Menopause & sex: breaking the taboo for a better love life: From vaginal dryness to loss of libido and low mood, menopause impacts so many different areas of our lives, affecting not only our daily routines, but also our relationships with those around us, including with our partners.
While the taboo around menopause has shifted in recent years thanks to many high-profile campaigns, when it comes to sex and menopause, women are often still struggling to talk about the difficulties they may be experiencing, and as a consequence they often don’t ask for help.
A survey by the British Menopause Society found that over a third of women reported a loss of sex drive during menopause, but, of these, fewer than a third sought help even though they were distressed and unhappy1. Another survey found that 80% of women, an overwhelming majority, also experience relationship difficulties during menopause and blame the symptoms they experience for putting a strain on their family life2.
Dr Samantha Wild, GP and Clinical Lead for Women’s Health at Bupa Health Clinics, shares her advice on what women can do to help reclaim their sex lives through menopause and beyond.
Be open and honest – it’s not unusual during menopause for relationships to breakdown which is likely due to a lack of communication about what is happening. Often, a woman changes due to the symptoms that she is experiencing, her partner is left confused or upset so doesn’t know how to respond, and they drift apart. Open communication with your partner is key to maintaining your connection. I know it may feel difficult, but I would advise that you initiate an honest conversation about the symptoms you are experiencing, how they are making you feel and how you think this is impacting your relationship. For example, if you have been feeling irritable let your partner know it isn’t because of them but due to your heightened emotions. If you’re struggling with sex, explain why you feel this way.
Reconnect – connecting with your partner without the pressure of the goal being penetrative sex can reboot your relationship. You can be intimate in lots of other ways such as by cuddling, kissing, and massage, and explore new ways to connect whether through shared hobbies, meaningful conversations or simply spending quality time together as a couple. It’s really important you take things slow until you feel comfortable again.
Learn about what is happening – if you can, educate yourself about menopause and its impact on sexual health so that you understand the changes happening in your body. This will then help and empower you to more confidently talk to your partner about what you are going through and ensure that your partner understands too.
Make lifestyle changes – It is not unusual for me to see women in our health clinics who have felt too tired or achy to exercise and are eating an unhealthy diet, so they’ve gained weight. They may also be self-medicating with alcohol, and all of this will make menopause symptoms worse and impact how much sex they want to have. Taking some control back, eating healthily, exercising regularly and reducing alcohol intake can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and improve their mood as they start to feel better about themselves. Exercising with their partner or experimenting with cooking more healthy meals together may also help with reconnecting.
Moisturise – Something that is readily accessible over the counter and can be very effective are vaginal lubricants and moisturisers which can really help with vaginal dryness. Just as we moisturise the skin on our face to help prevent dryness, we can do the same for our vaginas. These are usually long lasting and so only need to be applied every couple of days. Lubricants can also be used for having sex and should be applied just before which will help to enhance comfort and pleasure during intimacy.
Seek support – if you have taken all of the above steps and are still struggling and your relationship continues to be affected by your menopause symptoms, I’d suggest speaking to a GP who will recommend treatment to help you manage your symptoms. Counselling or couples therapy may also help address any issues or psychological barriers affecting the relationship which ultimately may enhance sexual satisfaction.
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