Libido in Menopause – Many women report “loss of libido” as one of the most troubling effects of perimenopause and beyond.
It makes absolute biological sense that libido reduces when reproductivity reduces. Unfortunately, society tells us that we should continue to be fabulously sexual until we are 90, and indeed sex can be the glue that holds valued relationships together, so it can feel like a loss, rather than what I like to call it: a natural change in libido.
Some women experience increased libido, some of whom find that that includes noticing a desire for a change of partner. We don’t know why. More than one factor may be contributing. For instance the menopause transition is a time when many women begin to question their lives in every aspect. What am I here for? What do I want from life?
Things you have allowed to go under your radar, or put up with, become more obvious sources of unease, like an overly stressful or unsatisfying job, partnership, diet, exercise regime or friendship. If you find yourself unable to ignore your disappointment in, or lack of passion for your intimate relationship, that may of course affect libido.
However if a woman is in the last months of her possible reproductive capability, it would be logical to imagine that her libido could rise, and in our search for a mate, we look for the strongest specimen, so perhaps she finds herself looking elsewhere.
Increased libido may possibly be due to decrease in oestrogen leading to more unopposed testosterone, or possibly due to an increased body confidence that can occur for women in midlife.
You may find this tendency to look elsewhere for sexual satisfaction, or your change of libido in any direction, or a distaste for your partner distressing. Understanding the biochemistry and anthropology of menopause may help you be less hard on yourself, and may help you figure out whether your changing satisfaction with your mate is because change is overdue, or that it is a passing phase brought about by fluctuating hormones that will settle.
Addressing reduced libido: Even if you accept it as normal, and you don’t miss it (how can we miss what we don’t want?!), even if you don’t desire sex, how can you avoid the potential relationship wounds that may occur? And what if, for you, pleasure means sex, and sex means pleasure? How can you find pleasure in your body, and joy in your life?
Look after your genital health. Consider who you’re doing it for… Sometimes vaginal and vulval issues have implications for comfort and exercise, so it’s not just for someone else that you need to keep this part of you body looked after!
Visit a doctor (ask who in the surgery is particularly interested in women’s/pelvic floor health, or visit your Gynecologist) and get a full pelvic floor exam, and ask them to tell you about how the tissues of your vagina are looking. You may be interested to discuss localised vaginal oestrogen (estrogen), and you can also use oils (flax/avocado for eg) to moisturise and massage the tissue of your vulva, perineum and vagina. Some women need to have a dilator to keep their vagina healthy.
Stimulation of any kind brings blood-flow, so if you are feeling sexual, enjoy masturbation of course. When massaging, use compression and release rather than rubbing to avoid the micro-tears that may occur and can cause pain.
This may help you stay connected to this part of your body. The changes can make your vagina and vulva feel like an alien landscape, but don’t neglect your connection to this part of your body. Say hello from time to time with non-sexual touch and movement. I include these parts of your body when I teach Yoga, because they need care and nurturing just as much as your spine or shoulders etc.
Stimulate the feel good hormones. These are great ways to open up to pleasure even for us singletons. Oxytocin makes us want to bond. And it’s the love hormone. It’s production is supported by oestrogen. But there are other ways, scientifically proven to encourage greater levels of oxytocin: hugs; empathetic company; Yoga; listening to music you love, especially with someone you love; singing; get or give a massage; share food with someone you love; get a cuddly pet; orgasm!
But also look for pleasure as often as possible by:
Exercising in ways you really enjoy
Libido in Menopause can be helped by slowing down your coffee and cake: eat mindfully. Take time to really look at your food, then smell it, then close your eyes and hold it in your mouth as long as you can, focusing on the subtleties of the taste before chewing really slowly
Swing your arms about and notice the soft swoosh of the air on your hands
Stroke your cheek with your favourite soft blanket
Pandiculate: yawn-stretch like a cat every morning before you get up, with the aim to feel the pleasure of your body awakening
If you do Yoga, try just lying down on the mat and moving in ways you want to, rather than ways you think you ought to. As my client, CEO Helena Walsh says “Niamh works with such beauty and delicacy with the human body… her work fine tunes instinct so that thoughts dissolve, emotions come into balance, my eyes see more clearly my relationship with the world.”
These approaches to well-being may help you:
Consider your attitude towards this change, and towards your body. Your relationship with your body and the world is changing, and the only way to manage change healthily and sustainably is to accept and adapt to it.
Relationship and sexuality psychotherapist Fiona Daly says: “Be aware that your sexual desire is unlikely to be completely gone. But the change from it being a central driving force can make it feel that way.” But if you tune in, you may find that it is responding, but just more quietly. So listen attentively. “Think of it as an ember” says Fiona, “rather than a fire. Sometimes those embers will glow.” These stirrings may be such that you wouldn’t have pursued in your 20s, but what happens if you listen when the whispers say: “I think I’d like to play”?
Don’t force things. Your nervous system will know, and it will put the breaks on. As Fiona says: “Libido is a long game that the body will only play when it trusts you’re not going to push it too far.”
But why might you force things?
- Maybe your partner is expressing their loss/pressuring you.
- Maybe you have identified as a very sexual person and struggle with finding who you are as a person for whom sex is taking a back seat.
- Maybe social media is telling you your value is dependent on your sexual attractiveness and fabulousness.
Perhaps there is still a glowing ember of desire. “Desire ignites through closeness”, says Fiona, but maybe you’re afraid to get close and are feeling a growing gulf?
Why would you be afraid to get close? Fiona suggests that it might be because:
- You are concerned that if you approach your partner with affection, it will be misread and you will feel pressure to have sex you don’t want.
- Perhaps you want to be sensual but you are afraid your body won’t be able to follow through to the expected, climactic end-point of sexual activity.
- Maybe you think you would like sex but are afraid it will hurt.
What can you do?
First up, Fiona says we need to talk to our partner. We must tell them how we are feeling, physically, mentally and emotionally. Perhaps try:
- “Sometimes I want a little sensual affection, but I can’t trust that I can see it through, so I don’t approach you.”
- “Can we find a way to be physical knowing that it doesn’t inevitably have to include sex?”
- “Can I snuggle you with zero pressure?”
- “I feel a glow, but I’m scared that if I begin, the ember will extinguish as soon as something starts. If I know you understand that, then I will feel more free.”
It strikes me that if we begin to get affectionate again with our partner first in circumstances where we can’t move on to sex, that that could take the pressure off; snuggling on a park bench, arm in arm on a walk, holding hands in a cafe… because our nervous system is the boss. The moment it knows we are worried it puts the brakes on. The safer we feel, the more our body softens towards permission and pleasure.
So, be patient with yourself. Understand that your body is changed, and that it truly is ok not to be a sexual goddess. Accept that you need more patience and care, but also that intimacy, even sexual intimacy doesn’t need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it certainly shouldn’t be painful.
We have a lifetime of programming from the movies, telling us what sex should be, and what constitutes a worthwhile old age, and what denotes a successful relationship. Take time to reconstruct your own physical future, beginning with your instinct as to what you TRULY want and need now. It will forever change. Help yourself, and your partner if you have one, to change with it, so that you can truly meet your true self at every valuable moment of your life.
Fiona Daly works with couples and individuals, in person and online. You can find her here: https://www.fionadaly.com/
If you would like to work with me to help you come into a kinder, more patient and pleasurable relationship with your body before, during and after the menopause transition, check out these links: