For the majority of women, menopause causes no disruption in sexual relations. The hormonal and other changes taking place in her body need not affect a woman's desire for sex or her capacity to experience pleasure.
In fact, many women report increased desire for sexual activity during this time of their lives. The Kinsey study of female sexuality showed that 20 percent experienced heightened interest in sex after menopause. Several practical matters may be responsible for this upsurge. For one, a couple may find more opportunity for relaxed private times together once their children have grown and left home. Then, too, sex relations may be freer and more spontaneous than ever before because fear of pregnancy is a thing of the past.
On the flip side, getting older often means it takes a little longer to feel sexually aroused for both men and women -- and for the rest of the 80 percent of women, sexual desire may diminish as we get older. But it doesn't mean, in no uncertain terms, that your sex life is history.
What to Do If Your Desire Dims:
• Consider it might not be menopause. Lots of medications including ones for high blood pressure, anti-anxiety and antidepressants, can contribute to a loss of libido. Some diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease can put sex on the back burner. Also, stress and lack of sleep can diminish sexual energy.
• Estrogen. Although decreased estrogen which can lead to drying of the vaginal wall can make sex painful, researchers at the New England Research Institute and the University of Massachusetts Medical School discovered that the key factors influencing which women have sexual issues after menopause include individual attitudes towards sexuality, overall health and marital status. They concluded that often estrogen is not related to changes in sexual response in postmenopausal women. Keep in mind also, that recent studies point to the dangers of taking replacement estrogen. Generally, it is no longer advised. Speak with your doctor.
• Testosterone reduction may be the culprit in decreased desire. Postmenopausal testosterone supplementation can be taken if this is the case. But there are certain health risks and potential side effects associated with testosterone supplements in women (the female reproductive system naturally produces small amounts of testosterone.) In particular, one study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who used both estrogen and testosterone supplementation during menopause experienced a 17.2% increase in breast cancer risk for each year they were taking the medication.
A word about birth control: Menopause is not a single event but a process that takes places over about fifteen years - from about the ages of forty-five to sixty, and nearly half of all women are still fertile at the age of fifty. The first missed period is definitely not a signal to abandon birth control measures. Experts advise that if a woman is under fifty, she and her partner should continue to use contraception for two years after her last period. Over fifty, one year with menstruation is long enough. Incidentally, women past the age of forty should not take the Pill, especially if they are smokers, because oral contraceptive use increases the risk of stroke.
So forget whatever myths you may have heard about the negative effects of "the change" on sexual relations. Instead open your mind to even better sexual relations and hold your partner close.
Robin Westen is the author of "Relationship Repair."
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