Menopause can have a serious negative impact on your sex life. Here’s the Live Better With practical guide to intimacy in menopause…
Until recently, menopause was rarely talked about in polite society. Earlier generations of women coped with menopausal symptoms with little or no help or advice and suffered in silence. That’s changing, thank goodness, and menopause now makes newspaper headlines, features regularly on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and has even made it to prime time television.
Despite this, an hour-long 2018 TV programme, with a high profile and menopausal presenter, made no mention of the one topic that still seems to be shrouded in secrecy . . . how does menopause affect our sex lives? And if we’re having problems with intimacy, what can we do?
It might be more than half a century since the sexual revolution of the 1960s but many people still find it difficult to discuss sex, sexuality and sexual feelings without embarrassment, even with their partners. But we need to talk: talking, honestly and openly, is possibly the most intimate thing that two people can do. It provides the essential foundation for sexual intimacy, irrespective of gender, sexuality, or sexual preferences – and whether or not you have a partner or live alone.
How does menopause affect your sex life?
Once you begin to move into menopause you may experience changes that could affect intimacy and sexual pleasure, such as:
- vaginal and vulval dryness
- physical changes to the labia, vulva and vagina, such as loss of tissue
- discomfort or even pain during penetrative sex
- skin can lose its elasticity and become thinner
- urinary infections
- loss of libido (sexual desire)
- hot flushes
- night sweats
All or any of these can leave you feeling miserable and frustrated, which isn’t conducive to a relaxed, pleasurable sex life. The good news is that there are simple things you can do, products you can use, and books and guides that can help you find ways of being intimate and enjoying sex during menopause.
It’s good to talk – and it’s fine to say ‘no’
The most important first step is to tell your partner how you feel and how any physical or emotional changes that you are going through affect how you feel about sex. If your partner finds it difficult to talk about intimacy, then try showing them a magazine or internet article that you’ve come across – or this blog post! If sex, and penetrative sex in particular, is difficult or painful or you just don’t feel like having sex, you need to share that with your partner and help them to understand why. There are many ways to enjoy sex and intimacy and you may find that you no longer respond in the way you used to before menopause. Take the time to explore new ways of being intimate and tell your partner what you enjoy – and what you don’t. In some cases, of course, it’s your partner who has lost interest or is finding sex difficult. The only way to find out what is happening is to be open with each other.
Above all, don’t feel under pressure to have sex when you don’t want to – whatever the reason. Sex is not obligatory and it is not a priority for everyone. It’s also worth remembering that many people live happy, interesting, satisfying, and full lives without being sexually active.
What can help you enjoy sex and intimacy during menopause?
- What’s going on? It’s important to understand the physical, emotional and mental changes you are going through that can affect your sexual feelings and sex life. Live Better With Menopause has some excellent books and guides on the subject.
- Not in the mood? If you or your partner have lost that loving feeling, try to find a time and space to unwind together. Use aromatherapy oils to create a relaxed atmosphere or add to an oil carrier base to share a massage. Don’t focus on having sex; the aim is simply to enjoy intimacy.
- Too tired for sex? If you’re very tired at night, try getting close to your partner at a different time of day. If you’re having problems sleeping, a special fan called a bFan can help you to stay cool and comfortable at night and to sleep more soundly. If you have children, maybe a friend or family member could look after them for a weekend to give you some valuable uninterrupted time with your partner. Make time for a regular date night with your partner and enjoy some quality time together!
- Vaginal and vulval dryness? Use a sensitive, chemical-free lubricant or vaginal moisturiser before having sex to give you a more natural feeling. Alternatively, a topical oestrogen cream, available on prescription from your GP, could also help.
- Hot and bothered? Struggling with hot flushes or night sweats can certainly make it harder to relax and enjoy being intimate. There are plenty of products that can help. Try bamboo bedding and pyjamas, which are cooling and soothing, a bFan (see above) or keep a cooling water spray on the bedside table.
Changes that need medical attention
If you start to have frequent bouts of cystitis (frequent and painful urination), make sure you see your GP. It’s an unpleasant condition but is easily treated and a simple routine – washing your genital area before and after sex – can help to keep cystitis at bay.
The drop in oestrogen that comes with menopause frequently causes vulval and vaginal dryness and this can make sexual foreplay and intercourse difficult or uncomfortable. If, however, you have pain during intercourse, we strongly recommend consulting your GP. The same applies if you start to experience persistent vulval itching, splitting or bleeding.
Conditions like vulvodynia (vulval pain or burning) or lichen sclerosus (an auto-immune condition that leads to changes in the skin and tissue and loss of the inner and outer labia) often develop during perimenopause and menopause. Don’t neglect symptoms like this; it’s important to see your GP, who may refer you to a consultant gynaecologist or dermatologist for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Left unattended, the symptoms could get worse, while prompt treatment can make all the difference.
Take a look at our Live Better With Menopause Community Forum. It’s free to join and members can post questions and share helpful tips, advice and suggestions on a wide range of topics, including sex and intimacy.
Live Better With Menopause has an excellent range of products, aids and books to help you enjoy sex and intimacy.