An older woman kissing her partner on the cheek while he's doing the dishes.
Illustration by Marta Pucci

What's the Relationship Between Menopause and Decreased Libido?

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness

What will it be like?

Will I feel different?

How will things change?

What about sex?

These are all questions women ask themselves and their closest friends when menopause is on the table.

Of all the concerns that may arise at the end of a woman's childbearing years, menopause and decreased libido seem to always make the top of the list. We actually find this thrilling, given how little advocacy and empowerment has existed for female sexuality during and after middle age.

We're here to tell you that menopause doesn't have to be the end of your sex life. For many women, it can even be the start of something more. Read on to find out how tools like Sensate Focus can be an effective way to support this new chapter.

What is menopause?

Between the ages of 45 and 55, it's usually time for a woman's body to adapt to its next chapter. Many women associate this period with the end of their childbearing years-- though advances in modern medicine can do a lot to support the likelihood of children if they so choose.

For most, however, transition many women out of this ability and into a life free of pregnancy and, conveniently, menstrual periods.

We call this hormonal change menopause.

The production of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are crucial to a woman's reproductive cycle. They act as signifiers to the body to let it know when it's time to produce an egg-protecting follicle (the follicular phase), release an egg from the ovaries (ovulation), the transition from the follicle into the corpus luteum--a hormonal messenger that will dictate the rest of the cycle during the luteal phase-- and the drop in hormones that result in one's period if the egg was never fertilised. This change in hormones is what begins the uterine shedding that defines menstruation.

During menopause, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are in flux. These hormones serve a variety of functions in the reproductive cycle:

  • Estrogen - growth and health of reproductive organs, vaginal lubrication and elasticity, thickens uterine lining during menstruation, stimulates breast tissue, maintains bone density throughout the body
  • Progesterone - prepares the body for pregnancy, plays a large role in regulating mood, sleep, and libido
  • Testosterone - contributes to estrogen production, helps to maintain muscle mass, libido  

Doctors will only diagnose menopause after twelve months without a menstrual period. Although this is the standard, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone will begin to fluctuate prior to an official diagnosis. This can make menopause (which usually lasts 4-5 years) feel like an eternity-- especially if it is interfering with your sex life.

For some women, menopause can be both a physically and emotionally taxing period. This is not just in a woman's head-- as hormones like progesterone and estrogen find themselves out of balance, she may begin to experience increased cases of anxiety and depression. Doctors will attest that perimenopausal women are more likely to experience panic attacks or depression than those who have not yet entered their perimenopausal period.

Hormones and libido

There's no getting around it-- hormones are directly connected to one's sex drive. They are the chemicals created by your body to act as primary messengers for things like arousal, pleasure, and sexual function.

Estrogen

Of the two main sex hormones that are produced in the female body, estrogen is a dominant contributor. Men also create estrogen but rely on the hormone in much smaller amounts.

Most of the estrogen created in the body is made in the ovaries-- the organ that produces and houses a woman's eggs. A small amount of estrogen is created in the adrenal glands, as well as in the fat tissues.

The body creates three types of estrogen:

  • Estradiol - the primary type of estrogen created during a woman's prime reproductive age
  • Estriol - the estrogen created during pregnancy
  • Estrone - the only estrogen made in the body after menopause

Though it is possible to experience negative side effects from estrogen dominance during one's reproductive years, you can see that estrogen levels are the lowest when one's menstrual cycle is replaced by menopause.  

Progesterone

Progesterone is known as the "feel-good" hormone. It is made in the corpus luteum, which is the temporary endocrine gland that is created by the body during ovulation.

When progesterone levels are abnormal during the reproductive cycle, a woman may struggle to conceive. They may also experience a higher rate of miscarriage. Optimal progesterone levels are a major relief to depression and anxiety and can contribute to glowing skin and a healthy weight.

During menopause, progesterone levels decline. Scientists have determined a link between changing progesterone levels and a woman's sexual behaviour.

Testosterone

Though a secondary hormone in the female body, testosterone is paramount to hormonal regulation and a healthy sex drive. Testosterone is created in the ovaries, which in turn helps to make estrogen.

Because testosterone is the primary regulator of libido in both men and women, declining levels after menopause may result in a decreased or infrequent desire for sex.

