Sexual desire is something that changes over the course of someone’s life. It’s complex. And it’s sensitive to things like self-esteem, mental state, general health and wellbeing - and, you guessed it, changes in hormones.
Yes, menopause itself can affect your libido. But it's rarely something that folks feel comfortable discussing. In fact, one survey of menopausal people found that of those reporting distressing changes in libido, only 27% of them sought help from their doctor.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that possible changes in libido during menopause also aren’t necessarily distressing for everyone. While much of the research about this topic reports a decline in sex drive during menopause, some people may experience an increase in libido as well.
Let’s take a look at the basics of libido and menopause, before diving into some tips for dealing with potential changes in sex drive.
Libido is defined as sexual desire or sex drive. It could be described as a biological urge to engage in sexual activity. Things like sexual attraction, seeking sexual activity, sexual thoughts and fantasies, and sensitivity of genitals are all a part of libido.
Sexual desire is a natural biological component of life as a human being, but it is different for everyone. And it can vary from day to day for each individual person.
While a biologically natural process, libido is also shaped by your culture and beliefs about sex and arousal. For example, your upbringing may instil positive or negative ideas about sex which are then carried into your adult life.
Finally, libido can also be influenced by interpersonal factors. For instance, your desire to engage in sexual activity with any given partner depends on your relationship with that person.
And while an intimate relationship isn’t a requirement for a sexual relationship with someone, many people experience deeper desire and connection while involved in safe and caring relationships with others.
In short, sex drive isn’t simple. And it can change during menopause. Don’t despair, though! There are some things you can do and keep in mind to hopefully alleviate some of the stress associated with a change in sex drive during menopause. But first, let’s take a closer look at what causes a change in libido during menopause.
Changes in libido
In one report, 84% of people questioned about sex, libido, and menopause indicated that an active sex life is important. And 79% of those same people reported changes in libido due to menopause.
It’s unclear exactly how the change in sex drive for these participants has impacted their lives, or whether they experienced a decrease or increase in libido, but it’s obvious that many people experience changes in libido during menopause. But what impacts sex drive during menopause? And how can you deal with these changes?
Hormones are the key to menopause. Those in menopause experience a pretty dramatic decrease in oestrogen levels. These lower levels of oestrogen can make sexual arousal and orgasm more difficult, and ultimately lead to a decreased sex drive.
Some anecdotal evidence suggests that people might also experience an increase in libido due to changes in the balance of oestrogen and testosterone during this time, too.
Research has shown that those in menopause experiencing a decrease in oestrogen levels experience changes in the integrity of the reproductive system tissues. For example, many people experience:
Decreased vaginal lubrication
Decreased blood flow to reproductive organs
Thinning of mucous membrane tissues
Loss of pelvic muscle tone
All of these can contribute to changes in sexual function, and ultimately can impact libido. One silver lining in all of this is that some research has suggested that people who are sexually active despite these symptoms are less likely to experience the impacts as quickly.
In addition to changes in hormone levels, other symptoms of menopause can also lead to noticeable shifts in your libido. For instance, symptoms like vaginal dryness can make sexual activity less enjoyable for those who experience it.
Some of the most common menopause symptoms are:
Difficulty concentrating/brain fog
If you go down this list of menopause symptoms, it becomes clear how they might impact sexual desire and your interest level in being sexually active in general. And unfortunately, the relationship between these symptoms and libido isn’t a one-way street. The relationship can be complex and cyclical in nature. And all of this intersects with interpersonal relationships when engaging in sexual relationships with others.
For example, depression can lead to a decrease in libido on its own, at any stage of life. And while it can be treated in various ways with therapy and medical interventions, some of these treatments (such as medication used to treat anxiety and depression) can also lead to a decrease in sex drive.
All of this can be wrapped up in possible stress and strain in interpersonal relationships with sexual partners during the menopause phase of life.
Interpersonal relationships and self-image also impact sexual desire. And these things can be strained during menopause for a variety of reasons.
