Of Course Women Still Want Great Sex After Menopause!
Published: 5th October 2020
A new study reveals that 27 per cent of midlife women rate sexual intimacy as important. But why is this still a shock?
Women who are going through the menopause still want to have sex, according to new research released this week. The University of Pittsburgh conducted research among 3,200 women aged 40-55, and found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) rated sexual intimacy as "highly important throughout midlife".
Why is it still such a shock that older women want to have sex? One such reason could be the lack of representation on screen. This week, the 73-year-old actress Alison Steadman said that she was pleased to have performed sex scenes in her recently released film 23 Walks because it showed that "people over 70 are still regarded as living creatures that have feelings and emotions like everyone else does". In a way, it's sad that people are jumping on this study when it's only 27 per cent of women. I can guarantee if it's men who were surveyed, 99.9 per cent would have said sex is important. Men can have sex forever so women should be able to as well.
I think it's important to make a distinction between not wanting sex, and not being able to have it. Lots of women say to me, 'I don't feel like sex' or 'I go to bed early and don't want my husband to come anywhere near me.' But they are really sad about it, and often they don't know where to get help. In my clinic the majority of women I speak to haven't had a sexual relationship for at least one or two years - not because they don't want to but because they can't physically.
This is because sex is difficult for almost all women during the menopausehttps://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/truth-sex-menopause-menopause-doctor/. When oestrogen and testosterone drops, there is a direct effect on libido. There are psychological factors at play too; some of the menopause symptoms, such as poor self-esteem, weight gain, irritability, fatigue, just make women feel really rubbish. Libido isn't just about a hormone, it's about how a woman feels in herself. If she's lost her confidence, feeling tired or more anxious, the last thing she's going to think about is sex. For some women, even being touched by their partner or having their hand held will trigger a hot flush, which is not very conducive to a sexual relationship.
Because of the low oestrogen levels that occur, around 80 per cent of post-menopausal women have symptoms related to vaginal dryness, meaning it can be very uncomfortable and painful to have penetrative sex. So even if a woman has got a good libido, it might physically be very uncomfortable to have intercourse.
Saying that, it's no surprise to me that women still have a desire to have sex during the menopause. It's a great time to have sex; contraception is not needed, children might have moved out and people generally have a lot more sexual freedom. Plus, there are some important health benefits to having regular sex in midlife. People are less likely to develop heart disease as it's an aerobic exercise, it's good for mental health, physical health and your pelvic floor.
The average length of time for menopause symptoms is seven years but for a lot of women it's decades - which is why it's so important that women access the right treatment. Too often, they suffer in silence. For the majority of women, this can be done by treating the underlying cause of symptoms through hormone replacement treatment (HRT). As vaginal dryness lasts forever, treatments such as vaginal oestrogen are important for building back up to a healthy sex life. This is available as a cream, pessary or ring that is placed inside your vagina, and is safe to use for women who have had breast cancer.
We also need to remember that having the right treatment for menopause can also improve your sexual health, heart health and brain health. Without these hormones, women have an increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia.
It is also helpful to rethink how we frame sex; it's not only about penetrative sex, but also about having a tactile relationship. Some women I see haven't had sex for years, so it can be daunting to go straight in with intercourse. Others have no self esteem, or have experienced a complete loss of self worth during the menopause. Just holding a partner's hand and being spoken to can be a way of creating intimacy; exploring each other's bodies in a non-penetrative sex way is a good option, too. People need to take back simple pleasures before going straight into wondering what position they should be in.
This study shows that women's health has been dismissed for too long. All too often, people think: 'let them get on with it'. But women are living longer than ever now, and the menopause is a real issue. To have this conversation out there is great but women shouldn't feel bad for wanting to have sex, or for looking into different ways to improve their sexual health. We need to open up the conversation even more.
As told to Alice Hall.