So, let’s be honest, the changes happening to my middle-aged body are not that easy to get used to. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a lot of things about being over 50 – I’ve built a career that I never dared to dream of, my kids are growing into super young adults, I’m living an exciting and adventurous life and I’m completely happy with the person that I am. However, when it comes to some inevitable bodily transformations, well that’s far less amusing.
There are a lot of things that begin to slide when you hit 50 and people don’t mind talking about their declining eyesight, sore knees, and weight that is impossible to shed, but speaking openly about how menopause affects their sex-life is forbidden ground.
Puberty, pregnancy and menopause are the times in a woman’s life when we see the greatest fluctuation in our sex hormones. We hear a lot about hormones, but often don’t know how they function in our body. The body is like a chemistry set. It can build its own chemical messengers (hormones), send them around the body via the blood stream, and they control many of the major function of your daily life. They’re responsible for regulating sleep, appetite, growth, body mass and sexual development and function – to name a few.
Sex hormones are generally thought of in terms of female – estrogen and progesterone - and male – testosterone; although women also have low level of testosterone in their system. For women, all three hormones come into to play in terms of sexual desire and arousal so it should be no big surprise that the decreases in these hormones during menopause can also cause a major change in a woman’s desire to have sex.
Let’s take estrogen for example. The menopause-related decline in estrogen will frequently cause significant physiological changes in vaginal tissues. Decreased estrogen can bring on rapid declines in collagen density and blood vessel changes in the vagina and vulva, and cause those tissues to lose elasticity and moisture and become thinner and more fragile. These changes can make sex a painful experience that results in torn tissues, irritation, inflammation, burning, difficulty with penetration due to tightness and urinary tract infections.
The experience of menopause really varies from woman to woman, but between 68-86% of women report they have some type of undesirable change in their sex lives after menopause. These changes in physiology can be further exacerbated by the impact that fluctuating hormones can have on your mood and your ability to sleep well. The most common emotional changes reported include anxiety, irritability, fatigue, loss of self-confidence and a loss of intimacy.
In order to continue to enjoy sexual stimulation make sure that you’re open with your partner about what feels good, what does not and be ready to make changes to the habitual moves. Don’t forget that men also experience sexual dysfunction and changes in their sex hormone levels. In fact, 10% of men under 59 experience major sexual problems, that percentage rises to 23% in men 60-69 years old and rises to 49% in men 70 years and older. Remember that until Viagra burst onto the scene in 1998 very few men were willing to discuss the sexual problems that they experience. So, go into the conversation knowing that men and women both have sexual challenges and you will likely find that this communication process brings you closer as a result of being open about it.