1 July 2016
Getting older inevitably brings changes to our bodies, some visible on the outside and others less obvious.
During the menopause, physical changes can have an effect on the way you experience sexual pleasure and feelings of desire, but don’t feel you have to despair and give up. This doesn’t have to be ‘just how it goes’ – we know for certain that many people enjoy sex into much later life.
In a survey of more than 15,000 people, almost two-thirds of 45-64-year-old women, two-fifths of 55-64-year-olds and one-fifth of 65-74-year-olds said they’d had vaginal sex in the past four weeks.
And participants also said they were having solo sex, with more than one-third of 45-54-year-old women saying they had masturbated in the past four weeks. Among 55-64-year-old women it was just under one-fifth and just over one-tenth of 65-74-year-olds.
Changes you might experience during menopause
As we get older, testosterone levels decline in both women and men, which can affect sexual desire. It’s also natural for there to be less blood flow to the clitoris and vagina, which reduces sensitivity and can make orgasms both more difficult to achieve and less intense.
During menopause, the pelvic floor muscle will weaken and it will continue to do so through the post-menopausal years. This can result in a loss of sexual sensitivity in the vagina.
Vaginal dryness is also a common menopausal problem. The reduction and slower production of lubrication in the vagina when a woman is aroused, and the thinning and shortening of the vaginal canal, can mean that there is soreness and discomfort during penetrative sex.
Hot flushes can also leave you not quite in the mood for sex, especially if sleep is disrupted and you’re feeling really tired.
You might find the way you think and feel about things changes too. Sexual tastes and desires can shift with time, in the same way as tastes in other aspects of life, and things that were a turn on in your younger years might not do it for you anymore.
But don’t panic – there are things you can do to help you stay feeling in control of your sexuality and sex life.
Making positive changes
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, lubricants and special moisturisers (that can be bought from a pharmacy) can help with soreness. As well as using more lubricant, try and avoid using soaps and bath products as they can have a drying effect.
Doing regular pelvic floor exercises can help increase vaginal sensation and intensify orgasms, as well as helping with stress incontinence. Some people find that using Love Balls can help them with pelvic floor exercises.
If you don’t already, try masturbation as a way of rediscovering what you like and how you like to be touched, without the pressure of trying to achieve orgasm with a partner. Using sex toys can also help when you’re enjoying solo sex; a simple bullet is a great starting point for beginners and for many women a way of achieving an even stronger orgasm.
Introducing toys to your relationship for the first time, or trying different ones, can help take the focus and pressure off enjoying just penetrative sex, and help you explore new and different ways to find sexual satisfaction.
If you’re really struggling with menopausal symptoms, it's worth talking to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). If you don't want to speak to your own GP you can request to see a different one. HRT can help reduce vaginal dryness as it replaces the hormones that women’s bodies stop producing during the menopause.
If you don't want HRT, it’s possible to get an oestrogen cream to apply just to the vaginal area, which can help increase natural lubrication.
To help stay cool at night, keep the bedroom temperature cool and rest as much as possible if you’re feeling tired. Light layers and loose fitting clothing can also help, as well as avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine.
Don’t suffer in silence
Really importantly, if you have a partner, try and speak to them about the changes you are experiencing and the impact they are having. Even if you’re in a long term relationship it can be hard to talk about sex, especially when there are problems, and it can also be hard after so long together to think about approaching sex in a new way.
The more you talk the easier it becomes, and the more confident you will feel within your relationship to talk about what you want or would like to try – leading to increased feelings of wellbeing all round!