Like the teenage years, menopause can be a bewildering time. With all those physical and emotional changes occurring in your body, it can feel like you no longer know yourself. It’s not called ‘the change’ for nothing. Chatting to your female friends isn’t always reassuring when everyone seems to have a different experience. And, while you’re comfortable talking about hot flushes, what’s really bothering you most is often a waning sexual desire.
Fortunately, getting the facts behind decreasing sex drive can lead to greater peace of mind, self-awareness and tools to help deal with this changing time.
Loss of libido is common and normal around menopause. Hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) produced by our bodies fuel sexual feelings. In menopause, both estrogen and progesterone (produced by the ovaries) decline. This decline explains the fluctuating sexual desires many women experience in menopause and more generally throughout life.
Not helping matters, another consequence of less estrogen may be changes to your vagina. Reduced estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness and irritation. You may become less sensitive, finding it harder to be aroused and achieve orgasm. These changes can impact sexual performance, desire and sexual confidence. But there are ways to deal with vaginal dryness, from lubricants to prescription medications.
Other factors can potentially feed into decreasing sexual desire. These include fatigue, dissatisfaction with our appearance, depression and physical health problems like urinary incontinence. While symptoms vary from woman to woman, common changes associated with menopause include thinning hair, dry skin, fatigue, mood and cognitive changes and hot flushes. Some of these changes, such as skin issues, may also be due to natural ageing.
The average age of menopause for Australian women is 51-52 years, with most women reaching menopause between 45-55 years.1
In other words, if you can’t be bothered with sex…. it could be complicated.
Given the above, some women may prefer to avoid sex. However, regular sex with a partner, or masturbation, helps keep the vagina supple and moist. When dryness is a factor, lubricants and communicating with your partner are important to avoid soreness and abrasions. Your doctor can also offer advice, including options for treating vaginal dryness and other symptoms of menopause.
When 51-year-old Josie Steiger went was peri-menopause at the age of 46, she observed no major difference with her sex drive. “My libido actually went up with ageing. It’s sometimes more or sometimes less - but always there.” Josie continues to enjoy regular, satisfying sex with her partner. For her mother, who had a hysterectomy at age 38, it was a vastly different experience. “She never slept with her husband again,” Josie says. “Everything stopped. She’s now 70.”
Up to 30 per cent of perimenopausal and early postmenopausal women complain of vaginal dryness, discomfort, and painful sex.2 The prevalence of these problems tends to increase in older menopausal women. However, for others, like Josie, libido can stay the same and even increase post menopause.
Awareness and information is the first step in dealing with any issues you may be experiencing. Fortunately, lubricants, honest communication with your partner and even treatments like menopausal hormone therapy can be helpful in negotiating problems. It’s important to see any problem as a joint one with your partner to be resolved together.
There are ways to still maintain closeness to your partner, and also to increase your libido.
PP-DUA-AUS-0189, 09/2017 ©Pfizer 2017. Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. 38-42 Wharf Road, West Ryde, NSW, 2114.