Menopause and Sexual Relations

For the majority of women, menopause doesnt cause any disruption in sexual relations. The hormonal and other changes taking place dont have to affect a womans desire for sex or her capacity to experience pleasure. Many women actually report an increased desire for sexual activity during this time of their lives. The Kinsey study of female sexuality showed that 20 percent of women experienced heightened interest in sex after menopause. Whats responsible for this upsurge? A couple may find more opportunity for relaxed private times together once their children have grown and left home. And sex may be freer and more spontaneous than ever because theres no fear of pregnancy.For the other 80 percent of women, sexual desire may diminish as we get older. And aging often means it takes a little longer for both men and women to feel sexually aroused. But it doesnt mean that your sex life is history. A lack of estrogen, which can lead to drying of the vaginal wall and painful sex, is often cited as a factor in reduced desire. But researchers at the New England Research Institute and the University of Massachusetts Medical School discovered that the key factors influencing post-menopausal sexual issues include individual attitudes towards sexuality, overall health and marital status. Their conclusion: Estrogen is often 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 if youre thinking about doing this.

Testosterone reduction may be another 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 medications.

Finally, your diminished desire might not be menopause at all. 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. Stress and lack of sleep can also diminish sexual energy. Consider asking your doctor about drug interactions and stress-reducing strategies.

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 ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. She is the author of Relationship Repair.

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