Menopause and decreased libido

There is certainly a link between menopause and sex drive, as the hormones that are crucial for sexual desire are out of sync beginning in the months leading up to a menopause diagnosis (perimenopause). During this time, women may experience side effects that could interfere with fun in the bedroom. These include:

  • Vaginal dryness and pain during sex
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Chills and general discomfort
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain and slowed metabolism
  • Thinning hair and dry skin
  • Loss of breast fullness
  • Low libido

Menopause and lack of libido are connected because of how the varying reproductive hormones work together to create a sense of desire. When these carefully balanced relationships are out of wack, a woman may not feel interested in sex.

The lowered libido can be a result of varying progesterone and testosterone levels, but it can also be a physiological response to the overwhelming side effects a woman may experience during this hormonal transition. Feeling "old," "unattractive," and "broken" are all possible thoughts that might accompany the physiological changes and sexual discomfort of menopause and perimenopause.

Sex during and after menopause

Menopause and libido problems do not have to be a permanent association. It is possible to get back to a heightened feeling of sexuality with the right resources, supportive therapies, and sexual partner (or partners).

For those with already rewarding sex lives, these tips will only enhance the prospects in the bedroom!

Communicate

Once you feel ready to amp up the bedroom talk, you might find yourself gravitating toward certain positions or methods of foreplay. That's ok! Talk to your partner about what could make you feel more comfortable and what you might no longer feel as "into."

Feeling stuck? Break out the books, the internet, the toys-- anything that might strike inspiration.

Feeling satisfied, but ready to welcome additional experimentation? Now's the time! Many women report having an even more enjoyable sex life after menopause. Talk to your partner about the things you'd like to try, and ask them if they have a list of their own.

Support the symptoms

If you've been having a go with supporting moderate to severe menopause symptoms, there's no benefit to being a tough guy. You don't have to suffer from your symptoms in silence.

There are some proven remedies that women can seek on their own. Therapies like acupuncture, yoga, strength training, and other stress relief tactics can help to regulate the overwhelming feeling of frustration and loss. They can also have a physiological effect on the body and help to regulate any minor imbalances that need a low-stress environment to heal.

Feeling better than ever? Some women do! If that's the case, continue to support your health by making mindful nutrition and movement choices. Remember to keep listening to your body, at every stage.  

See a specialist

If your symptoms are worsening or not letting up, it is always encouraged to go see a hormonal specialist. They may prescribe medication, supplements, or recommend functional wellness tips to support a natural progression of hormonal balance.

If you're finding that your symptoms are more related to the mental aspect of sex, there are qualified sex therapists available to work through whatever your individual hangup may be. We recommend seeking these conversations with or without your partner as you grow more comfortable in your sexuality.

Sensate focus

Do you struggle with getting into the mood or out of your head? You may want to consider Sensate Focus therapy.

Sensate focus is a sex therapy technique that takes the pressure away from an end goal (an orgasm by traditional, penetrative sex), and pulls the focus toward sensuality and the sensory experience of sex. It is a progressive therapy that explores all aspects of intimacy. It can transform the approach and routine of sex with couples that choose to commit to sessions.

Once a couple is familiar with the exercises, they are able to apply the learnings in the comfort of their bedroom. It is a very mindful and empowering experience for those wanting to bring an additional spark into the bedroom, and encourage sexual desire. With sensate focus, new possibilities arise with each session.

Remember-- libido is complex. Each approach to a better sex life during menopause should be an individualised experience. There is no one size fits all prescription for improving one's sex life.

Enjoy this next chapter

It's possible to look past the misconceptions surrounding menopause and decreased libido and see a thriving sex life. Even though your monthly period is ending, we want you to see that the doors can open to entirely new possibilities-- some that are less messy than in your younger days.

We don't expect everyone to run headlong into menopause without a few reservations, especially given how the media portrays the transition in pop culture and myth. However, moving from our younger chapters to a more advanced storyline deserves a thoughtful approach-- especially in the bedroom.

If you're looking to reconnect with your body after menopause, we have the tools that can help. Download our app for techniques, access to qualified sex therapists, and an industry-leading library of well-researched articles. With our help, you can start this next chapter as soon as you're ready.

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