Sexual Health During Menopause: Embracing The Phases of Desire

For many of us, “sexual health” is an ambiguous term. Conversations about our bodies, and all the confounding, messy, powerful, and pleasurable ways they work, do not flow freely. The cultural and societal stigmas we face, particularly when it comes to discussing our sexual desires, are significant, creating scenarios in which discovery is sometimes accidental and bodily-awareness is hard-won. A lucky few have trusted people in their social circle who can explain the physiological transitions that the human body experiences throughout a lifetime.  Whether it’s from puberty, menopause, or other hormonal fluctuations resulting from disease or medical treatments.

Unfortunately, this is often not the case in our culture. Our individual sexual health is rarely spoken about without resorting to euphemisms or turning to questionable sources for information. So when it comes to learning about how to nurture our sexual desire, it is usually last on our list of priorities.

Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to menopause and sex. When we hit perimenopause, approximately between 40-50 years of age, and begin to feel the brain fog, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and the dreaded low sex drive, we might covertly sift through magazine articles, and stealthily seek advice from friends to find out how to fix it. In the end, we are usually left to fend for ourselves. Health care providers and gynecologists can suggest strategies to mitigate the physical symptoms, but what do we do about sexual desire? Do we need to just accept that we will never want to have sex again? Absolutely not!

 

"Low desire isn't about hormones & luck, and it’s not permanent."

 

Learning some facts about sexual health, which includes sexual desire, is crucial to understanding your libido, nurturing  it, and addressing issues such as mismatched libido between sexual partners.

The Fate Of Your Sex Drive Is Not Fixed Nor Permanent

You might have heard that as estrogen production decreases throughout menopause, all women experience significantly lower libido, and that it will last for the rest of their lives. That is not a hard and fast rule, and experience differs from person to person. Some folx might find that decreased estrogen production causes their sexual desire to diminish around perimenopause, others find that their libido stays the same, and some people feel more invigorated and sexually energetic than ever before. It’s important to understand that our sex drives naturally wax and wane throughout our lifetime.

Think back throughout your life and notice how many times your sexual desire has increased and decreased. You might be surprised at how much it has fluctuated. Even with the gradual changes in body chemistry, menopausal fluctuations are no different. Perimenopause and menopause affects us all differently. The good news is, while our hormones are beating a path to the door, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your sexual desire has to follow.

 

"Masturbation is a self-affirming sexual activity and is eminently useful in helping to discover different routes to sexual pleasure."

 

Clinical sexologist and relationship therapist Cyndi Darnell teaches this in her Desire Series. She believes that “(low) desire isn't about hormones & luck, and it’s not permanent.” Darnell goes on to explain, “it's strategy. It’s about applying the right tools and working with yourself to get you where you want to go.” Darnell believes that sexual desire is a state of mind, and the corresponding physical responses, that can be cultivated. With sustained commitment to the process, fading sexual desire can be brought back to life regardless of hormone level. This is welcome news for those of us that want to maintain an active and fulfilling sex life for ourselves and our partners.

One way we can maintain an active sex life is through masturbation which benefits both our sexual desire and many physical symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal dryness, which can make sex painful. Arousal increases blood flow to the vagina, keeping it more moist and healthier. It can also help us feel sexier and more in tune with our bodies. As explained by the National Women’s Health Network, “[masturbation] is a self-affirming sexual activity and is eminently useful in helping to discover different routes to sexual pleasure.” Pleasure products (such as Osé, the only product designed for hands-free blended orgasms), are great to use during masturbation, because they can help us rediscover what we enjoy, something we can then share with our partners.

So, the next time someone talks in absolutes about menopause being the end of your sex life,  rest easy knowing that though decreasing sex drive may happen, it doesn’t have to be permanent.

Contributed by Elle Chase — Certified sex educator, writer, speaker, body acceptance and pleasure advocate. Find her at ellechase.com and on Instagram @theellechase