Tasnim Adatya, ND
Many women in midlife are looking for ways to improve sex during and after menopause.
Many women in midlife are looking for ways to improve sex during and after menopause. What better time than Valentine’s day to read up on natural ways to spice up your libido!
To understand why midlife libido is such an important topic, it’s worth remembering that not long ago, menopause was a time when women were stereotyped as being beyond feeling sexual urges or being desired. Today, with a growing number of women entering menopause–about 3,500 every day–female sexuality is no longer a taboo subject.
Increasingly, sexual desire is a topic of conversation, best selling books and medical research. The changing attitude is helping dispel many myths about menopause and ushering in the understanding that these postmenopausal years can be as enjoyable as those that came before.
Sexual desire is a complex subject to isolate because sexuality is more than the biological urge to procreate. The interplay between physical and emotional intimacy is a requisite to pleasure. Many women relate improved sexual drive to a newfound sense of freedom. This may be a time when children are grown and perhaps on their own. There may be no need for contraception or fear of an unwanted pregnancy. Yet, approximately one-third of women report a loss of libido during perimenopause or menopause. These are specific times when declining hormonal levels can cause physical changes that affect lovemaking.
When Your Hormones Go Crazy
Estrogen and progesterone decrease gradually during perimenopause and then precipitously at menopause. When menopause has been surgically or chemically induced, there may also be insufficient amounts of testosterone produced to sufficiently support sexual interest. As a result, several aspects of sexual desire may be affected.
The vagina can become shorter and narrower at the opening, especially if a woman is not sexually active. Reduced vaginal secretions and a marked thinning of the vaginal lining can result in dryness that further leads to difficult or painful intercourse. Less blood flow to the genitalia can increase the time for tissues to become engorged during arousal. Therefore, orgasmic response may take longer or be less intensive.
Studies confirm that frequent sexual stimulation can improve vaginal lubrication and elasticity. Water-based lubricants designed for genital use, without perfumes or alcohol, can be useful for mild dryness and to ease the friction of intercourse. Vitamin E applied directly to the vaginal tissue as an oil or as part of a lubricant can help counter vaginal dryness and soothe damaged tissue. Vitamins A and C are other potent antioxidants that promote tissue health and can strengthen vaginal cell walls. Comfrey is renowned for its ability to stimulate normal cell growth and may speed wound healing when applied externally. Aloe and camomile are widely used as topical botanical moisturizers to help soothe skin irritation and decrease swelling due to physical irritation or infection.
The plant kingdom includes a myriad of herbs that have an affinity for the pelvic tissues and sexual centers of the central nervous system. Some of the well-noted herbs include damiana, Siberian ginseng, black cohosh, ginkgo biloba and wild oats.
Damiana’s latin name, Turnera aphrodesicaca, lends credence to its ancient reputation as a potent sexual appetite enhancer. The herb is also known to improve blood flow to the genitals, helping to hydrate and soothe irritated tissue.
Both Siberian ginseng and black cohosh work to enhance circulation and have been shown to exert an estrogenic effect on the vaginal tissue, thereby improving mucosal health.
Research has shown ginkgo improves sexual responsiveness by enhancing energy, improving blood flow to the pelvic organs, and tonifying the nervous system–three important factors in the restoration of libido.
The sexual boosting reputation of wild oats is primarily gleaned from its mineral-rich content of selenium, phosphorus, and zinc. The adage "sow your wild oats" links this gentle nerve tonic and nourisher to enhanced sexual urges.
If vaginal dryness persists, ask your doctor about a compounded natural estrogen cream. When applied to the genital area, it can help prevent dryness and thinning of vaginal tissue. Although testosterone levels typically do not change as a woman ages, some women may experience increased sexual sensitivity from topical application of natural testosterone to the genitals, especially those who have undergone surgical menopause. Sensitivity to testosterone is variable and is not a well-understood phenomenon. To be safe, always supplement with progesterone when using either estrogen or testosterone.
The simplified link between attitude and libido is that women with healthy self-images report better sex lives. Therefore, tossing away the stereotypes of a "frigid midlife woman" and releasing repressed negative self-images may unleash feelings of vitality and sensuousness. Exercise can help us appreciate our body by orienting us more on how our body functions, rather than holding it up to media standards. Additionally, exercise is an excellent way to decrease accumulated stress, improve circulation to our vital organs, as well as stimulate the release of mood-enhancing brain chemicals.
It is important to be rested as well. Some women have lives so structured that they do not allow themselves the requisite leisure to even begin to feel desire. Try not to let life demands accustom you to being exhausted.
Numerous prescriptions and over- the-counter medicines can have sexual side effects. Antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft are the most commonly prescribed drugs that decrease desire and orgasm. Antihistamines and high blood pressure drugs have also been associated with decreased libido. Check with your doctor if either you or your partner have experienced a loss of sex drive around the time of beginning one of these medications.
Hormone therapy may need to be considered if menopause-related symptoms, such as severe hot flashes, stress incontinence and insomnia continue to interfere with sex regardless of natural therapeutic use. Natural progesterone supplementation has helped many women quell such menopause-related symptoms. Consult with your physician about hormones derived from natural sources like wild yam as a friendlier option to synthetic hormones. Hormone testing can determine what imbalances exist and when supplementation may be needed.
Lastly, if reading this article and just focusing on libido has influenced you, you might consider taking another step–reading more, deepening your connection with your partner, or making an appointment with a physician to discuss treatment options. Yes, menopause brings changes. But knowing what you can expect and openly discussing issues about sex can greatly influence intimacy and sexual response. If you relate midlife and menopause with an opportunity for personal development and growth, you are likely to find that sexual interest can improve with age and last a lifetime.