During and after menopause, a woman’s sex life can change. While the lack of worry about periods, pregnancies, or parental responsibilities can be a real turn-on for some women – falling estrogen levels can also cause symptoms such as vaginal dryness, night sweats, and a lower sex drive. In fact, a 2013 study in Britain’s The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist tells us that roughly 80% of women reported some decline in sexual desire during menopause.
For some women, a loss of libido can cause distress, concern, and guilt. It can also lead to a loss of confidence in the bedroom, and to women feeling that they’re no longer as sexy as they once were.
Though changes to your sex life in the years around menopause can be difficult to deal with, it’s important to keep in mind that these changes are normal, are not your ‘fault’, and can often be improved with some patience and experimentation.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at how and why menopause can impact womens’ sex lives, and offer some tips on how to cope.
How can menopause affect my sex life?
Every woman’s experience of menopause will be slightly different, but as we have already seen – many women experience some decline in sexual desire. This is mostly due to a decline in estrogen levels.
Estrogen is the female sex hormone that (at healthy levels) is involved in managing many important functions throughout the body. However, when it comes to our sex lives, estrogen is what promotes vaginal lubrication, helps women feel sexy, and allows a fertilised egg to successfully implant into the uterus.
Common symptoms of low estrogen levels that might impact a woman’s sex life during and after menopause include:
A lower sex drive – you might find that it takes you longer to get in the mood for sex, or that the desire isn’t there at all.
Vaginal dryness – vaginal tissue can become thinner and drier. The walls of the vagina can also become less elastic. This can make sex painful and uncomfortable, and sometimes one or two unenjoyable experiences can be enough to put some women off wanting to have sex again.
Loss of sensation in the vagina and/or clitoris – you might notice that you are less sensitive to touching or stroking, making sex feel less exciting. Desensitisation can also make it harder to climax.
Night sweats or severe hot flushes – these can cause issues with sleep, and with less energy, sex often isn’t so appealing. Some women also say that they’re less interested in sex when they feel sweaty and uncomfortable.
Feeling anxious, stressed or irritable – many women would rather be left alone when they’re feeling tense, meaning sex is off the cards. Sex usually comes easier if you feel relaxed, happy, and connected to your partner.
Weight gain – estrogen regulates glucose and fat metabolism, so when it falls, women can put weight on. Weight gain can cause a lack of confidence, and women might feel that they don’t want to be seen naked anymore, or that their partner no longer finds them attractive.
Feeling less connected to your partner – when estrogen levels start to fall, so do oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is seen as the ‘love hormone’ and is what helps us feel connected to a partner. When oxytocin levels fall, women can become concerned that they no longer feel that they love or even like their partner, leading to a dip in sexual desire.
Fatigue – changes in hormone levels can also make you feel very tired. The idea of curling up under the duvet with a good book might often feel more appealing than having sex.
Women in relationships might also feel guilty that they aren’t interested in having sex with their partner, and worry about hurting their feelings. This guilt can be damaging, as it can affect how they feel about themselves and their partner, and make them even less likely to want sex.
Menopause can also boost libido - every woman is different
Although many women experience a loss of libido during and after menopause, this isn’t the case for everyone. Some women feel liberated by the fact that they no longer have to think about periods or worry about the risk of getting pregnant.
For women with an empty nest, there can also be newfound sexual freedom that comes with no longer having to worry about their grown-up children walking in on them.
7 ways to improve your sex life during and after menopause
While changes in your sex life can be frustrating, it’s possible to take steps to improve things and make sex feel more enjoyable again.
1. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling
If you’re already feeling detached from your partner because your sex life has been put on hold, then try to be honest and open with them about how you’re feeling. They may have no idea that menopause is behind the change in your sexual desire – or even if they do, they might not be sure what to do to try to help. So by opening up to your partner, you could work on finding solutions to issues together.
For example, if you find that you’re less interested in sex and it takes you longer to get aroused, then perhaps you could slow down a bit, and try things like massage, sensual baths, and kissing and cuddling, to help get you in the mood. Or perhaps you could experiment with new sex positions – as some might be more comfortable for you than others.
