Sex and Menopause

Take the Menopause Quiz

Sex And Menopause

How Does Menopause Affect Your Sex Drive?

The loss of estrogen and testosterone following menopause can lead to changes in a woman's sexual drive and functioning. Menopausal and postmenopausal women may notice that they are not as easily aroused, and may be less sensitive to touching and stroking -- which can result in decreased interest in sex.

A lower estrogen level is not the only culprit behind a decreased libido; there are numerous other factors that may influence a woman's interest in sexual activity during menopause and after. These include:

In addition, lower levels of estrogen can cause a decrease in blood supply to the vagina. This decreased blood flow can affect vaginal lubrication, causing the vagina to be too dry for comfortable intercourse.

Does Menopause Lower Sex Drive in all Women?

No. In fact, some post-menopausal women report an increase in sex drive. This may be due to decreased anxiety associated with a fear of pregnancy. In addition, many post-menopausal women often have fewer child-rearing responsibilities, allowing them to relax and enjoy intimacy with their partners.

What Can I Do to Treat Vaginal Dryness During Menopause?

During and after menopause, vaginal dryness can be treated with water-soluble lubricants such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly.

Do not use non-water soluble lubricants such as Vaseline, because they can weaken latex (the material used to make condoms, which should continue to be used until your doctor verifies you are no longer ovulating and to prevent contracting sexually transmitted diseases). Non-water soluble lubricants can also provide a medium for bacterial growth, particularly in a person whose immune system has been weakened by chemotherapy.

Vaginal moisturizers like Replens and Luvena can also be used on a more regular basis to maintain moisture in the vagina. You can also talk to your doctor about vaginal estrogen therapy.

A oral drug taken once a day, Osphena, makes vaginal tissue thicker and less fragile, resulting in less pain for women during sex. The FDA warns that Osphena can thicken the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) and raise the risk of stroke and blood clots.

How Can I Improve My Sex Drive During and After Menopause?

Estrogen replacement may work, but research has yielded conflicting results regarding its effectiveness. Estrogen can, however, make intercourse less painful by treating vaginal dryness.

Doctors are also studying whether a combination of estrogen and male hormones called androgens may be helpful in increasing sex drive in women.

Although sexual problems can be difficult to discuss, talk to your doctor; there are options to consider, such as counseling. Your doctor may refer you and your partner to a health professional who specializes in sexual dysfunction. The therapist may advise sexual counseling on an individual basis, with your partner or in a support group. This type of counseling can be very successful, even when it is done on a short-term basis.

How Can I Increase Intimacy With My Partner During Menopause?

During menopause, if your sex drive has declined but you don't think you need counseling, you should still take time for intimacy with your partner. Love and affection can be expressed without sexual intercourse. Enjoy your time together by taking walks, eating dinner by candlelight, or giving each other back rubs.

To improve your physical intimacy, you may want to try the following approaches:

  • Educate yourself about your anatomy, sexual function, and the normal changes associated with aging, as well as sexual behaviors and responses. This may help you overcome your anxieties about sexual function and performance.
  • Enhance stimulation through the use of erotic materials (videos or books), masturbation, and changes to sexual routines.
  • Use distraction techniques to increase relaxation and eliminate anxiety. These can include erotic or non-erotic fantasies; exercises with intercourse; and music, videos, or television.
  • Practice non-coital behaviors (physically stimulating activity that does not include intercourse), such as sensual massage. These activities can be used to promote comfort and increase communication between you and your partner.
  • Minimize any pain you may be experiencing by using sexual positions that allow you to control the depth of penetration. You may also want to take a warm bath before intercourse to help you relax, and use vaginal lubricants to help reduce pain caused by friction.

Quick GuideMenopause & Perimenopause: Symptoms, Signs

Menopause & Perimenopause: Symptoms, Signs

Do I Still Have to Worry About Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

Yes. Menopause and postmenopause do not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It's important to remember that your risk of contracting STDs is a possibility at any point in your life during which you are sexually active, and this risk does not go down with age or with changes in your reproductive system.

Left untreated, some STDs can lead to serious illnesses, while others, like AIDS, cannot be cured and may be fatal.

How Can I Protect Myself From STDs?

Here are some basic steps that you can take to help protect yourself from STDs:

  • Not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STDs.
  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex. (If you use a lubricant, make sure it is water-based (not Vaseline.)
  • Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to catch an STD.
  • Practice monogamy. This means having sex with only one person. That person must also have sex with only you to reduce your risk.
  • Choose your sex partners with care. Don't have sex with someone whom you suspect may have an STD.
  • Get checked for STDs. Don't risk giving the infection to someone else.
  • Ask a potential sex partner to be checked for STDs. Signs and symptoms of STDs may not be visible.
  • If you have more than one sex partner, always use a condom.
  • Don't use alcohol or drugs before you have sex. You may be less likely to practice safe sex if you are drunk or high.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of STDs.

WebMD Medical Reference

SOURCE: North American Menopause Society. News release, FDA.

Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD, FACOG on May 21, 2012
© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


Subscribe to MedicineNet's Women's Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Reviewed on 5/30/2013

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors