Some people love to talk about going through menopause like it’s taking a pledge of celibacy.
Sure, there may be some postmenopausal people who choose not to have sex.
But sex, pleasure, and intimacy are still absolutely on the table for the postmenopausal individuals who want access to it. Really!
Below, doctors and sexuality experts highlight the main ways menopause can affect your sex life. Plus, there are five tips for increasing pleasure during solo, partnered, and multi-partnered sex after your menstrual cycle has ceased.
What is menopause, exactly?
definedas the naturally occurring point in time when someone who did menstruate no longer menstruates, and has not during the past 12 months, thus making it impossible for the person to become pregnant.
Before we talk about how menopause can affect your sexuality, let’s get on the same page about what sexuality is.
Sexuality is most commonly talked about as a measure of the gender(s) someone is attracted to. But your sexuality encompasses far more than whether you are LGBTQIA+.
Sexuality is an expansive term encompasses all the different things that impact your relationship to sex, romance, your body, other bodies, and relationships.
That includes your gender, gender presentation, sex assigned at birth, your relationship with your body, gender(s) you’re sexually attracted to (if any), and gender(s) you’re romantically attracted to (if any).
This also involves your interest in sex, turn-ons, turn-offs, kinks, fetishes, and preferences around when, where, and how you have sex.
Sexuality also encompasses past sexual experiences, past trauma (including nonsexual trauma), past beliefs around sex, and current beliefs around sex.
Given that your sexuality is impacted by what’s going on with you mentally, physically, sexually, spiritually, and psychologically, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that menopause can lead to a sexual shift.
Here’s the thing: Typically when people hear that menopause can impact sexuality, they think something like “Oh, you mean menopause causes a lull in libido,” or “Oh, you’re talking about vaginal dryness.”
And sure, a dip in libido and decrease in natural lubrication can be part of some postmenopausal individuals’ journeys (more on these below!).
But menopause can trigger a sexuality evolution for many more reasons than that!
Maybe menopause coincided with retirement, for example, which has given you more time to prioritize stress-busting activities which, in turn, has led to an increased interest in sex.
Or maybe your partner was so supportive throughout your perimenopausal hot flashes and fatigue that you fell in love with them all over again, thus leading to an increased interest in ~romancing~ them.
Or maybe the gender euphoria you experience from *not* having a monthly period has led you to explore the expansiveness of your gender for the first time, which has led you to incorporate gender-affirming toys and erotica into your solo sex life.
While the postmenopausal changes a person experiences will vary, here are four common changes.
1. Natural lubrication levels may dip
“During menopause estrogen levels decline, which leads to a decrease in the natural production of lubrication,” explains doctor of physical therapy Heather Jeffcoat, author of “Sex Without Pain: A Self-Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve.”
Lubrication can be the difference between sex that feels good and sex that feels like… sandpaper.
Estrogen levels ⬇️ → natural lubrication levels ⬇️ → less pleasurable, more painful sex.
Luckily, there are store-bought lubricants that can supplement your natural lubrication levels. And yes, there are lubes that feel like the lube your body used to make or used to make in greater qualities.
“These store-bought lubricants can be a game changer for postmenopausal people experiencing dryness or pain during sex,” she says.
2. The vaginal walls may thin
“The decrease of estrogen that accompanies menopause can also lead to a thinning of the vaginal walls,” says Jeffcoat. It can cause vaginal atrophy, which is the narrowing and/or shortening of the vaginal canal.
There are a number of medications, including hormone replacement therapies, that can be used to stop these symptoms in their tracks — and even reverse them.
If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with vaginal wall thinning or vaginal atrophy, such as itching or burning, talk with a doctor or other healthcare professional.
3. Libido may change
Libido is a catchphrase for someone’s general interest in sex.
Anything that impacts you as an individual — nutrition, physical activity, hydration levels, stress levels, confidence levels, hormones, medications, and so on — can affect your libido.
So, of course, during a time of so many bodily changes (menopause) libido may change, too.
For many people, menopause is accompanied by things such as:
- hot flashes
- generalized fatigue
- weight gain
- difficulty sleeping
All of which can (understandably!) lead to a reduced interest in sex. After all, who wants to be intimate when they’re tired and have no ability to regulate their body temperature?! Not many people!
If you’re libido goes MIA and you’re missing it, erotic educator Taylor Sparks, founder of Organic Loven, one of the largest BIPOC-owned online intimacy shops, recommends learning about responsive desire.
