Sex after the menopause

When the menopause hits, so can a variety of sexual problems. But don’t despair, there are solutions.

'So many women suffer in silence because they are embarrassed to speak to their GP.' Dr Sarah Jarvis 

Sex can become less enjoyable for some women after the menopause. The natural decline in oestrogen levels can make it uncomfortable. Some women also find their interest in sex declines, and the body changes that happen with ageing don’t help. Dry skin, greying hair and middle-age spread can erode self-esteem.

Painful sex

A survey suggests that 84% of menopausal women find sex painful. In the survey, nearly 70% said their relationships had suffered as a result.

Women’s health expert and GP, Dr Sarah Jarvis, says women should overcome their shyness and seek help. "It always seems sad to me that so many women suffer in silence with common menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness, because they are embarrassed to speak to their GP.

"We see these problems regularly and entirely understand how much impact they have on quality of life. There are so many effective treatment options and we’re more than happy to offer them."

Self-help sex solutions

According to Dr Jarvis, it’s worth trying self-help options in the first instance. There are a variety of ways to relieve vaginal dryness and thus make sex easier and pleasanter:

  • Avoid intimate washing with soap, bath oils and shower gels – they can aggravate dryness. Instead, use lukewarm water alone or with a soap-free cleanser.
  • Try using a lubricant such as KY Jelly, Astroglide, Sylk, Senselle or Replens. These are available from pharmacies without needing a prescription.

Medical treatments for painful sex

If these measures don’t help, your doctor can prescribe hormone treatment. Hormone replacement therapy alleviates dryness, but if you can’t or don’t want to take HRT, you can use oestrogen applied "locally", that is just to the vagina, to increase the flow of natural lubrication.

There are different options including an oestrogen cream (applied using an applicator), pessaries, small tablets (again inserted with an applicator) or an oestrogen-releasing vaginal ring which stays in place for three months at a time.

Read more about HRT for vaginal dryness.

Sex drive problems

Some women find that they lose their desire for sex after the menopause. It’s normal for sex drive to reduce over the years, but it can be made worse by depression, menopausal symptoms, relationship problems and stress.

These problems are often temporary and being able to talk things through with an understanding partner may be all that’s needed. But if symptoms of the menopause or of depression persist, then it may be best to see a doctor for treatment.

Treating menopausal symptoms may boost your sex drive indirectly by improving your general well-being and energy levels, but restoring your hormone levels can also improve sensation.

Read more about how to keep the passion alive.

Do this short quiz about sexual desire to find out whether or not you should consider seeing a health professional about your lack of interest in sex.

Read more about female sexual problems.

Page last reviewed: 09/12/2012

Next review due: 09/12/2014

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Emmaboda said on 29 July 2012

How does Dr Sarah Jarvis know so many women suffer in silence? If they suffer in silence they will not be making contact with her or their GP. Where is the evidence behind these bland statements. Do the NHS choices experts not realise women have been dealing with body changes long before the NHS GP existed. It would be more helpful to simple list the many and varied ways women can help themselves to improve and adjust their lives after the menapause and stop implying every human condition needs a GP to resolve matters.

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