As if all of the physical changes during menopause weren’t enough, this time of life often also aligns with challenges and changes due to ageing and changing family dynamics. These factors can contribute to less intimacy with sexual partners over time.
A new phase of life
It’s not all doom and gloom here, though! For some people, menopause is a sexually liberating stage of life because you don’t need to worry about accidental pregnancy. And some experience less inhibition during this phase of life.
Without the weight and societal expectations of having children, those in menopause might feel an increased sense of independence. And it may be a time of self-reflection and exploration in many ways, perhaps including sexually.
It’s sometimes easy to talk about the changes during menopause negatively, but not all change is a bad thing. And being aware of the possible changes and challenges you might face during menopause, including a possible change in libido, can go a long way toward preparing you for adjustments you might make during this time of life.
Dealing with a change in libido
Ok, so your hormone levels are fluctuating, you are kind of stressed out about some other symptoms of menopause you’re experiencing, and you don’t really have much of a sex drive right now. This can be distressing for some because it could threaten close relationships you may have established. And it can be frustrating.
It’s important to note that changes in sex drive are a normal and common part of life. But changes that feel distressing or worrisome can possibly be addressed by healthcare professionals.
Please consult with your doctor if you are worried about any symptoms you might be experiencing, including a change in your sex drive. There may be ways to alleviate some of your symptoms.
The good news is that there are a few things you can do to deal with a change in your libido during menopause.
If hormones are the key to menopause, communication is the key to dealing with changes in libido. Unless you’re not engaging in sexual activity with a partner (we see you!), you will need to navigate interpersonal relationships through communication.
Talking to your partner about what you’re feeling and what you need to feel comfortable and safe in your relationship is important. It’s not always easy to talk about these things, though! Even if you’ve been together for a while. So here are a few ways you can make communicating with your partner about sex a part of your relationship.
Find what works for you
Sexual activity and satisfaction doesn’t necessarily need to depend on a sexual partner. Masturbation and self-exploration can be a great way for you to find out what feels good and what maybe doesn’t work for you anymore. It’s completely natural for your body and libido to change over time, and your sexual needs and desires may change, too.
Even if you’re in an intimate relationship with a sexual partner, exploring your desire on your own can help make you more comfortable with your changing body, and ultimately help you communicate your needs to your partner.
Schedule a check-in
It may sound silly, but putting a meeting on your calendar might help take some of the pressure off of difficult conversations with your partner. It can be tricky to know how to bring up your needs or desires sometimes, and putting a date and time on the calendar can make that part of your check-in a bit easier.
You might even try scheduling a regular standing meeting time with your partner in which you agree to share and listen to concerns or challenges you may be facing, in the bedroom or elsewhere.
Talk to your partner
Once you’ve agreed to share your needs with your partner and you’ve put it on the calendar, it’s time to talk. This can be difficult if you’re uncomfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings about sex or your desire, but it’s an important step to maintaining a healthy and happy sexual relationship with your partner.
Keep the following things in mind as you share your ideas with your partner:
Be honest and direct. Miscommunication can lead to disappointment and confusion.
Your needs and desires are valid. You deserve to be satisfied. And most partners will want to understand and meet your needs.
Change is a natural part of life. Your preferences and desires are not immune to change. And that’s ok!
Communication is an opportunity. Opening lines of communication can allow you and your partner the chance to share ideas, needs, and desires. Be open to your partner during your check-ins.
Communication can be difficult. But you’re strong, and you deserve to have a happy relationship with your partner.
A change in libido during menopause is a natural and normal part of life. But it can be challenging! With a little patience and compassion for yourself and your partner, you can hopefully be better prepared to make adjustments and deal with any challenges you may face during this time.
For more information about sex drive and intimacy during menopause, check out the Olivia menopause app.
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"Self-Reported Sexual Symptoms In Women Attending Menopause Clinics.” https://doi.org/10.1159/000058371. Accessed 18 July 2022.
"Web-Based Survey On The Effect Of Menopause On Women's Libido In A Computer-Literate Population.” https://doi.org/10.1258/mi.2009.009001. Accessed 18 July 2022.