A large study by researchers at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and the San Diego Veterans’ Affairs Department has revealed some surprisingly positive conclusions about women’s sexuality in the post-menopausal years.
If a woman’s desire for sex or enjoyment of sex drops off at menopause, and the man still enjoys and desires sex with his partner, this can be difficult for both. Couples used to bonding in this way may miss that closeness. A man whose desires haven’t flagged may feel frustrated and sad when his partner begins to turn away because sex hurts or desire wanes.
Reduced estrogen production after menopause is usually the culprit here. Estrogens are the hormones responsible for maintaining well-lubricated, plump vaginal tissue. When a woman’s body’s estrogen production declines, she may feel less desire and enjoyment with sex. Some women even experience significant pain during intercourse. This isn’t the case for every woman—some women’s bodies feel less impact through the menopausal transition.
The San Diego study looked at 806 older women (median age 67) living in a planned community; 63% were post-menopausal. Subjects were surveyed about every possible aspect of their sex lives: how often? How enjoyable? Did they orgasm? Did they experience pain? Did they experience desire? Of those who had a partner, half had been sexually active over the previous four weeks. Just over 67% achieved orgasm most of the time or always.
Interestingly, a third of the sexually active women reported low to no sexual desire. Only one in five sexually active women reported high sexual desire. In other words, most of the women who were active sexually were not having sex out of feelings of desire. They were connecting sexually with their partners out of closeness and an understanding that their desire profiles might have shifted, but that sex could still be thoroughly enjoyable.
A woman who is menopausal can, it turns out, have a great sex life, and that’s good news for men who want to continue to enjoy a satisfying sexual connection with their partners through that transition and beyond. Some women say that sex in this life phase is the best it’s ever been. Women having good sex in menopause are good at asking for what they want in bed. They feel confident and connected to themselves and trusting of their partners. They are more attuned to their own sensations than ever before.
Male partners, keep in mind a few important considerations:
- Although men tend to be genitally focused, a woman in or past menopause is likely to appreciate a more general, full-body focus. Ask her how she wants to be touched; don’t assume the old ways you’ve made love will still feel best for her.
- Give her lots of sensual and non-sexual touch, as often as feels appropriate for both of you. Offer hugs, kisses, and caresses both in and out of the bedroom. Much research points to dramatic physical and psychological health benefits from both sexual and non-sexual touch.
- Men over 65 are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction (ED), where they have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection sufficient for intercourse. If this impacts you, remember: it does happen to pretty much every man at some point, and it doesn’t mean you and your partner can’t have great intimacy. Re-think your notions about what sex is and be willing to do more exploration outside the box of your sexual routine. Boredom is one of the primary reasons women decide to stop having sex. Keep it interesting—let that be your mission!
- Between 1/3 and ¾ of postmenopausal women experience vaginal dryness. A smaller proportion experience vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA), where vaginal tissues lose so much tone, moisture and stretchiness that sex becomes painful. Talk with your partner about whether she experiences any discomfort. Encourage her to consult with an integrative metabolic medicine doctor to discuss effective treatments; the best is to replace estrogens through a vaginal cream or other bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT) modality. The science shows that continuing to engage in sexual activity can actually help reverse the effects of VVA by bringing blood flow to the vaginal area.
- Although lubricants can help, they can sometimes disrupt the proper balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the vagina, which can end up contributing further to the problem. More info can be found on that here: http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/content/womens_health/art4093.html. You and your partner should consult with a doctor when choosing a lubricant to ensure that it works optimally. Simple, natural solutions like coconut oil may turn out to be better than store-bought lubricants.
- Know that prescription medications like antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, and allergy and cold medicines can contribute to lack of sex drive and less pleasure with sex.
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