Then, using it to get in the mood. (More on this below).
4. Pelvic floor muscular may change
Your pelvic floor muscles are a hammock-shaped network of muscles that work together to support the pelvic organs (such as your bladder, bowels, and uterus).
There are a few things that can happen to these muscles after menopause, according to Jeffcoat.
“If you become less active, your pelvic floor muscles, along with your other muscles, may become weaker,” she says. The side effects of weaker pelvic floor muscles range from a decreased duration or intensity of orgasms to constipation and pain during defecation.
Some people may even develop genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). GSM is a cluster of symptoms that include the pelvic floor changes associated with weakened muscles, as well as urinary issues such as involuntary bladder leakage.
Fear not: Whatever pelvic floor symptoms you’re experiencing, the right healthcare professional can help find solutions.
“Start by working with a urogynecologist, who can address urinary, bowel, and sexual function,” suggests Jeffcoat. “From there, you may be referred to a pelvic health physical therapist that will do an evaluation and determine a course of conservative (nonsurgical) care for your concerns.”
To find a pelvic health physical therapist near you, search here.
“After menopause, you may experience loss of natural lubrication, pelvic and vaginal pain, or difficulty achieving orgasm,” says Dr. Sarah de la Torre, OB-GYN with Joylux, a suite of products designed to improve intimate health for menopausal women.
“But whether these things arise or not, there are plenty of ways to enjoy sex,” says de la Torre. “You could well be on your way to some of the best sex of your life.”
Here are a few tips for keeping your frick-fracking fun, forever and always.
1. Believe that you *can* have pleasurable sex
Ever heard that the body follows the mind? Well, that’s true! And that’s why believing that pleasurable sex is still accessible to you is so important.
If you believe that sex will be painful, uncomfortable, or bad, your body physically “prepares” for discomfort, says Jeffcoat. (This is known as safeguarding or muscle guarding).
Part of stopping this “preparation” in its track is believing that pleasure is within reach.
So don’t forget what Sparks says: “Your sex life (and your entire life) can improve with age. The glory days are ahead, not behind.”
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
This is the number one sex tip for pleasure-seekers of all ages.
“Communicating allows you to guide your partner(s) to touch you in the ways that feel pleasurable to you,” says Jeffcoat.
If you’ve been with your partner(s) for years and years and years, some of that communication will include sharing the things that used to feel good that no longer do.
3. Lube up
Once more for the people in the back: lather (!) up (!) with (!) lube (!).
“People of all ages should keep lube on hand as it can make OK sex good and good sex great,” says Jeffcoat. “And for people [who are postmenopausal], lube can help reduce friction and irritation of the vaginal lining, which in turn may reduce pain and muscle guarding.”
Just remember: Don’t use an oil-based lubricant if you’re using latex condoms, as the oil will cause the latex to degrade (allowing potential STI transmission to occur).
4. Lean into responsive desire
“Spontaneous desire is an instant desire for sex that’s almost like someone has flipped on a switch that makes you want sex,” explains de la Torre. Responsive desire is an interest in sex that requires a little more coaxing.
“Responsive desire is the kind of desire that starts after we have touched, smelled, tasted, or looked at our partners, or listened to the words coming out of their mouth,” says Sparks.
While movies privilege spontaneous sex, in real life, leaning into responsive desire can lead to some really great sex.
What does leaning into responsive desire look like, exactly?
“If you know candlelight and Barry White are triggers for you, arrange that,” says de la Torre. If you know a back massage and romantic comedy get you in the mood, plan your date night around that.
5. Be *very* wary about vaginal rejuvenation procedures
Vaginal rejuvenation procedures may be disproportionately marketed at postmenopausal people. But Jeffcoat warns against them.
“There’s limited application of these procedures,” she says. Worse, “if done incorrectly, they can lead to painful penetrative intercourse.”
Her recommendation: Work with a pelvic health physical therapist or other healthcare professional to see what sexual health changes you can make without going under the knife.
Yes, menopause can affect your sexuality. But that does *not* mean it’s going to impact your sexuality for the worse.
And if menopause is accompanied by a few symptoms you don’t like, talk with a healthcare professional — whether it’s a suppository, lubricant, moisturizer, or at-home exercise, odds are they’ll be able to recommend something that helps.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.