Menopause & Sex: How Menopause Affects Sexuality
One aspect of menopause which may catch you by surprise is the impact on your sex life. You may know in advance that menopause is going to alter your sex drive and your enjoyment of sex, but many aspects may still come as a shock.
In fact, it is not uncommon to lose interest in sex altogether because what was once easy and automatic now requires effort and sometimes planning.
But you do not have to let your sex life go down the drain—and in fact, menopause is a wonderful time to explore your sexuality and move in a new, exciting direction. You may even find that your sex life is better than ever after menopause. And in some cases, your sex drive might actually go up.
Physical Factors Affecting Sexuality After Menopause
Numerous factors play into our sexualities involving both our bodies and our minds. As we enter menopause, both our bodies and minds are undergoing transitions. Let’s take a look at the physical changes which can impact our sexuality in perimenopause and menopause:
- Vaginal dryness. This is a result of the decline in hormone production. Additionally, vaginal tissue can get thinner and become less elastic. Both can lead to discomfort during sex. This can be frustrating.
- Lower libido. This also happens as a result of the decreasing hormones.
- Fatigue. If you lose out on sleep a lot or struggle with the pain and discomfort of menopause symptoms, you may find yourself tired all the time. When you are tired, it is a lot harder to take an interest in sex (or anything else you usually enjoy).
- Mood disorders. The hormonal changes may bring depression, anxiety, or mood swings for some women. All of these can change how you feel about sex, both in general, and from moment to moment.
- Sleep disruptions. If you are used to having sex at night in bed, you may find that you lose interest because sleep is becoming a higher priority (this at least is a relatively simple problem to solve—you just need to switch to having sex at another time of day, even if that means rearranging your schedule).
- Problems with bladder control. Because your estrogen levels are declining, the lining of your urethra can start thinning. Meanwhile, the pelvic muscles around it are becoming weaker. These factors can combine to cause urinary incontinence. This can be a problem during sex. If you find it embarrassing, it may get in the way of your interest in sex.
- No more menstrual cycles. I haven’t really heard anyone point this one out, but many women experience regular ups and downs in their sex drive throughout their menstrual cycles. A lot of women for example report their sex drive peaking when they ovulate. For other women, libido may increase during another phase of the cycle. When your cycles go away, those ups and downs go away. That means it is possible you may experience no more of those pleasant “peaks.” This understandably can interfere with your sex life.
While the list above may seem discouraging, there are solutions for many of these problems, which I will share with you below. But first, let’s take a look at some additional psychological factors which may impact your sex drive during your change of life.
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Psychological Factors Affecting Sexuality After Menopause
- For some, the loss of fertility may strike a psychological blow. Knowing we are youthful and can create live can be an empowering feeling, and some women may find that feeling is one which is deeply interwoven with their personal sexuality. Having that taken away can lead to a sense of loss of sexual identity.
- Depression and anxiety may be more than just hormonal. You may be depressed or anxious about a range of issues during menopause. You could be facing challenges with health, family, work, or other life experiences. If so, these issues may weigh you down and make you less interested in sex as a result.
- On a brighter note, some women in menopause may be shifting into a more relaxed stage of life. There is a chance you are retiring, or your kids are moving out of the house, or both. If so, this may be a time of freedom and relaxation for you, and this can do wonders for your sex drive. Freed of other responsibilities, you can spend more time and energy cultivating your sex life.
- Cultural factors may have an impact. We are surrounded by mixed messages about our older years, but many of them are either overtly or covertly negative. We ingrain the belief that we are supposed to lose interest in sex and give up on various aspects of our lives just because we are past a certain age. It does not have to be that way. Just be aware that all that cultural encoding could be having an influence over your thoughts, feelings and choices.
- If you worry about getting pregnant, knowing that pregnancy is no longer a possibility can be liberating. No form of birth control is perfect, and if children are absolutely not an option, then you may feel quite a bit of anxiety surrounding sex when you are fertile. After menopause, you no longer have this concern at all, and are free to have sex without worrying about an unexpected bundle appearing nine months down the road. This can give sex drive a boost.
Common Problems and Their Solutions
Now that you know some of the challenges that you may face with your sexuality during menopause (as well as a few of the positives), let’s consider some simple solutions to some of the problems listed above.
Problem: Vaginal dryness
Solution: There are a number of possible solutions for this. You can try a water-based vaginal lubricant, or you can try a vaginal moisturizer. These products are over-the-counter, but if necessary, you can also get a prescription medication.
I would recommend that if at all possible, you stick with an OTC product, because the medications are estrogen-based. Hormone replacement therapy has some serious drawbacks, and is a complex decision which you should not for any reason take lightly. An herbal supplement is a gentler, safer approach to bringing your hormones into balance and treating symptoms like vaginal dryness.
