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It's rarely discussed - yet it's something that changes for a large number of women going through the menopause. If you're one of them, rest assured - you're absolutely not alone. In fact, a recent Gransnet survey found that almost a third of over 60s have lost their libido since the menopause. This change in your sex life can bring up many questions however, so here's our guide to menopause and sex, including some helpful tips from our wise gransnetters to try and add some passion back into your life.
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There are a number of reasons why menopause affects sex, namely those pesky hormonal changes that are responsible for many of the unpleasant side effects at this time of life. It could be that your libido has dropped due to a loss of hormones, sex has become painful or the other symptoms you may be experiencing, such as hot flushes, just really don't put you in the mood. It's common for these problems to occur, as these gransnetters found out:
"I felt as if someone flicked a switch when I turned 50. I wasn't allowed HRT because of high blood pressure. My doctor gave me Ovestin cream which I find helps a little. It's a shame that in your fertile years you can be put off by the worry of pregnancy. Once all that is over and you should be able to enjoy yourself, you no longer feel like it. I don't think that many men understand quite what we are going through and what the problem is."
"Although I had a very full and active sex life with my husband up to the menopause, which was at 54 for me, once I reached it my desire dried up more or less completely."
"I’m 63 and have suffered no loss of libido luckily, following menopause at 51. I find Sensilube, which you can buy from any chemist, perfectly adequate. What was horrendous was the perimenopause years with really heavy periods, hot flushes, profuse sweating and headaches - my libido definitely went off-kilter then."
Why does menopause get in the way of sex? In short, there are two main reasons - low libido and vaginal dryness (sometimes called atrophic vaginitis). During and after the menopause, women produce less oestrogen which can result in drier, thinner skin in the vagina and a loss of elasticity, so sex can often become painful as a result.
When it comes to low libido in women during menopause, hormones are to blame again. While testosterone is typically associated with males, females also produce a small amount of the hormone, and this has an impact on libido. Dropping levels of testosterone as women age, coupled with other symptoms of menopause - including depression, anxiety and insomnia - can have an understandable negative effect on women's sex drive during menopause.
Fear not though, as some women don't experience these problems at all. And, even if you do have have issues with sex after menopause, there are a number of ways to alleviate pain and keep your sex life active, happy and healthy.
Perimenopause - the first stage of menopause - is when a woman begins to produce less oestrogen and signs of the menopause begin to occur. A woman's fertility will likely decrease in this period due to the declining levels of oestrogen, but you can still get pregnant while going through perimenopause - even if your periods are sporadic.
The general advice is to use contraception until you've not had a period for a whole year (when you reach postmenopause) if you're wanting to avoid pregnancy. If you're unsure whether you are perimenopausal or have questions about which contraception is the right option for you, talk to your GP for advice.
Loss of libido and vaginal dryness are also symptoms of perimenopause due to hormonal changes, so if you've not yet reached menopause but are experiencing these issues, it may be that perimenopause is to blame.
It's a common scenario: after going through menopause, you can finally have sex without the fear of an unwanted pregnancy. But, as many gransnetters have discovered, rather than entering a new stage of passion, there can sometimes be other factors that get in the way of a healthy sex life.
It may be that you've just lost interest or there could be a physical symptom that's putting you off, but it's completely normal to experience changes in your sex life during and after menopause. Here are three common reasons for bedroom issues and some solutions you can try to help. And, of course, if you are worried about anything, especially pain and bleeding, speak to your doctor.
"I had my last period about three years ago (I'm nearly 54). It seems to be something I can't discuss with my girlfriends, but intercourse is now extremely painful to the point of being impossible. I have tried vaginal moisturiser but I don't think that's the issue."
"My trouble is with low libido. It’s disappointing after having a high one for most of my life up until postmenopause."
"I am experiencing hair loss and have about four bald patches. I didn't know that the menopause could be a cause of this and I am in the menopause now... It is making me lack confidence and is getting me down a lot."
"Menopause is NOT protective against STIs. Sadly, there is an increasing incidence of STIs among older adults."
The common misconception is that sexually transmitted diseases aren't usual among older adults, but, in fact, STIs in people aged 50 to 70 are more prevalent than people often think.
One possible reason is that, with the menopause bringing an end to fertility, people are less concerned about protecting against unwanted pregnancies so stop using barrier contraception (e.g. condoms). Something to bear in mind, especially if you have a new partner. Remember also that some STIs are asymptomatic (which means you won't have any signs or symptoms of them), so it's important to get tested if there's a possibility that you may have been infected.
"My main problem was dryness leading to frequent urinary tract infections, which needed antibiotics."
Urinary tract infections can become more common after menopause for these reasons:
Ways to avoid UTIs include gentle and frequent washing (NOT douching) with warm water or soap-free cleansers, drinking plenty of water and never wiping from back to front after using the toilet. Many find that drinking cranberry juice can help too. UTIs can bring more complications as we get older too, so it's important to follow NHS advice about contacting your doctor.
For more menopause advice, check out our dedicated forum.
Disclaimer: The information on our health pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you undertake any treatment, or if you have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.