Be savvy and embrace your sexuality during and after the menopause.
A common concern about the menopause is that it will affect your sex drive, and in turn your relationship. But while it can bring on changes in desire, these aren’t a given – and can be different for everyone.
“There’s this view that a woman’s libido is going to disappear, and many women worry about that and expect it,” says Sharron Hinchliff, psychologist and senior lecturer at Sheffield University. “It’s important to know that’s not going to happen to everyone.
“Some women experience a reduction in desire, some experience an increase, and for others it remains the same.” Even if you do notice a change, the good news is that, with a few adjustments, you can continue to have a great sex life – and maybe an even better one.
Slow things down
If you are finding intercourse uncomfortable because of changes to your body, that does not mean you cannot still enjoy sex. “Sex isn’t just about penetration. It’s very important to realise that,” says Sarah Alpert, psychosexual and relationship therapist at independent GP practice samedaydoctor.
“During the menopause, penetration might cease to become the main event, and sex might be more about the intimacy, such as touching and much longer foreplay. It can become something more exciting and really rather lovely.
“When you’re younger, especially when you’ve got young kids, sex can be very much about fitting it in your schedule. Now it might be a chance to take your time, enjoy things more and become more intimate with your partner.”
Keep the connection
“For a lot of people, if they’re not having intercourse then they stop being sexually active and they stop being intimate, rather than doing other things and still sharing each other’s pleasure through physical touch,” says Dr Hinchliff.
“Keeping that connection going can help couples to get through the difficult times until the woman’s sexual desire levels come back to how they were.”
Ms Alpert suggests prioritising time together. “It’s important just to spend a bit of time with each other. Go out for a lovely meal; have a nice massage or a bath together.
“For women, sex is less about an immediate response to physical stimuli. It’s much more about getting in the mood.
“Although things might slow down for women and it might take them longer to reach orgasm or become aroused, the same can be said for men as they get older. As long as you're both not stuck in the mindset of getting down to it quickly, then you can work through these changes.”
Talk to each other
“Women might worry about the impact that a change in their sex drive is going to have on their partner or their relationship, but often they haven’t actually spoken to them about their concerns,” says Dr Hinchliff.
“One piece of advice I would give is to talk to your partner and see if it’s an issue for them. From my research, it seems that women who are having conversations and talking to their partners seem to deal better with the changes that occur in midlife.”
Respond to change
Sex can sometimes become physically uncomfortable during the menopause because of dryness – a common symptom due to a decrease in oestrogen.
“Lubrication becomes really important,” says Ms Alpert. “If you’re embarrassed about shopping for it, then there are many online sites where you can order confidentially.
“Always make sure you’re buying water-based lubricants and never use any perfumed products that might upset the delicate natural balance. Your pH levels become much more alkaline as you get older, so you don’t have that acidic environment that is going to protect you against infections.”
Jump over emotional hurdles
It is not just physical symptoms that might affect a woman’s sex drive, but the emotional challenges this new chapter can bring. “For some women, it’s about looking at their self-esteem and being aware of when an issue is more about their perception of their self,” says Ms Alpert.
“Some women get caught up in the loss of their fertility and what that means. Just because you’re no longer fertile, that doesn’t mean that you’re no longer sexual. We sort of pin those two things together and we shouldn’t.
“Our sex lives evolve and change, and assuming things are always going to be the same can lead to disappointment. But don’t think that because you’ve had the menopause you're not entitled to have an amazing sex life. You are.”
Whatever changes or challenges you experience during the menopause, know that you can still enjoy sex for many years to come.
“For some women nothing changes,” says Ms Alpert. “For some, things are more difficult. But rather than try to carry on as normal, try to think what you can do. Sex is an integral part of all of us, so it’s important to address it.”
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