Problem: Urinary incontinence
Solution: There are a couple of ways you can deal with this issue. The first is to do Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and boost control. You can also urinate before sex. You may also wish to rethink your attitudes surrounding the issue. There really is no reason to be embarrassed. Urine is simply another bodily fluid, and you are exchanging plenty of those.
Problem: Pain and fatigue related to physical symptoms of menopause
Solution: Take an herbal remedy for menopause symptoms, as I suggested earlier. Doing this will help to alleviate some of those symptoms so that you can get back to feeling energetic and taking more of an interest in the activities you typically enjoy.
Problem: Depression and anxiety
Solution: The solution to this problem depends on the cause. If the cause is a chemical imbalance which has been brought on by the shift in your hormone levels, then taking an herbal supplement as I recommended may help to reduce these symptoms as well as wild fluctuations in mood.
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If however the cause is something else, then the key to dealing with it is to tackle the underlying issue. So long as issues go unaddressed, they will continue to bother you, which will continue to stand in the way of an enjoyable sex life.
Problem: Vaginal pain during sex
Solution: There are a number of possible solutions to dealing with vaginal pain during intercourse:
- Use lubricants (as already discussed).
- Try different sexual positions. It may be helpful to you if you use positions where you have more control over the depth of penetration, like woman-on-top. In other cases, something as simple as changing the angle of penetration could make a significant difference in sensation, and may reduce pain by a margin.
- More foreplay may help. Sometimes when you are stimulated and aroused, this can lessen vaginal pain during intercourse. This applies across the board (many women experience vaginal pain long before menopause).
- Remember that “sex” does not need to solely be defined as vaginal intercourse. There are plenty of other sexual activities you can do which can also produce an orgasm and provide for plenty of fun and intimacy.
Problem: Cultural expectations
Solution: It is easy to give up on something or lose hope in it when you are bombarded everyday by messages telling you that you should give up on it. In our culture, sex is seen as the province of the young, even though many people enjoy sex into old age.
Consider purging these cultural messages from your psyche as best you can. Your life and identity are not defined by that which is seen as the “norm,” nor is the “norm” which is presented necessarily healthy.
The only expectations which matter when it comes to your sex life are yours and your partner’s. Communicate openly and figure out what you want and need, not what society thinks you should want and need, and then find a way to do it.
Problem: Low libido (i.e. interest in sex is no longer driven by your body)
Solution: There are a number of things you can do about this. The first is once again to take an herbal supplement to balance hormone production out, which in turn should help to restore some of your sex drive.
The other thing you can do is approach your interest in sex differently. Some people feel no conflict with their loss of libido—they have no cerebral interest in sex at all, and once their sex drive is gone, they simply move onto other interests. But if you do find yourself “wishing you felt like having sex,” that means you do have an interest in sex that goes deeper than the chemicals in your body.
That means you can cultivate that interest. Let your mind drive your interest in sex. For a lot of people, bodily arousal is automatic under the right circumstances, and psychological arousal follows. But that can be reversed. You can let your mind be aroused, pursue sexual activities even if your body isn’t “feeling it” initially, and then your body can learn to follow suit.
This might mean taking a very different approach to sex all around. Our society insists that sex is supposed to be spontaneous, easy, and convenient. But does it follow that once spontaneity and ease are removed, sex has no value?
Maybe the opposite is true. Sex can be a way to engage more deeply and deliberately with yourself and your partner. If you learn to see it as such, you might find a new way to enjoy it. There is joy in doing things because you truly want them, and not just because they come to you without effort. Menopause will have an impact on your life, but it does not control your actions or choices—you do.
Helpful Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
In addition to the ideas above, there are a number of healthy lifestyle changes you can make, as advised by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
- Exercise more often. This can help treat mood disorders, and may also improve your self image, which can be an issue as you get older.
- If you have any existing medical problems, get them treated as best you can. Anything you can do to improve your health may also improve your sex drive and function.
- If you are a smoker, quit, and stay away from drugs and alcohol. Smoking is known to interfere with estrogen and also reduce blood flow to the vagina.
- Stay away from products which might cause irritation. For example, certain soaps can irritate the vulva.
- If you are taking cold or allergy medications, be aware that either or both may be exacerbating vaginal dryness.
- Engage in sexual activity more often than you do now. Psychologically, this will build interest (it is often easier to maintain interest in an activity you are actively engaging with), and physiologically, it will boost vaginal blood flow.
Now Is a Time to Take a Conscious, Deliberate Approach to Sexuality
Sexuality is affected by menopause in a quite a few different ways. Physically and psychologically, you may find yourself struggling with obstacles which were never there before—but there are some benefits too. If you were worried about getting pregnant, that concern is gone. You also now are free to take a conscious approach to your sexuality, cultivating it through your actions, instead of simply falling back on hormonal defaults. In the long run, that may mean that sex becomes better than ever!