Some women also find that having an orgasm through clitoral stimulation helps them to relax before having sex – while others might discover that they feel closer to their partner and more in the mood for sex, after simply getting things off their chest.
Try to choose a time to talk when you’re both feeling relaxed, and are free from distractions. This will mean that you’re more likely to listen to each other and find ways to work through any problems together.
2. Use vaginal lubricants
Even if you feel in the mood for sex, you might find that your vagina is drier than it once was, and that sex is more painful as a result. In this instance, vaginal lubricants can be real game-changers because they can help to restore comfort and fun to your sex life.
While your GP can prescribe you a lubricant, it can be useful to first spend some time experimenting with different types to find what works best for you. With there being oil-based, water-based, silicone-based, and natural lubricants, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start – but this helpful guide from Glamour will explain the pros and cons of each.
You might also want to look into the advantages and disadvantages of sea buckthorn oil (a red/orange oil derived from sea buckthorn plants). This 2014 study suggests that this bright-coloured oil can help to increase vaginal secretions, and might act as a good alternative for women who are unable to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Sea buckthorn oil is rich in omega-7, which has a number of health benefits and can not only help with vaginal dryness but with dry eyes and a dry mouth too. However, as with any supplement – it’s always a good idea to ask advice from your GP first before you start taking anything. And if you do decide to buy any supplements, always make sure that you do so from a reputable supplier.
Note: While changes to the vagina during menopause can make sex painful – if pain isn’t helped by lubricants and continues long after sex has finished, then it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor. Pain in your lower tummy and vagina can be symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, so it’s always best to get this checked out.
3. Explore different ways to boost libido
It’s normal to feel that once your libido takes a nose-dive, it’s not coming back – but there are lots of things you can do to boost libido naturally.
Finding ways to manage stress and anxiety – if your mind is racing and you’re struggling to relax, then sex can feel like the last thing on your mind. But, mindfulness, learning how to challenge negative thoughts, and steering clear of unhealthy habits can be helpful ways to find some calm and boost libido. For more ideas, you might want to check out our article here.
Connecting with your partner – over time, little things like a hand on the knee, a cuddle on the sofa, or holding hands, can fall by the wayside as comfort and practicality take over. However, these affections are important for helping couples to stay physically connected. They can also create sexual anticipation and act as a precursor to sex.
Taking time out of your day to think about sex – experts recommend you do this three to five times a day (you might want to set an alarm on your phone). When thinking about sex, try to think about the last time you had a sexual encounter that you really enjoyed or about a scene in an erotic movie that particularly turns you on. While you might have to work at this at first – the idea is that eventually, thoughts about sex (and therefore your desire for sex) will become more natural.
Exercising regularly – can not only stimulate the release of endorphins (happy hormones) which make us feel good, it can also help to build physical fitness and stamina (which can be useful in the bedroom). People who exercise regularly are also more likely to maintain a healthy weight and feel more confident about their bodies as a result. The healthy body section of our site has lots of ideas for how you could increase your activity levels.
Adding different foods to your diet – there’s currently limited evidence to suggest that food can be aphrodisiacs, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment with different foods anyway. Magnesium-containing foods such as dark chocolate, tofu, and whole grains are thought to boost libido – as are certain herbs like basil and garlic.
Considering whether certain medications could also lower libido – for example, some anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. Whilst switching (or coming off) medications isn’t always possible, your GP will be able to advise you on any alternative treatment options.
Getting good quality sleep, focusing on foreplay, maintaining a healthy weight, and trying sex therapy are some other libido-boosting methods that might help. You can find out more about what sex therapists do and how to find one here.
Some women have also seen a significant improvement in libido post-menopause after having HRT. HRT improves most menopause symptoms, such as night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. You can find out more about the benefits of HRT by visiting the NHS website.
4. Incorporate kegel exercises into your daily routine
If you’re experiencing a loss of sensation in your vagina during sex, then this could be related to your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is a bit like a ‘hammock’ in shape and is made up of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue. It sits underneath the pelvic organs (the bladder, uterus, rectum, and vagina) and gives them full support. The pelvic floor also helps these organs to function by supplying them with blood.
