Whether you're postmenopausal, currently going through "the change", or just wondering what's in store for you in later life, chances are you've wondered what menopause may mean for your sex life.
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1. Vaginal dryness is an issue
Skin dries as we get older and is less good at producing moisture. During the menopause, falling levels of oestrogen mean that less lubrication is produced during arousal, which can potentially make sex dry and uncomfortable. Added to that, the vaginal walls tend to get thinner and less 'elastic,' and some women experience itching and soreness.
"Vaginal dryness is a really common issue that affects around 80% of women going through the menopause," says Durex sex and relationships expert, Alix Fox.
"Thankfully, there's a lot more you can do to solve the problem than simply develop a 'dry' sense of humour about it! First of all, as an instant solution, grab a tube of water-based lube. Today's advanced formulations feel really natural, not icky and sticky, and some - like Durex Play Aloe Vera - contain nourishing ingredients that can help care for sensitive skin and soothe soreness."
"If you're really struggling with the various symptoms of menopause, your doctor may recommend HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)," Alix continues. "HRT delivers a dose of synthetic female hormones that replace those the body has stopped making on its own. They are administered via tablets, patches or an implant, and they should prompt the mucous membranes in the vagina to begin producing lubricating fluids again.
"Alternatively, milder oestrogen treatments are available that can be applied directly to the vaginal area by inserting a pessary, using a cream, or wearing a special vaginal ring that stays in place for a few months at a time. Don't be embarrassed about asking your GP about your options – they've heard it all before and won't be phased."
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2. You need more time to reach orgasm
The drop in oestrogen also makes your body less responsive to stimulation, which means that arousal and orgasm might take longer to achieve. The good news is many women find they have orgasms more frequently as they mature – it just takes a little longer to get there.
"Using a bullet-style vibrator on your clitoris during masturbation, foreplay and intercourse can help give that extra level of stimulation you may need in order to climax," says Alix.
"There are plenty of models on the market that are small and quiet enough to be discreet and non-intimidating, while still packing plenty of punch.
"One advantage of the fact that the vaginal walls get thinner during menopause is that the G-spot can become more sensitive, making G-spot orgasms easier to achieve; I've heard lots of ladies tell me they only discovered they could enjoy this particular type of pleasure once they entered their forties.
"You might want to consider investing in a specially shaped G-spot vibrator to experiment with. They're curved at an angle that targets this magic zone, which is located about 1-2 inches inside the vaginal opening, on the front of the vaginal wall – the bit closest to your bellybutton."
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3. You grow in sexual confidence
A recent survey by Saga magazine found that most post-menopausal women have sex less frequently, but enjoy it more, compared to when they were younger.
"Experience brings with it confidence – you know what you like, and feel more comfortable communicating that to your partner, which is a wonderful thing" says Alix. "That said, knowing the moves that work for you does mean you can get stuck in a rut, and end up repeating the same old routines every time you get frisky.
"In order to keep learning, keep experimenting, and keep things fresh and exciting, I highly recommend checking out the work of Joan Price. She's a specialist in 'senior sex' who's published several excellent books on the subject, and she has tonnes of tips on how to keep your love life outstanding and revelatory in your fifties, your sixties, and beyond."
4. Weight gain can dent your self confidence
While most of us become less insecure about our looks with age, menopausal symptoms can have a negative impact on your emotions and confidence. Many women find that they gain weight, particularly around the middle, due to plummeting oestrogen levels. Hot flushes and night sweats can leave you feeling unattractive and in no mood for sex.
"If you're feeling insecure, talk things over with your partner. Having an honest conversation may help put your mind at ease and allow you to work on things together," says Alix. "Don't forget that they're ageing too, and may well have their own concerns about how they look.
"If night sweats are making sex all the wrong kinds of 'hot', one easy solution is not to make love at night. Try some 'afternoon delight', or make love before you head out on a weekend date together, rather than waiting until you get home later, when menopausal symptoms may be starting to kick off.
"New lingerie can help you feel better about your body, but if you don't fancy getting trussed-up in a complicated strappy affair, try a sexy sheer robe instead. It'll look stunning, help cover the bits you're perhaps less confident about, and is simple and comfy to wear... and to take off!"
5. You lose your sex drive
It's estimated that 20-40% of women experience a drop in libido due to changing hormone levels during the menopause. The good news is that your sex drive is likely to return once your body has adjusted to the new hormone levels.
Alix says: "There are various medical treatments out there that claim to treat a low libido, including the so-called 'female Viagra' that was launched recently.
"Obviously, before considering any type of medication it is important to speak to your GP as there are many things to consider, including potential side-effects and efficacy. I certainly don't recommend this type of drug as a first resort. Try reading erotica or listening to a steamy audiobook as a safer way to rev your engines."