Sex and the Menopause
Sex and the Menopause
Many women experience problems with sex and intimacy around the menopause, which can have a substantial impact on our relationships and sex lives. It can be difficult to understand the causes of these problems, so finding the right solution can be tricky.
“I just don’t experience the same sexual urges anymore”
“It hurts when I have penetrative sex so I avoid it”
“My partner just doesn’t understand why I don’t want to have sex”
Sounds familiar? The physical problems such as painful penetration and vaginal dryness are common, but the wider emotional impact can be just as devastating for a woman whose sex drive has all but disappeared, or who is avoiding sex because it’s hurting. It’s easy for communication to break down, and relationships can suffer as a result.
The menopause occurs when our ovaries stop releasing eggs every month, eventually causing our periods to stop. As a result, oestrogen levels fall, which affects many parts of our bodies including our skin, heart, bones and vagina. However, our hormones can start fluctuating years before our periods actually stop. This is called the ‘perimenopause’ and many women will experience menopause symptoms during this period like hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety and vaginal dryness to name a few.
Oestrogen helps keep the vagina moist, as it encourages the production of secretions from glands inside the vagina. These secretions help to keep the vaginal tissues hydrated and supple, so they can stretch and expand as required for either sex or childbirth. As levels of oestrogen fall and we transition through the menopause, the tissues around our vagina can become thinner, dryer and more inflamed, making sex and even day to day activities uncomfortable. It can take months or years for these symptoms to develop and vary between women.
Love-making is often when many women first notice vaginal discomfort as the lack of oestrogen may cause the vagina to shrink a little and expand less easily during sex making penetration uncomfortable and less enjoyable.
The emotional impact of sexual problems in menopause
Progesterone and testosterone levels also fluctuate during this time, and these fluctuations can cause a reduction in libido, which in many cases can trigger anxiety and depression.
Of course, these feelings can also be triggered by pain, particularly if sex is painful and being avoided as a result. The more sex is avoided, the more our relationships suffer, the worse we feel. The worse we feel, the less likely we are to want sex, and the spiral continues.
But there are practical steps we can take to combat these problems and boost your sex life and libido.
Good diet and regular exercise are absolutely vital to our mental and physical wellbeing. Foods rich in magnesium, potassium and zinc, such as spinach, pine nuts, and sweet potatoes, can help decrease inflammation and improve blood flow to your vagina, and increase testosterone which should give your libido a boost. And it may be a bit cheesy, but oysters are bursting with zinc, so it might be worth a try!
Exercise as we all know is good for the heart, but did you know it’s good for your vagina too? Improved blood flow will help keep your vaginal tissues in top shape. Regular exercise also releases endorphins, and is a well documented mood booster, so may help combat those bouts of menopause associated low mood.
Tell your partner how you feel.
This might not be easy, particularly if you have been distant for a while. They may think you don’t want to have sex because you don’t fancy or love them anymore. Being open and honest will help you reconnect and together you can find a way forward.
Spend quality time together
And forget about the chores. Take some time to enjoy each other’s company. Remember why you fell in love with them. In our busy everyday life juggling chores, work, kids, elderly parents we often forget to prioritise our relationships. As women we are more inclined to feel like having sex if we are feeling happy and cherished. If we are worrying about whether the bins have been put out or if the packed lunches have been made we are less likely to feel like having sex that night.
Create the right atmosphere
Sometimes it helps to create a ‘sexy’ atmosphere. It may take time but it will be worth it. Have a candlelit bath together, play songs that are important to you both, dim lighting……all work to create a romantic atmosphere and help us forget those bins!
Don’t be scared to play
Remember there is more to sex than penetration. Foreplay…kissing, touching, and caressing can all be equally arousing and intimate. Don’t be scared to play out fantasies or experiment with sex toys, many of which have been designed for women wanting to overcome sex problems. Visit www.sh-womenstore.comore to find out more.
A good quality lubricant
A good quality lubricant like NHS approved Sylk will help you feel more relaxed and aroused. You can also use it to massage the vaginal area and your partners penis as well as using it to make penetrative sex more slippery and smooth. Make sure the lubricant you use is water based so you can use it with condoms and sex toys, is pH friendly (around 4.5) and is non-drying. Visit Sylk for a free sample.
Take the pressure off!
Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. We all think everyone is having more sex than we are, but they’re probably not. What’s important is the connection between you and your partner, nothing else matters. Take your time and keep talking!
One of the big keys to having a good sex life is to have lots of sex. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But often the longer we avoid sex, the harder it can be to get back into the swing of it. Emotional barriers strengthen, and penetration becomes more difficult as the vaginal tissues become thinner and more severely atrophied. Having regular sex with a good, moisturising lubricant like Sylk can really help maintain the elasticity of the vagina, so keep going!
Of course, it’s not easy to move past these barriers once they are in place. If you’re still struggling, go and see your GP who can talk to you about available treatments like HRT or a registered, specialist sex and relationship therapist. They will offer confidential individual or couples therapy to help you overcome these barriers- find out more by visiting COSRT.
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