Feeling hot through the hot flushes isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible. Here’s how to stop “The Change” from spoiling your fun.
When you’re navigating the menopause, good, bonding sex is more important than ever. Sadly, menopause usually coincides with the most stressful time in most couples’ lives—elderly parents, teenage children, job pressures, mid-life crises—which might explain why the highest number of UK divorces are happening in the 40-49 age-group. If you want to get through this decade together, it will help to find ways to keep your libido alive.
Never underestimate how important your mojo is to your relationship. They say that “sex is the glue that holds couples together,” but in my experience it’s much more than that. It’s the antidepressant that keeps couple’s spirits high when the rest of their lives are tough. It’s the cardio workout that lowers blood pressure. And it’s the tranquilliser that stops you smothering each other every time you disagree on who should have won Bake Off. (Steph. Obviously.)
Here are the most common reasons women lose their mojo during menopause, and how to fix them.
Menopause sex is painful
Love hurts, but sex never should. If lovemaking is becoming painful, you might be suffering the side effects of declining oestrogen. Over time, low levels of oestrogen can cause the walls of your vagina to become thinner and tighter, meaning that every passionate thrust is more likely to inspire yelps of pain rather than moans of lust.
If you’re happy to consider hormonal therapy, ask your GP about topical oestrogen treatments like gels, rings or patches that contain a small amount of oestrogen. These can deliver hormonal relief right where it’s needed and help your vagina to regain its natural elasticity. They can be used whether you’re in menopause, or out the other side.
If you’d rather avoid oestrogen, then you could try a vaginal moisturiser like Vagisan Moist Cream (Amazon, £12.99). This hormone-free moisturiser helps to improve the suppleness of your most intimate area, and, over time, can make sex less painful.
Sex might also be painful if you’re suffering from painful joints, usually caused by arthritis. That’s another area where declining oestrogen levels can be a pain—literally—because lower oestrogen levels can cause higher levels of inflammation in the joints, leading to arthritic flare-ups. Whatever you do, don’t start avoiding sex; it’s a natural pain-reliever, and releases endorphins which can relieve symptoms.
Heat therapy is a great relief, so begin every lovemaking session with a warm bath. Make sure your bedroom is cosy and warm, and ask your partner to massage you, paying particular attention to your stiff areas. (He will probably ask you to return that favour.) You might also find toys useful, if arthritis in your fingers stops you being able to touch your partner sensually.
Menopause sex is embarrassing
Two in three women over 40 experience a change in their urinary continence. So, if you thought you were solely responsible for the current UK flood warnings, you’re definitely not.
Your lowered oestrogen levels weaken the bladder and the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body), reducing their ability to control urinary functions. And while that’s mildly embarrassing when you sneeze, it’s horribly embarrassing when you orgasm. You might also find you’re waking up to go to the toilet more often during the night or suffering from more bacterial or yeast infections. None of which were ever mentioned in a Barbra Cartland novel.
Again, topical HRT can help, by replenishing your oestrogen levels and getting your bladder and urethra back to their pre-menopausal strength. There is also research to show that topical HRT can help reduce bladder infections.
Or, you can try to build up the strength of your pelvic-floor muscles to regain your ability to hold your wee. Try the simple practice of squeezing and releasing your pelvic-floor muscles every day. Or invest in a more robust solution like Pelviva, which stimulates your muscles electronically.
Menopause sex is annoying
Finally, you might cure your undercarriage issues but still not want to have sex with your partner. And that’s probably down to mood swings.
Our hormones control our mood and happiness levels hugely. But if PMT grumpiness is like a gentle wave on a pond, then menopausal rage is like a tsunami. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone rise and fall dramatically during the years before and during your menopause, leading to feelings of anger, forgetfulness, anxiety, tension, depression and mental fog—sometimes all within the time it takes to watch one episode of Strictly.
You’re going to find your partner more annoying during these moods. You just are. Even if he’s a saint who massages your feet with eucalyptus oils, you’ll have to suppress the urge to kick him in the face at least once during your menopause. Or at the very least, to slap his hands away before they venture any further.
What can you do? I recommend sleep, exercise and supplements. Start going to bed at the same time every night to establish a strict routine. Ideally, drag your partner up to bed with you, and use sex as a natural way to wind down.
Exercise will release endorphins that will disperse your fury. Try Zumba, weight-training, or an intensive dance class that you can do with your partner. Research has shown that women who have 30 minutes of exercise three times a week report much higher levels of sexual satisfaction than those who don’t.
And supplements might save your life, and your partner’s. Black Cohosh—the traditional menopause remedy for hot flushes—is also reputed to be as effective as oestrogen at alleviating mood swings. And St John’s Wort, the natural anti-depressant, has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety. (Always consult your doctor before taking supplements if you’re on other medication, or hormonal contraceptives.)