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Sex drive and menopause

It's not too much to ask to have good sex when your older! However, it's common for sex drive to decrease with time for both men and women. There can be lots of different reasons for this. Here we explain how sex drive and menopause are linked, and share tips to improve your sexual wellbeing.

Sexual health is an important part of wellness

If 'wellness' is feeling good in your mind, body and soul then a healthy sex life certainly plays a part. But what is sexual health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as *"a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality, and not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity”* (1).

Your sex life, and appetite for sex is completely personal. Sex does help you feel connected to your partner(s) and maintain strong relationships - both of which are important for quality of life (2).

At Alva, we believe that women at any stage of life can have the sex life they want. Let's be aspirational!

Too many women accept a decline in sex drive with age. With it often comes a negative impact it has on their personal lives. But there are lots of different ways you can seek help for low sex drive - and reintroduce intimacy into your life.

Why sex drive can dwindle with age

Loads of different things can affect whether you want to get in the mood or not - and they aren't all linked to menopause. Broadly, we can think of 3 categories (3):

Biological factors

  • Age
  • Physical health
  • Impact of hormones.

Psychosocial factors

  • Mental health
  • Self esteem
  • Personality traits
  • Overall satisfaction with life.

Interpersonal factors

  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Availability of your partner
  • Communication between partners
  • Social support.

The relationship between menopause and these factors is not straightforward. Menopause can impact all of them!

Specific menopausal symptoms that can change sex drive

For both men and women the level of sex hormones drop with age. Testosterone, which controls sexual desire and motivation (4), declines with age. Importantly for women oestrogen also drops with age, and with it bring menopausal symptoms that directly affect sex drive. These include:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal atrophy
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irregular or heavy periods
  • Fatigue
  • Breast tenderness or pain.

These symptoms are worse during perimenopause - when hormones are bouncing around. But as hormones settle down with age, it brings a tranquility that is more conducive to intimacy. Thank goodness!

Vaginal dryness is often an early symptom of perimenopause - and it can make sex painful. Obviously, this is off-putting when it comes to getting in the mood. You can try various forms of lubrication to help make sex easier. Intimate moisturisers, applied regularly, can also help with the daily 'grind' that is vaginal dryness.

Oestrogen makes the wall of the vagina thick, healthy and moist - so when it falls this all changes. The wall of the vagina is left thinner, more delicate and drier. Vaginal atrophy is when your vaginal changes shape because there's less of this healthy fatty tissue around it. If you're struggling with this there are creams with hormones in and, again lubricants and moisturisers can help.

Being sexy with age!

Once you're hormones settle down it's easier to reestablish your sex drive. But don't just wait to get through the menopause - there's things you can do now to help.

  1. Eating right and supplementing
  • Foods with phytoestrogens in can help you boost your hormone levels. These include soy based foods, flaxseeds, sesame, oats, barley and wheatberries. Always aim for a diet high in fruit and veg too!
  • Get enough omega 3 fatty acids - from oily fish or a high quality supplement. Note, you can get vegan omega supplements that are made from algae oil.
  1. Lifestyle changes
  • Don't use irritating washes down there! Despite all the marketing of intimate washing products - there's really no substitute for plain warm water.
  • Use a good quality lubricant to help ease your symptoms and before sex. And yes... keep having sex! Even if it takes a bit of convincing - sex naturally lubricates the vagina.
  • Be open with your partner about painful sex, or the impact of changes to your vagina on your appetite for sex. Communication should help you figure out how to maintain intimacy in your relationship.
  • Moisturisers help! Don't be afraid to try a new type of daily moisturiser - with good quality ingredients and free from irritants. There's a few different brands of vaginal moisturiser that have been developed just for women! P.S Sylk is one of the better known brands!
  1. Seeking medical support
  • Don't forget that if you're finding changes tough you can always speak to your doctor. They may suggest HRT or other products for you to try! Never suffer in silence.

References:
1 World Health and Organization. (2006). Defining Sexual Health: Report of a Technical Consultation On Sexual Health. Geneva: World Health Organization.

2 Lee, D.M., Nazroo, J., O'Connor, D.B., Blake, M. & Pendleton, N. (2016). Sexual Health and Well-being Among Older Men and Women in England: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Arch Sex Behav. 45(1):133-44.

3 Mernone, L., Fiacco, S., & Ehlert, U. (2019). Psychobiological Factors of Sexual Functioning in Aging Women - Findings From the Women 40+ Healthy Aging Study. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 546. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00546

4 Bachmann, G. A. & Leiblum, S. R. (2004). The impact of hormones on menopausal sexuality: a literature review. Menopause 11, 120-130. Menopause (New York, N.Y.). 11. 120-30. 10.1097/01.GME.0000075502.60230.28.