling!
Falling hormone levels
There are many physical and chemical factors that work together to help build your libido. However, during the menopause the hormones oestrogen and testosterone which contribute to the feelings of sexual desire start to decline and this may explain why your libido could start to take a leave of absence. All relationships have their ups and downs and it’s often the times when you feel close to each other that spark more intimate moments. Looking back over your relationship you may realise that during the more emotionally distant, fractious or disputing times you may have been less sexually active.
If you haven’t already discussed with your partner the ways in which the menopause is affecting your sex drive, then now’s a good a time to start talking. The last thing you need is for your partner to start making their own incorrect assumptions as to why you are no longer showing a keen interest in sex. By talking openly about what you are experiencing you may also learn that your partner is going through some similar changes too. By remaining silent your partner’s self-esteem, confidence and mood could become altered. This is a time when, as a couple, you need to start finding a new way to be together sexually that takes into consideration the physical changes that growing old gracefully brings.
Aside from changing hormone levels one of the main reasons why women shy away from having sex as they reach the menopause is vaginal atrophy, otherwise known as atrophic vaginitis or vulvovaginal atrophy. But what exactly is this and how do you know if it’s relevant to you? All these terms basically mean inflammation of the vagina experienced as vaginal dryness, itching, soreness, irritation, pain, burning and bleeding during sex or urination.
An interesting international study called the CLOSER Research in 2012 involving 3520 postmenopausal women aged 55-65 years living in Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway highlighted that 45% of menopausal women experience vaginal symptoms and 75% felt that vaginal atrophy had a negative impact on their quality of life. The study also showed that women from the UK lacked knowledge about the OTC medications and prescription hormone therapy available for vaginal atrophy resulting in most women suffering in silence.
Normally oestrogen keeps the cells in the vagina healthy and well lubricated but the drop in oestrogen that occurs in the menopause causes a thinning and shrinking of the vagina wall and a decrease in lubrication. All of which makes for a very uncomfortable or even painful sexual experience. In fact, a sub-survey of the CLOSER Research called The Partners Study revealed that it’s not just women who are affected. In the study 65% of the partners indicated they were concerned that sex would be painful for their partner and a third of couples had stopped having sex because of anxieties around discomfort. Going through the menopause doesn’t have to mean that your sex life comes to an end. There are now plenty of topical lubricants made from natural ingredients to help couples enjoy sex without discomfort. These lubricants are available from chemists, health food shops and online and may help to restore sexual comfort and confidence so you can maintain intimacy within your relationship well beyond the menopause.