LIBIDO AND THE MENOPAUSE
Unfairly, at the very time you can stop worrying about contraception and your periods getting in the way of your sex life, many women find their fluctuating menopausal hormones cause their sex drive to nosedive. The reasons can be psychological or physical (or both) but the good news is that it is not inevitable or fixed and for many a few simple lifestyle changes and remedies can help.
Why the lower libido during menopause?
Our libido or sex drive is complicated at the best of times and is at the mercy of a whole range of factors – stress, tiredness, illness, feeling taken for granted, worrying that you are less sexy and desirable as you get older, over-familiarity to your partner - but during the menopause these feelings can be magnified by fluctuating hormone levels and associated menopausal symptoms like feeling emotionally fragile and overwhelmed, hot sweats, aching joints and changes to your body shape. Menopause is not necessarily glamorous or sexy and it can take a little bit of time to adapt to this transitional time and turn your sex life around.
How can you increase your sexual desire during menopause?
Sexual desire is complex, multi-faceted and most of us will experience a lack of it at some point in our life. Just some of the things that can make a dent in it include illness, the effects of some medication, regularly drinking too much alcohol, not feeling emotionally satisfied or valued in your relationship, becoming a carer for your partner. Loss of sexual desire is also a well-documented side effect of the menopause as the hormones progesterone and testosterone – which play a key role in firing up your libido – fluctuate and decline. This is significant because testosterone helps increase desire and progesterone helps stimulate the production of this hormone. Many women say taking HRT has helped ‘reboot’ their sex drive – and it could be helpful if low levels are causing your loss of libido - but this might not be appropriate for everyone.
Adapting to your changing body
According to the International Menopause Society (IMS) women in their mid-40s typically gain an average of around 1lb a year. This means between the ages of 45-60 we could have gained around a stone. Even women who have managed to stay effortlessly slim all their lives can find they start to struggle in their late 40s – if not necessarily with huge weight gain then with the way their fat is distributed – finding they are carrying extra ‘padding’ around their middle and back. Plus, as we get older, we lose muscle tone and are generally not as naturally pert and firm as we once were. In a world that prizes slimness and youthful beauty all of this can conspire to make us feel less sexual and desirable. While there are many examples of sexy and desirable 40+, 50+, 60+ women in the public eye, and this can be positive in overturning the assumption that we all become ‘invisible’ in middle age, the flip side is it can also heap more pressure on us if we don’t look like someone whose job, let’s be honest, is being paid to look good. Avoid comparing yourself to other women and just aim to get healthy and fitter for you. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of phytoestrogen-rich foods, keep your portion sizes down (an average meal in 2019 is now three times the size it was in the 1940s) and take regular exercise – this should not only help to keep your weight down and improve muscle tone and stamina it should also help to reduce the severity of ‘unsexy’ menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, joint pain and poor sleep.
This is a tricky one as we all have stresses but around menopause age we can have even more heaped upon us – potentially dealing with kids leaving home and ‘empty nest syndrome’; parents becoming ill and/or more dependent on you; job insecurity (when businesses are ‘streamlining’ their workforce the over 50s tend to be the first ones to take the hit and it can become harder to get re-employed) and this at a time when menopausal symptoms like brain fog, anxiety and tiredness can make the impact of those stresses so much harder to deal with. That sex comes lower down on your agenda at this point should not be any massive surprise. There are, however, many ways to help reduce stress – exercise is key but there is increasing evidence to show mastering relaxation techniques like mindfulness that train your brain to be still can significantly help.
Talking about it
Not always easy we know but there are a range of ways you can access help and advice about low libido from your GP to relationship therapists or online sites like the Sexual Advice Association. Ideally, talk to your friends and partner. If you can swap notes with your friends about how, or if, their sex life was changed by the menopause and what they did about it then great. Not everyone feels comfortable doing this face to face, however, so chatting anonymously online in a chatroom or forum is another option. Some women might find they are happy to exist in a sex free relationship but if your partner doesn’t this is going to take some negotiating. The key is to keep talking about it so those closest to you can understand what is going on.
Easing vaginal dryness
The drop in oestrogen during the perimenopause and menopause tends to make vaginal tissue drier and sex potentially uncomfortable. This dryness can generally be remedied very simply using a vaginal moisturiser – there are a range of these available from the chemist or online. There are also a number of non-surgical treatment options such as laser treatments that works to stimulate vaginal tissue by boosting collagen levels. Alternatively, there are different pelvic floor toners available – some of which use infrared light and heat to increase vaginal lubrication and tone pelvic floor muscles (plus improve bladder control). There is also growing evidence that taking sea buckthorn supplements (the antioxidant rich oil from the sea buckthorn plant contains omegas 3, 6, 7 and 9) can help.
Okay, so you are not 20 and sex will mean something different to you now than when you were younger but that really doesn’t mean your days of being sexual or enjoying sex are over. It means it might be different - your sexual responses might be slightly slower, you could find it harder to become aroused but taking more time to explore what you do enjoy can come with new rewards. Spend extra time on foreplay – stroking and caressing each other. If it helps, read or watch erotica. If intercourse is uncomfortable try mutual masturbation and/or oral sex. If you don’t want to have sex don’t feel obliged to but do explain to your partner sensitively why you don’t so he/she doesn’t feel rejected. Ultimately, try to enjoy this time in your life free from the worry of contraception. It might be a different phase in your love life but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good or better than before.
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