Author – Dr. Freyja Page
In general, sex drive decreases gradually with age in both men and women. The impact on women is thought to be greatest after menopause. The precise cause for this decrease in libido is unclear and there is no single key ingredient. Sex is just not that simple! It is also not uncommon for a woman to experience more than one type of sexual dysfunction. The good news is that there are therapies available to help.
During menopause the physical effect of falling oestrogen levels, including hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness can undermine sexual desire. The body changes that happen with aging also don’t help. Dry skin, greying hair and middle-aged spread can erode self-esteem. Loss of desire is also linked to the common complaint of fatigue and you may need to be investigated for iron deficiency and abnormal thyroid function. Depression and anxiety can lead to low libido and some drugs can impair sexual responsiveness.
It is important to address lifestyle issues including relationship problems, and look for ways to reduce stress in your life. A good relationship requires work and trust and it is important that couples do not take each other for granted and get lazy! Part of a great sex life is variety and creativity. Without a little effort to mix things up, even the most sensational activities become routine and dull. It’s well worth the effort to come up with new ways to express sensuality and sexuality with your partner.
There are some easy dietary changes that you can make. Be sure you are eating enough foods that are high in zinc, for example oysters, red meat and kidney beans. Increase your magnesium levels by consuming leafy greens, almonds and buckwheat. Make sure you have enough protein in your diet with regular meals and snacks containing lean meats, nuts, fish and dairy. Consider taking up yoga, which increases flexibility and provides relaxation and regular aerobic exercise for heart health and better circulation. Kegel exercises done daily are great for strengthening vaginal muscles, no gym membership necessary!
Painful sex after menopause is common, and there are a variety of therapies available, depending on the source of the pain. Vaginal dryness is a common complaint. Firstly avoid intimate washing with soap and shower gels as these can aggravate the situation. During sex it is well worth trying over the counter lubricants such as Sylk or Replens. These are available from Pharmacies and most large supermarkets. If these measures don’t help your doctor can prescribe hormone treatment. This can be in the form of HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or use of a local oestrogen directly into the vagina using a pessary or tablet a couple of times a week. These treatments can also benefit women who are having arousal problems.
While low libido may improve with oestrogen alone there have been several articles in the press recently suggesting that some women might benefit from testosterone treatment. However, recent clinical trials have had mixed results. One of the major difficulties when researching testosterone in women is the inaccuracy of current hormone blood tests, in addition to the limited knowledge of what the normal levels are in women of different ages. What we do know is that testosterone may improve libido, arousal and sexual satisfaction in some women. What we don’t know is which women and also whether it might cause harm as there are few long-term studies evaluating the risks of conditions such as heart disease and breast cancer. Although testosterone preparations are available from doctors in Australia, the government drug regulator has not approved it for the specific use of treating low libido in women.
If this article has raised questions for you, please do not hesitate to make an appointment to see your doctor to discuss it further. Going through menopause has many symptoms. Don’t let loss of libido be one of them that you just accept!
© Townsville & Suburban Medical Practice, 2015.
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