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Anxiety, mood changes, self-image issues and physical issues, such as vaginal dryness, can all affect a woman's sex drive as she goes through menopause. In this video, Elizabeth Poynor, MD, PhD, a gynecologist-oncologist in New York City, explains.
Menopause affects hormone levels, which may affect the sex drive of some women. Because menopause decreases the production of estrogen (which helps maintain your levels of sexual desire), women may experience a loss of interest in sex. This decrease in estrogen may also lead to vaginal dryness, which can make sex less pleasurable for many women. In some women, though, the increase in testosterone that's caused by menopause may actually increase your libido.
Women experience a distinct hormonal shift when they go through menopause, and it can affect their desire for sex on many levels. At menopause, the ovaries stop functioning and, as a result, levels of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone decline. Low estrogen levels may cause vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse. Low testosterone levels may be associated with changes in sexual desire. And although genital sensation seems to decline with aging and menopause, it is unclear to what extent the change in sensation may be related to sexual function or orgasm ability.
Emotional changes around the time of menopause can affect sexual desire, too. Some women experience an increase in sexual desire or interest after they have reached menopause because they no longer worry about contraception and pregnancy. Other women may feel that they are no longer viewed by others as sexual, since our society tends to place different values on young women’s sexuality. Menopausal women also may experience insomnia, irritability, depression, and hot flashes from declining hormone levels, all of which may affect a woman’s interest in sex.
Some women experience an increase in their libido after menopause, while others report a decrease in sexual desire and satisfaction. For some women, this decrease in libido is due to physical symptoms that make sexual intercourse uncomfortable.
Loss of estrogen leads to vaginal dryness and a thinning and loss of tone in the vaginal walls. This can lead to painful sexual intercourse or bleeding. Estrogen replenishment by oral medication, possibly by dietary change, and by applying vaginal estrogen and moisturizers can eliminate painful intercourse and restore a more satisfying sex life for most women who experience problems.
Most of us are aware of the steep drop of estrogen and progesterone that mark the beginning of menopause, the permanent end of a woman's menstrual cycle. In addition to symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and mood swings, this decrease can cause delicate vaginal tissues to become thinner and drier, which can make intercourse uncomfortable. Although that can send libido plummeting in some women, others may find that the freedom that comes with knowing they can't get pregnant sends their desire through the roof.
What you may not know is that men can also experience a decline in sex hormones (in this case, testosterone). This so-called "male menopause" is more subtle than female menopause, but it can carry its own sexual side effects. Although some men are not bothered by low testosterone, many men with lower levels of testosterone find that their libido, too, has gone south. That's because testosterone is truly the hormone that stokes the flames of desire.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.