4 ways that menopause impacts sexual pleasure
Having a satisfying sex life isn’t just about feeling frisky all the time. Factors, such as hormones, sleep, stress, and what we eat can all influence our fun between the sheets. So, it may come as little surprise that the menopause can impact both our sexual desire and pleasure.
Menopause symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, a lack of libido, and urinary incontinence can become frequent issues and often put a dampener on bedroom antics. And, let’s face it, it can often feel difficult to open up about these topics, no matter how supportive our partner is.
But, have no fear. Here, we chat to the experts who reveal how menopause can affect sexual pleasure and also share advice for navigating common relationship roadblocks during this time.
How menopause impacts sexual pleasure
Along with fatigue, brain fog, and mood swings, when your oestrogen levels take a dive, your natural lubrication follows suit. This can turn penetrative sex into quite an uncomfortable experience.
“Oestrogen plays a role in arousal and blood flow to the genitals and lubrication,” explains Nicola Foster, a sex and relationship therapist. “One of the most practical ways women can get support at the time of menopause is with more lubrication – either with lubes or local vaginal oestrogen solutions.”
Tackling vaginal dryness isn’t just about comfort; it’s a game-changer for your pleasure too. There are plenty of products on the market designed to help with lubrication, so do your research and don’t be afraid to introduce them into the bedroom.
“Fluctuating hormone levels can often result in a decrease in sexual desire or a reduced interest in engaging in sexual activities,” says Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist, relationship expert and founder at Private Therapy Clinic.
As we age, our testosterone levels take a nosedive. This is bad news for our libido, which is heavily reliant on testosterone. Studies show that adding testosterone to hormonal therapy can improve sexual function and general wellbeing among women. It’s important to note, however, that it’s still currently not a routine prescription for women in the UK.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get a prescription, as GPs regularly prescribe off-licence medication. The International Menopause Society recommends that ‘if a formulation for women is not available, a small amount of an approved male formulation can be used, with regular blood monitoring to check blood levels do not exceed those of young women’.
Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating well are all great ways to help keep your libido in check too, but if you’re struggling it could be worth having a conversation with your GP.
Changes in arousal
“The menopause can affect blood flow to the genital area, which can reduce arousal and cause difficulty in achieving orgasm,” explains Becky. “Some women may also experience decreased genital sensation, making it harder to reach climax.”
If you find yourself in a sexual slump and struggle to talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, then try to reevaluate your current routine in the bedroom. Stoking the flames, exploring new techniques and keeping the passion alive will benefit your relationship in the long run.
“The key here is to slow things down, as a lot of the time people rush through certain stages of sex, making it hard to feel all the subtle sensations,” says Nicola. “Decide first who is receiving and who is giving, and be present in either role. The person receiving should take some time to consider what they would like before asking for what would feel good. Often for women, this can mean being held and caressed slowly for a longer time than usual.”
“The menopause can bring about emotional changes caused by hormonal fluctuations, which can affect sexual pleasure,” says Becky. “This might include mood swings, anxiety, and depression.”
The menopause and perimenopause phases often come knocking right when life’s already rocky. Many women at this age are dealing with teenage antics, looking after elderly parents, and career changes. These outside influences can crank up your stress levels and studies show that if there’s one hormone that’s detrimental to your sex drive, it’s the stress hormone, cortisol.
“We often associate menopause with things going off the boil in the bedroom, but, lovemaking can play a great part in supporting women at midlife,” says Nicola. “And it’s important to stress that good sex is about so much more than intercourse. For instance, rather than treating it as a performance, a different way is to take plenty of time to both get comfortable, put on a gentle playlist, start slow and soft and let go of trying to achieve an outcome.”
How to talk to your partner about sex during the menopause
As Becky explains, initiating a conversation with your partner about sex can be challenging, but requires open communication, honesty and sensitivity.
“Start by choosing an appropriate time to start the conversation,” she says. “Once you’re both settled, say that you’re looking to discuss your sexual intimacy as a couple, and your feelings towards it. You could highlight that by addressing it together, the relationship will be strengthened.”
List any symptoms you might have been experiencing before you start the conversation. Your partner must be aware of any discomfort that you’re experiencing, as they may be able to help you along the way.
“The key is to maintain a non-judgmental and understanding tone while emphasising your commitment to working together as a team to overcome any challenges,” says Becky. “A supportive partner will always respond with compassion, and will be grateful that you’re addressing this together.”
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