Menopause and Sex
In no other arena is the saying "don't worry, be happy" more applicable than in the sexual arena. Many sex therapists find that concerns, worries and fears about sex are usually bigger problems than any physical or sexual changes themselves. Whatever the biological problem, your attitude --and your partner’s-- will be the most important determinant of how well you and your partner cope. At this point in life, the brain remains the most important sexual organ. And common sense goes a long way in resolving sexual issues related to decreased libido or decreased sexual satisfaction.
For example, a healthy lifestyle in general can boost confidence and improve sexual desire. Physical or mental illness may slow sexual response, whatever its cause. As with most conditions, regular exercise, regular sleep, and eating a balanced diet can improve outcomes- as can stopping smoking (it's never too late!) and limiting alcohol intake. Alcohol may help you get "lucky" getting into bed, but it won't help you once you're there!
While menopausal women are no longer at risk for unintended pregnancy from unprotected intercourse, a dangerous myth is that menopausal women are no longer at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STD's). This isn't true. Menopausal women may be less likely to get pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) than younger women, but they are still at risk for virally transmitted STD's such as HIV/AIDS, herpes, HPV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, genital warts and hepatitis B. Recent news articles have reported on the rising rates of all STD’s in retirement communities. Condoms are still recommended for any sexual intercourse outside of a mutually monogamous relationship.
Another prevailing myth about menopause is that it is associated with "empty nest syndrome" and causes depression. Research has shown that the incidence of depression in women actually peaks in the 30's; on the contrary, many women in their 50's experience what Margaret Mead termed "post menopausal zest". Menopause is a risk factor for depression in certain women however, women who have had a previous history of depression (including postpartum depression), women with any other psychiatric illness, women with a family history of menopausal depression, and women with a history of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD, otherwise known as "PMS"). Depression can also be a symptom of numerous other medical disorders, from hypothyroidism to heart disease to infectious conditions; any menopausal women with depression should consult their physician, rather than assume it's "normal" to become depressed when one enters menopause. What if your doctor's diagnosis is depression? Remember- it is treatable. Depression is not only a major cause of decreased libido and sexual satisfaction, but decreased libido and decreased sexual satisfaction are early symptoms of depression.