How to maintain your sex drive throughout menopause
Menopause is when menstrual periods stop permanently, and the pregnancy window closes. Caused by changes in reproductive hormone levels, menopause usually occurs between the ages of 47 and 54, but for some it happens earlier and for some later—there’s no one-size-fits-all truth, here. You usually know you’re menopausal once you've gone 12 consecutive months without getting your period.
While menopause is a perfectly natural biological process, its symptoms—which can include a lower sex drive—can really pull the rug out from under you. While not all women experience a decrease in libido (some even experience an increase), it’s very common. One study found that, while 42% of women experienced sexual dysfunction in the early perimenopausal stage (the years leading up to menopause), 88% of women faced the same issue a few years later when they were going through menopause.
While the symptoms and severity vary widely, this highlights just how common the problem is—and the importance of busting the stigmas around it. Just because you’re going through menopause doesn’t mean you should give up on the sex life you desire.
Why does menopause lower your sex drive?
Menopause is linked with a decreasing sex drive for many reasons.
In most cases, a lower libido during menopause is due to decreased hormone levels. With the decrease of testosterone and estrogen, getting aroused can be less straightforward. Decreased hormones can mean also less sensation, which may lessen sexual desire.
Lower hormone levels can likewise lead to vaginal dryness and tightness from curtailed moisture. In turn, this can lead to a loss of elasticity, which leads to fragile tissues more prone to thinning and tearing. This can cause discomfort or pain and even slight bleeding during sex—naturally making you want it less.
Other menopause symptoms can make you less interested in sex too. These include: depression, mood swings, weight gain, and hot flashes, to name a few.
Thankfully, there are many effective treatments available, and it’s largely a matter of figuring out what works best for you.
What can you do about it?
1. Don’t force it.
Despite what the mainstream media would have you believe, intercourse in later years isn’t always as desirable for everyone as it once was. According to Chris Kraft of John’s Hopkins Medicine, “About a third of long-term couples don’t have sex or have sex only occasionally. But they don’t necessarily consider that a problem. It’s just where their relationships have evolved. They do other things that are intimate that they enjoy like cuddling, sharing a bed and laughing together. And they’re happy.” If you don't want sex as much and are happy with that, ask yourself whether you feel pressured by a partner or society at large.
2. Don’t give up.
That said, wanting to have an active and adventurous sex life regardless of age is hot, healthy, and 100% your prerogative—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! If you’re motivated to get back in the saddle (or stay there), try a gradual, exploratory approach with zero pressure and lots of foreplay or prolonged solo sessions. If you’ve been experiencing pain or discomfort during sex, consider seeing a pelvic floor therapist—they may recommend Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles and enhance sensation, or a dilator kit to help rebuild your tolerance to penetration. Your body isn’t broken, it just needs more TLC to accomplish its goals!
3. Don’t rush it.
There’s no magic formula dictating how long it should take to get turned on and/or to orgasm. This is a truth people of all ages need to hear. Enjoy the journey! Give yourself as much time as you need to get aroused. Foreplay can and should be as creative as you want it to be. From sensual touch, to massage, reading or listening to erotica, or watching feminist, ethical porn, the possibilities are endless. Take the time to (re)discover what turns you on. And if your partner is rushing you, that may warrant a more serious discussion of priorities.
4. Lubricate to your heart’s content.
Particularly if you’re experiencing dryness-related irritation or friction, water-based lubricants and longer-lasting silicone-based lubricants can make penetration less painful. Choosing the best lube for your needs is important to ensuring you get the most out of whatever product(s) you choose. Vaginal moisturizers are another option. While lubricants are applied just before or during sex, moisturizers can be applied anytime and are meant to be used regularly over a longer period.
5. Be healthy.
While hardly limited to the menopausal era of your life, eating a nutritious diet can keep your libido happy, and getting enough exercise can boost your cortisol, estrogen, prolactin, oxytocin, serotonin, and testosterone levels—all hormones that play a key role in your sex life. Testosterone, for instance, has been shown to play an important role in sexual desire regardless of one’s gender—more of it tends to make you hornier.
6. Try new things.
Your body is evolving and so to might your desires. Think of menopause as the perfect excuse (not that you need one) to try out new sex toys, new positions, new approaches (i.e, tantric sex), or new types of play (i.e., role play, edge play, bondage, or BDSM more generally). Maybe a new, all-powerful vibrator is exactly what the doctor ordered to address your reduced sensitivity. Maybe intimacy for its own sake is becoming more central to your desire—if so, remember that sex is not the only way to feel close to your partner. Kissing, caressing, cuddling, and other nonsexual acts can actually help boost your sex drive by deepening your bond.
7. Talk to a doctor.
If all else fails, talk to a doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Estrogen in the form of pills, cream or a vaginal ring might help reduce vaginal dryness and atrophy by replacing hormones your body is no longer making, while testosterone may help increase your libido. There are potential serious risks, however, so it's important to discuss them thoroughly with a medical professional before going this route.
Bottom line: no matter what you're going through, keep the lines of communication with your partner (and yourself!) open. Share what you’re going through, both physically and emotionally. After all, feeling more connected to your partner can be a turn-on. And if need be, there’s zero shame in talking to a therapist, whether solo or as a couple.
Your gorgeous, ever-evolving sex life awaits you. <3