Sex and Menopause

How Does Menopause Affect Sex Drive?

OBGYN Mason GAThe loss of estrogen and testosterone following menopause can lead to changes in a woman’s sexual drive and functioning. Menopausal and postmenopausal women may notice that they are not as easily aroused, and may be less sensitive to touching and stroking — which can result in decreased interest in sex.

In addition, lower levels of estrogen can cause a decrease in blood supply to the vagina. This decreased blood flow can affect vaginal lubrication, causing the vagina to be too dry for comfortable intercourse.

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Menopause gets a bad rap, but there is an upside. A major, essential, glorious one, says Renzie Richardson, a 51-year-old human resources consultant from Cumming, Ga. “I was definitely happy not to have a period anymore. That in itself was a celebration.”Still, the wider ramifications of going through The Change threw her for a loop. “I thought the period was gone — that was it. But now you’ve got all these other symptoms you have to deal with.” Richardson was taken by surprise by hot flashes,…

A lower estrogen level is not the only culprit behind a decreased libido; there are numerous other factors that may influence a woman’s interest in sexual activity during menopause and after. These include:

  • Bladder control problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Stress
  • Medications
  • Health concerns

Does Menopause Lower Sex Drive in all Women?

No. In fact, some postmenopausal women report an increase in sex drive. This may be due to decreased anxiety associated with a fear of pregnancy. In addition, many postmenopausal women often have fewer child-rearing responsibilities, allowing them to relax and enjoy intimacy with their partners.

What Can I Do to Treat Vaginal Dryness During Menopause?

During and after menopause, vaginal dryness can be treated with water-soluble lubricants such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly.

Do not use non-water soluble lubricants such as Vaseline, because they can weaken latex (the material used to make condoms, which should continue to be used until your doctor verifies you are no longer ovulating and to prevent contracting sexually transmitted diseases). Non-water soluble lubricants can also provide a medium for bacterial growth, particularly in a person whose immune system has been weakened by chemotherapy.

Vaginal moisturizers like Replens and Luvena can also be used on a more regular basis to maintain moisture in the vagina. You can also talk to your doctor about vaginal estrogen therapy.

How Can I Improve My Sex Drive During and After Menopause?

Currently, there are not any good drugs to treat sexual problems in women facing menopause. Estrogen replacement may work, but research has yielded conflicting results regarding its effectiveness. Estrogen can, however, make intercourse less painful by treating vaginal dryness.

Doctors are also studying whether a combination of estrogen and male hormones called androgens may be helpful in increasing sex drive in women.

Although sexual problems can be difficult to discuss, talk to your doctor; there are options to consider, such as counseling. Your doctor may refer you and your partner to a health professional who specializes in sexual dysfunction. The therapist may advise sexual counseling on an individual basis, with your partner or in a support group. This type of counseling can be very successful, even when it is done on a short-term basis.

How Can I Increase Intimacy With My Partner During Menopause?

During menopause, if your sex drive has declined but you don’t think you need counseling, you should still take time for intimacy with your partner. Love and affection can be expressed without sexual intercourse. Enjoy your time together by taking walks, eating dinner by candlelight, or giving each other back rubs.

To improve your physical intimacy, you may want to try the following approaches:

  • Educate yourself about your anatomy, sexual function, and the normal changes associated with aging, as well as sexual behaviors and responses. This may help you overcome your anxieties about sexual function and performance.
  • Enhance stimulation through the use of erotic materials (videos or books), masturbation, and changes to sexual routines.
  • Use distraction techniques to increase relaxation and eliminate anxiety. These can include erotic or non-erotic fantasies; exercises with intercourse; and music, videos, or television.
  • Practice non-coital behaviors (physically stimulating activity that does not include intercourse), such as sensual massage. These activities can be used to promote comfort and increase communication between you and your partner.
  • Minimize any pain you may be experiencing by using sexual positions that allow you to control the depth of penetration. You may also want to take a warm bath before intercourse to help you relax, and use vaginal lubricants to help reduce pain caused by friction.
  • Communicate with your partner about what is comfortable and what isn’t.

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