During menopause, falling estrogen levels can cause pelvic floor muscles to weaken. When this happens, the ‘hammock’ that is your pelvic floor will hang lower, and provide less support to the pelvic organs. If you have a weak pelvic floor, then you might find that you have less control over the organs in this region – so you might need to go to the toilet more frequently, or find it difficult to control wind. You might also notice that you have less sensation in your vagina. This is because when pelvic floor muscles are strong, they massage blood vessels and increase blood flow to the pelvic organs – and as they become weaker, the blood supply to these organs decreases.
The good news is that women can strengthen their pelvic floor (and therefore have more control over urination/bowel movements, and increase vaginal sensitivity and lubrication) with some simple kegel exercises at any age. Plus, these exercises can be done anywhere. Have a watch of the video below to see some examples.
5. Experiment with sex toys
A decrease in vaginal sensitivity can be a cause for concern for many women who either can’t orgasm, or find that it’s taking much longer. Health experts suggest that an effective way to combat this could be to opt for stronger and longer stimulation – which is where sex toys can be helpful.
When choosing a sex toy, it’s worth being aware that 80% of women aged 18-94 don’t orgasm from penetrative sex – with most requiring clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm instead. So, if you’re struggling to climax through vaginal penetration, then you might get a buzz out of using a clitoral stimulator or a rabbit vibrator (which combines both clitoral and vaginal stimulation).
With so many sex toys on the market, it can be tricky to know where to start, so it’s worth having a look at this list of the 18 best sex toys to buy now from Marie Claire. You might also want to browse the wide range of vibrators available on the LoveHoney website.
6. Organise date nights
For many women, spending quality time with their partner can help to keep romance alive, and strengthen physical and emotional bonds. It’s important that every now and then couples are able to forget about who’s turn it is to do the dishes or take the rubbish out, so that they can focus exclusively on each other.
Couples who go out on dates, or have candlelit dinners at home are more likely to make the effort to dress up, make eye contact, and really listen to each other. Date nights can also help couples remember what they like or love about each other, and to build sexual anticipation (which is a great aphrodisiac!)
If it’s been a while since you’ve been on a date, then it’s worth having a look at this list of 50 unique and really fun date ideas for couples from LifeHack to get a few ideas.
7. Make time to take care of you
When life gets busy, it can be difficult to take the time to really look after you, and consider your needs. And if you’re struggling with low confidence and self-esteem, then you might also feel that you don’t want to treat yourself or that you don’t deserve it – when in fact you do. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and being kind to yourself are important components of a healthy sex life because they are linked to self-respect and self-worth. They can also help you to maintain a positive body image, which can boost your confidence in the bedroom.
Taking care of yourself also means reminding yourself that you deserve to have fantastic sex – it doesn’t matter if you’ve gained a few pounds or changed shape over the years. Chances are, your partner will have flaws and insecurities too, but who cares when you’re having fun?
And whether you have a partner or not, there’s nothing to stop you from rediscovering your own body and learning what brings you pleasure in this new phase of life. Sometimes it can help to let go of expectations or previous ideas about what sex should be like, and focus on what will make you feel good in the here and now. The journey of self-discovery can be an exciting time…
Although changes in your sex life during and after menopause can be difficult to deal with, it’s possible – with a little trial and error – to find ways to increase your sexual pleasure.
It’s worth keeping in mind that sex at any age is supposed to be fun, and should be focussed only on what makes both you and your partner feel good – not on what society tells us we should be doing (or wearing or that matter!). Sometimes added pressures of thinking that you need to have sex in certain positions, a certain number of times a week, or for a certain length of time can make sex feel more like a chore than an enjoyable form of relaxation.
Try to go with the flow, listen to your body, and have open discussions with your partner. And if you need an extra dose of positivity, then why not check out this article on Everything you need to know about sex after 50? As the article reminds us, it could be better than ever!
Has menopause changed your sex life? Do you have any additional tips for how to improve your sex life after menopause? Or perhaps you plan to try some of the tips above? Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.