Sex and relationships

Because menopause doesn't just impact us.

A healthy and fulfilling sex life during menopause is achievable! But for many women, menopause can affect sex lives and romantic relationships in a lot of different ways. Our sex drive (libido) might decrease, we might lose interest in sex and we might find sex more uncomfortable or painful. 

The medical term of ‘genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM)’ is a fairly new term that describes various menopausal symptoms and signs including genital symptoms (dryness, burning, and irritation), and sexual symptoms (lack of lubrication, discomfort or pain, and impaired function, and also urinary symptoms (urgency, dysuria, and recurrent urinary tract infections). 

These can all have an impact on your sex life and your relationships.

Changes to our sex life and relationships in midlife

Sex drive 

Decrease in sex drive (libido)

About a third of women say their sex drive decreased during perimenopause & menopause. This loss of libido is really common and can affect our marriages and relationships - it can be really stressful if one person wants more sex than the other and can cause arguments.

One cause of a decrease in libido is our hormones. Testosterone is important for maintaining a healthy sex drive, yet this decreases during menopause and production of testosterone starts to slow down. That means even if you are feeling fine in yourself and have a confident body image you may still find that you have a lower libido that you were previously used to.

During this time, it’s important to talk to your partner about how you are feeling and to explain that your hormones are causing this change. 

Take a look at our treatment options article if you’d like to see your choices for testosterone replacement as part of HRT. 

Increase in sex drive

Not everyone experiences a drop in libido during menopause. For some women there is an increase! There’s a few theories as to why this is - perhaps the drop in oestrogen means the testosterone levels in women dominate for this particular period. 

If you are in a relationship, this increase in your sex drive might also place pressure on your relationship. That’s why talking to your partner during this phase is really important.

Painful sex and vaginal atrophy

A number of changes to your body during menopause may impact your sexual relationship. 

Sore itchy breasts, and itchy skin can make it uncomfortable to be intimate. Lower levels of oestrogen can be responsible for drier skin and elasticity within the vagina and vulva. This can lead to itching, sores, shrinking clitoris and a burning feeling. 

Dry and sore vaginas and vulvas and urinary incontinence can mean it’s physically more difficult to have sex, particularly penetrative sex. For some women, these symptoms may mean it is impossible to have sex.

Vaginal atrophy

Vaginal atrophy is one of the most painful and debilitating conditions that can arise during menopause. It can make penetrative sex impossible, while also having a devastating impact on your overall life. 

>> Find out more about vaginal atrophy and sex.

Urinary symptoms

Your pelvic floor might start to become weaker during menopause and many women experience urinary leakage and also frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs). Physically and emotionally these things can impact sex and intimacy.

Body confidence

During menopause you may find it harder to maintain a healthy weight, have thinning hair and dry, itchy skin, bloating and body odour among other things. 

While these things in themselves don’t prevent a healthy sex life, they may cause you to lose confidence in yourself and your body image and make you feel more anxious and low.

Katie recorded a wonderful talk with Louise Proddow from Rejuvage and Renee Denyer from Sh! Erotic Women’s emporium all about how to feel a little more liberated and confident in midlife - these two women are such an inspiration and we really encourage you to watch.

Boredom

If you’ve been with a partner for a number of years it’s challenging to keep sex fresh and exciting. It can often become routine and the same each time. Sometimes that’s not because either partner wants it that way, it’s just that’s what you’ve become used to and it’s hard to raise the topic of sex. You might fear rejection from a partner or worry that they are going to think you are strange for wanting to try new things. When sex becomes boring this feeds into your low libido as it’s harder for you to become aroused and then sex becomes less pleasurable because you’re not lubricated enough in your vagina.

Good communication and focusing on intimacy over sex is really important. Towards the end of this article we have some tips on how to talk to your partner about some of the issues raised in this article. 

The pressures of midlife and ‘the sandwich generation’

Then there is the pressure of life in general. If you are going through menopause in midlife, then you are likely to be a part of the sandwich generation - juggling kids, work, a home, a relationship, as well as responsibility for aging parents. 

Taken all together it’s no wonder that you may find your desire for sex decreases - well, that’s if you ever have the time for it anyway!

Treatment options and tips for great sex during perimenopause, menopause and beyond

If you’ve reached this far in our article and feel utterly despairing then I don’t blame you! It can seem like it’s an uphill battle to reclaim a great sex life in menopause. And the pressures and strains of midlife can mean that prioritising sex falls to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list.

The importance of talking to your partner

It’s important that you don’t feel like you have to have sex with your partner if you are finding it uncomfortable, painful or simply don’t feel like it. Let your partner know about what’s going on and keep them informed about your GP appointments and treatments so that once you are feeling better you can both enjoy sex again if that’s what you would like. 

By doing this, you’ll let your partner know that the decrease in sex isn’t because you find them less attractive or that you don’t want them anymore.

Focusing on intimacy rather than sex is a way to feel connected to your partner and show them your love and affection. Plan a date night, enjoy some food and perhaps a glass of wine together and savour good conversation, touching and an embrace. 

Pelvic floor health

It’s never too late to improve your pelvic floor health. By this we mean strengthening your pelvic floor to reduce urinary incontinence and perhaps the muscles within your vagina which can make sex feel more pleasurable.

>> Find out more about improving your pelvic floor

Lubrication

Lubricants are really vital as we age. They help remove the feeling of dryness in your vagina, will create a slippy surface which is better for sex and sex will feel more pleasurable overall.

Carefully look at the ingredients list of the lubricant that you use. It should be pH balanced, ideally water-based, with no ingredients that might react with your skin. The Latte Lounge recommends a number of lubricants that our members have used and approved over the years. This includes Sylk Natural lubricant - which is GP-approved, and Yes! Organics.

Testosterone

Believe it or not, women produce a significant amount of testosterone and this decreases during menopause. It’s responsible for our energy levels and sex drive so a reduction in the hormone testosterone can leave you feeling tired and disinterested in sex too. 

>> Find out more about testosterone and treatment options to replace it

Contraception during menopause

A lot of women ask - do I need to use contraception during menopause? Remember that menopause is a single day - it’s the day after you’ve gone 12 full months without a period. The time leading up to that point is perimenopause. Even if your periods are irregular, you should still use contraception unless you are planning a pregnancy.

So, the answer is that yes, you need contraception for two years after your last period if you are under the age of 50 at the time of your last period, and for one year after your last period if you are over the age of 50. 

Contraception also protects against Sexually Transmitted Diseases and infections too.

>> Read more about contraception and menopause

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