Sex and the menopause
It's rarely discussed - yet it's something that changes for a (very) large number of women going through the menopause. If you're one of them, rest assured - you're absolutely not alone. From the whys and wherefores to the tried and tested solutions, here's how to embrace (and enjoy!) sex during the menopause
Why does the menopause affect sex?
In short, during and after the menopause, women produce far less oestrogen, which is responsibile for many female characteristics. One of those female characteristics is how much lubrication the vagina produces, and even its length and elasticity, so sex can often become painful.
In fact the NHS says that 84% of women surveyed find sex painful after menopause and that 70% of that number found their sexual relationships suffered. But fear not, for here's some advice on how to keep your sex life very healthy indeed.
Keeping the passion alive
There are lots of factors that can affect your libido during and after menopause.
Hormonal changes mean sex often becomes more painful (a widespread complaint, so if this is you, don't feel you're on your own), but non-physical factors can come into play too.
Your relationship might feel a little tired, or the ageing process in general might be taking its toll on your appetite for bedroom antics.
Here are some simple suggestions that can help you keep the, err, 'flame' in your 'furnace'.
Pain during sex
- Avoid heavily-scented shower gels and soaps. They affect the chemical balance down there, so opt for some soap-free cleansers instead, or, heck, plain old warm water.
- Invest in a decent lubricant. We get that fumbling around with tubes and bottles isn't always exactly sexy, but once you get used to it you might even find very pleasurable ways of administering it! And don't forget too that, if penetration is uncomfortable, there are LOTS of other ways to enjoy intimacy.
- Don't be embarrassed to talk to your GP. It's well worth a little short-term awkwardness to find a long-term solution. They might suggest HRT (hormone replacement therapy), which can be taken in tablet form, as a patch or via an implant, or they might prescribe you an oestrogen gel which you use in much the same way as a lubricant.
Loss of desire
- Do something spontaneous. Ah go on! Try watching a racy film with your partner, or delve into some Mills & Boon-esque romance novels to give your libido a wake-up call. Or why not book the both of you into a boutique hotel somewhere for a weekend? Maybe even a little role-playing if your adventurous streak will allow...
- Re-discover your own body. If your sex life has dwindled a little over the years, you might benefit from a bit of quality 'you time', so to speak... Reminding yourself of what you enjoy makes the leap to sharing intimacy with your partner again much more do-able.
- Give long-term relationships a shake-up. Try scheduling some time in the week, or in the month if that feels more realistic, for intimacy, without focusing too heavily on sex itself. Choose a film to watch together, or head out for a candle-lit meal, then see where the night leads!
- So much rests on how you perceive yourself. Feeling unsexy does not mean you look unsexy. Try standing in front of the mirror and force youself to notice the attractive things about yourself, however small - and acknowledge them.
- Sex isn't just for young people. You are still entitled to a sex life! In fact, there's a lot to be said for having greater experience in bed and, if you're worried about any extra curves you might have, consider yourself a roller coaster – the more curves, the more fun.
- Talk. This one's important. There's a lot you can do to bolster yourself and your relationship by opening up and talking frankly with your partner. Emotional connections can secure sexual ones.
A word of warning
The common misconception is that sexually transmitted diseases aren't usual among older people, but in fact instances are more common than you'd expect.
One possible reason is that, with the menopause bringing an end to fertitlity, older people are less concerned about protecting against unwanted pregnancies so stop using contraception.
But of course using no protection at all means the risk of contracting an STI is raised. Don't get caught out!
Urinary tract infections can become more common after menopause for a few different reasons:
- hormonal changes affect the nether regions' pH balance, which can cause irritation and infection
- the vaginal walls thin and penetration can irritate not only the vagina, but the nearby urinary tract and bladder
Ways to avoid UTIs include gentle and frequent washing (NOT doucheing) with warm water or soap-free cleansers, drinking plenty of water and drinking some cranberry juice can help too.
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