Health Topics

Sex and Menopause

How Does Menopause Affect Sex Drive?

The loss of estrogen following menopause can lead to changes in a woman’s sexual functioning. Menopausal women may notice that they are not as easily aroused, and may be less sensitive to touching and stroking – which can result in decreased interest in sex. Further, the emotional changes that often accompany menopause can add to a woman’s loss of interest in sex and inability to become aroused.

In addition, lower levels of estrogen can cause a decrease in blood supply to the vagina. This decreased blood flow can affect vaginal lubrication, causing the vagina to be too dry for comfortable intercourse and the lower one-third of the vagina can shrink.

A lower estrogen level is not the only culprit behind a decreased libido; there are numerous other factors that may influence a woman's interest in sexual activity during menopause and post- menopause, including:

  • Partner issues
  • Bladder control problems
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Health concerns
  • Medications
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Stress

Do All Women Experience Decreased Sexual Desire?

No. In fact, some post-menopausal women report an increase in sexual satisfaction. This may be due to decreased anxiety associated with a fear of pregnancy. In addition, many post-menopausal women often have fewer child-rearing responsibilities, allowing them to relax and enjoy intimacy with their partners.

What Can I Do to Treat Vaginal Dryness?

Vaginal dryness can be treated with water-soluble lubricants such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly. Do not use non-water soluble lubricants such as Vaseline because they can weaken latex (the material used to make condoms), which should continue to be used to avoid pregnancy until your doctor verifies you are not producing any more eggs. Safer sex practices will also prevent the contraction of sexually transmitted infections.

How Can I Improve My Sex Drive?

Currently, there are not any good drugs to treat sexual problems in women. Estrogen replacement may work, but research has yielded conflicting results regarding its effectiveness. Estrogen can, however, make intercourse less painful by treating vaginal dryness.

Do I Still Have to Worry About Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

Yes. Just as you must use protection if you do not want to become pregnant during perimenopause, you must also take measures to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during menopause and postmenopause. It’s important to remember that your risk of contracting STIs is a possibility at any point in your life during which you are sexually active, and this risk does not go down with age or with changes in your reproductive system.

Left untreated, some STIs can lead to serious illnesses, while others, like AIDS, cannot be cured and may be deadly.

For more information on menopause, download the Free Guide to Managing Menopause.