Menopause, a natural biological process, signifies the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles and fertility. However, it’s not an overnight occurrence. Perimenopause, the transitional period that precedes menopause, can last for several years, bringing about various physical and hormonal changes. One significant area where these changes play out is in a woman’s sexual health. Let’s delve into how sex can change during perimenopause and menopause.
- Hormonal Shifts
During perimenopause, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone fluctuates and gradually declines. These hormones are not only responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle but also influence sexual function. Lower levels of these hormones can lead to changes in sexual desire and response.
- Vaginal Dryness
One of the most common complaints during perimenopause and menopause is vaginal dryness. Reduced estrogen levels can lead to thinning and drying of the vaginal walls, a condition known as vaginal atrophy. This can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or even painful, and may also cause itching, burning, or frequent urinary tract infections.
- Changes in Libido
Changes in libido or sexual desire are common during this period. Hormonal changes, combined with other symptoms of menopause like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and mood swings, can negatively impact a woman’s desire for sexual activity. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t happen to everyone. Some women actually experience a surge in libido due to the freedom from worries about pregnancy.
- Emotional Changes
The transition to menopause can bring about emotional changes that impact sexual health. Dealing with symptoms of menopause, the concept of aging, changes in body image, or the empty nest syndrome can cause stress, anxiety, or depression, all of which can affect sexual desire and response.
- Changes in Sexual Response
Women may experience changes in sexual response during perimenopause and menopause. This can include longer time to reach orgasm, less intense orgasms, or less predictable orgasms. Some women may also experience changes in what arouses them or in their preferences for certain sexual activities.
Despite these changes, menopause doesn’t signify the end of a woman’s sexual life. Here are a few strategies that can help maintain or even enhance sexual health during this new chapter:
- Lubrication and Moisturizers
Over-the-counter water-based lubricants can ease discomfort from vaginal dryness during intercourse. Vaginal moisturizers, which are applied regularly, can help maintain overall vaginal moisture and pH balance.
- Regular Sexual Activity
Regular sexual activity, either with a partner or through self-stimulation, can increase blood flow to the vagina and help maintain its health and elasticity.
- Hormone Therapy
If symptoms like vaginal dryness or decreased libido are severe and affecting your quality of life, consider discussing hormonal therapies with your healthcare provider. Topical estrogen therapy can directly address vaginal symptoms without many of the systemic effects of oral hormone therapy.
- Pelvic Floor Exercises
Exercises like Kegels can improve sexual response by enhancing blood flow to the area and strengthening the pelvic muscles, which can intensify orgasms.
- Emotional Support
Counselling or support groups can help manage the emotional aspects of menopause. If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, don’t hesitate to seek help from mental health professionals.
- Open Communication
Talk openly and honestly with your partner about the changes you’re experiencing. Working together to adapt to these changes can deepen intimacy and improve your shared sexual experience.
- Healthy Lifestyle
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle—balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and moderation of alcohol—can help manage menopausal symptoms and improve your overall health, energy levels, and mood.
Perimenopause and menopause are significant transitions in a woman’s life that can bring changes to sexual health and experiences. While these changes can be challenging, they don’t signal an end to sexual activity or satisfaction. With open communication, medical guidance, and self-care, this new phase can provide an opportunity to explore and adapt your sexual life in rewarding ways.
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