By Walker Thornton.
FACT or FICTION: Menopause ruins a woman’s libido
The fact is that every woman’s experience of menopause will be different.
Can menopause play havoc with a woman’s sense of desire? Yes. But the reasons vary and not all menopausal women experience a loss of sexual desire. If you experience a drop in libido there are things you can do to figure out the problem and work to increase your libido.
Let’s look at specific issues that contribute to low libido during menopause.
1. Physiological changes during menopause can result in hot flashes and night sweats, lead to loss of sleep and, understandably, irritability. Many women experience changes in their vagina due to hormone depletion—extreme dryness, vaginal pain during intercourse and in some cases, vaginal atrophy—a shrinking or tightening of the vaginal wall. All of these interfere with the ability or desire to have penetrative sex and can cause women to avoid sex all together.
If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to find a doctor you can trust to help you manage these changes. Research has shown that over 80% of women were unaware that vulvar and vaginal atrophy was a medical condition, and 42% of respondents simply considered it “a normal part of aging”.
You will need to bring up the topic as not all doctors feel comfortable asking women about their sexual experiences.
2. Emotional Changes—all of the above can cause you to feel overly tired, in a roller coaster of emotions and stressed out. For some women the changes are less based on actual experiences as they are from worrying about horror stories of menopause that proliferate the media and our common ‘wisdom’ about the change of life. It’s not uncommon to worry about menopause and blame hormonal changes for everything that seems to be happening in your life. Are you stressed or dealing with other issues that make you feel less interest in sex? About the same time a woman begins to go through menopause she may be dealing with teenage kids, or the empty nest experience, a partner’s midlife changes, or increased involvement in caring for elderly parents. Given all these factors and the bodily changes we face in menopause it’s easy to experience a dip in your libido.
3. How are you feeling about menopause and aging? We are taught to view menopause as a dreadful change of life rather than a natural transition. It may be helpful to understand that not all women have a difficult menopause. My menopause experience was relatively problem-free. Ten years later I’m having more satisfying sex than ever and I’ve learned to embrace my aging, ever changing body. (Mutton Club founder Rachel Lankester talked about her own positive experience of menopause on BBC Woman’s Hour.)
Suggestions for slowing rebuilding intimacy and desire:
Start by listing your specific symptoms, or concerns, for your own awareness. What type of help could you seek? Do you want to see a doctor? A therapist? A conversation with other menopausal women? Do you need to talk to your partner?
What gets in the way of you wanting to have sex?
Sometimes when we have an unpleasant experience during sex—it hurts, or we got turned off somehow, or we didn’t feel pleasure—we avoid having sex the next time. And the next time. We find ways to avoid sexual intimacy and over time we lose our desire for sex.
What do you need to make you feel sexy?
What makes me more likely to avoid sex? Is it physical, relationship-based, stress, or side effects of menopause?
What do you need to say to a partner who wants to have sex?
Look at your answers; what can you change? Start small. If you don’t want sex say so. But don’t completely shut down your sense of yourself as a sexual being—even in the midst of hot flashes and emotional changes. Many of these menopausal changes will diminish or go away over time. You want to think about what comes ‘after’.
Redefine what sex means to you right now and communicate that with a partner. They need to know that it is not about them. Remember that most men don’t understand menopause. (Female partners who have not yet experienced menopause can also be unsympathetic!) If your partner doesn’t know that penetrative sex, for example, hurts they may feel you’re rejecting them.
You can say no to sex while exploring other possibilities for intimacy: “I don’t want to have sex right now. I do want to hold your hand, have you hold me, get a back/foot rub. I do want to have a quiet relaxing moment together.”
Seek out resources with positive solutions and be willing to experiment. Give yourself pleasure—sexual or otherwise and be kind to yourself during this period of time. Exercise, a healthier diet and a willingness to communicate your needs will all help you with symptom management. Additionally they give you a positive place to focus.