There's something going on with menopause and sex. And we need to talk about it.
Because as the first over-sharing generation experiencing menopause, the current Generation X who are going through "the change" are determined to let us know all about what was once considered a really 'hush-hush' issue.
Specifically, the sex.
In fact, on a recent episode of Mamamia Out Loud, co-host Holly Wainwright said, "I remember a while back we discussed Nikki Gemmell's column in The Australian, where she said that post-menopause she was ready for a post-sex life. The reason that it was quite revolutionary, is that she was saying out loud, 'I'm done with it'.
Watch: Speaking on Mamamia Out Loud, are you a people pleaser? Here's how to tell. Post continues below.
"On the other end of that spectrum, Naomi Watts, the glorious Australian actress that has been doing quite a lot of advocacy around mid-life and menopause lately, held an event in the US called 'Unlocking Intimacy: Navigating Passion in Midlife."
If you didn't already know, Naomi Watts has her own wellness range called 'Stripes', which sells products to help women during menopause.
It's also worth noting that she also recently got married to her new partner, Billy Crudup.
At the recent event, she shared that she and Crudup are having lots and lots of "pretty great sex".
She also said that during menopause, there's a certain type of freedom she feels in not worrying about pregnancy, adding that the vulnerability involved in talking to him about what was going on for her hormonally actually makes things better.
"If you can talk to your partner, if you can be honest and have a really authentic conversation and take away the awkwardness, they will be empathetic and that's hot."
Listen: Want to listen to the full episode? Click the link below.
Now, as Holly flagged, no two women experience things the same – so you do you, etc, etc. But what is true that for lots of women, is that a drop in libido is a very common symptom of peri and menopause.
"Something I'm seeing everywhere is women in group chats saying things like this," said Holly. "A woman wrote in a Facebook group: 'I've been married for 14 years, I'm in my mid 40s, peri-menopausal and on HRT. I can't be bothered having sex with my husband anymore. He wants it twice a week, I'd be happy with once every two months. He just doesn't get it.'"
This raises a few different questions. Specifically, does every stage of life – including menopause – need to be sexy?
And if you're in a relationship, is there permission for a season of reduced sexual activity? Further to this, if you are in a long-term relationship or if people are struggling with that drop in libido and your partner wants to change, do you kind of have some kind of duty to look at options to help with libido loss?
When we spoke with relationship counsellor Lissy Abrahams, she told us these kinds of issues are pretty on par with what she sees in her clinic.
"I see these issues frequently. It’s critical to think about the potential impact of menopausal symptoms on one’s mood, cognitive ability, sexual desire, and behaviour.
"In a couple relationship, partners may report them to be reactive and aggressive. If potential hormonal changes are not included as part of the couple picture, we may be attributing difficulties to couple dynamics. This is a disservice to both partners and can potentially put the relationship in peril.
"Menopausal symptoms will be detected in couple relationships, often without recognising them for what they are. The couple can feel like they’re on a rollercoaster. It’s critical to ascertain what’s happening hormonally. It’s easier to work with hormonal issues than personality issues or couple dynamic issues!"
So what kind of impact can menopause have on your libido?
When it comes to the actual changes women will experience, menopausal symptoms can impact libido in many ways.
"The impact on the minds and bodies of many women during and after menopause can be massive with increasing and decreasing hormone levels," said Abrahams.
Hormonal variations create a host of uncomfortable and exhausting physical symptoms that can reduce sexual desire, said Abrahams. Things like hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances/insomnia.
"Women can also gain weight and experience changes in their body shape, affecting how they feel about themselves sexually," she added.
What's more, oestrogen levels decline during and after menopause and many women experience decreased interest in sex, "often with decreased arousal and/or vaginal dryness making intercourse uncomfortable, or even painful.
"The hormonal changes also affect emotional stability, where women report mood swings where they feel irritable, frustrated, depressed, and/or anxious, all of which can affect sexual desire."
On top of this (yes, there's more), women can also experience cognitive changes and have difficulty concentrating or experience memory lapses.
"These can indirectly influence their interest or enjoyment of sex," said Abrahams. "None of these symptoms help a woman feel attractive, desirable, or particularly desiring."
Should you renegotiate in a relationship if there's no sex drive?
As Abrahams shared, in a couple relationship, we need to anticipate that both partners are going to change across time. "No-one remains the same, whether physically, cognitively, or emotionally," she said. "If a partner’s sex drive is no longer what it used to be, then this needs to be the issue they navigate above all others.
"It is normal for a perimenopausal or menopausal woman to lose desire, take longer to be aroused, have vaginal dryness, be exhausted, have mood alterations, and lose interest in sex. This is not for all women, however it’s common for many. It is a major change in one’s life, and in many cultures is even called 'the change.'"
But what does this mean for their partner who may still be just as keen to connect sexually?
What if their vehicle for being emotionally intimate is through their sexual contact?
Should they be left in the cold? How would anyone feel if their mode of connection was suddenly cut off?
"As you can see, menopausal changes can become a couple issue pretty quickly," said Abrahams.
"If your sex drive is no longer what it was, then you need to discuss this with your partner, and you will need to find ways to resolve this together."
She said, "It’s critical to not have your partner experience neglect and abandonment at the changes, as their behaviour may also change towards you, and this adds even more fuel to what’s on your couple plate. Don’t leave them out alone in the cold for too long.
"There are other ways to address menopausal symptoms (eg. sexual enhancement creams, vaginal lubricants, and moisturisers) and also ways to keep intimacy on the agenda (massages, sensual baths, caressing, manual stimulation, or oral sex)."
Is it okay to look elsewhere if your partner's sex drive is not what it was?
In the same episode of Mamamia Out Loud, Clare Stephens shared, "I've got a friend who was taking some medication and her sex drive completely disappeared. And she's like, 'I would be so fine with my partner sleeping with somebody else.'"
So, is this actually a thing that many couples do? And what are the consequences of it?
When we asked Abrahams, she said, "When one has an inability to tolerate this change in their partner, they may seek sex outside of their relationship. Some couples do negotiate that a partner can enjoy sexual gratification outside the relationship, yet many don’t. Don’t expect your partner to give you the green light.
"Cheating can happen when someone is unable to think about or tolerate a situation at home and this leads to taking action. Cheating can be that action."
As she explained, the problem with cheating is that it involves deception and this gets written into the relationship. If or when the cheating has been revealed, mistrust often follows.
"What starts off as a sex drive issue quickly becomes one that can completely erode the integrity of the entire relationship," explained Abrahams. "I would say the most mature thing would be to navigate this with your partner.
"It won’t always be easy. Life isn’t easy. You may, however, become closer by going through this together. You may become more creative than ever before. Your partner may surprise you in other ways!"
What should you do if you're struggling?
First up? Get medical help, said Abrahams. She told us that many women endure perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms alone, yet there are many options for help these days.
She suggested checking out Jean Hailes for Women’s Health for guidance regarding vaginal lubricants/moisturisers and hormonal therapy.
Together with this she said to look into "decreasing anxiety using relaxation exercises, mindfulness, and seeking a therapist specialising in women’s sexual issues".
"Educate your partner. Expect that your partner, especially if male, will have no knowledge or understanding of your symptoms."
You can also look into going to couples' therapy.
"If your relationship is suffering because of the hormonal changes of menopause, then seek couples therapy. Both of you need to understand how the hormones are altering your couple journey, your sex life, and how you may both be on a rollercoaster, and how to help you get off it together – intact."
Abrahams continued, "Menopause is a part of life and it’s normal. We need to place it firmly on the couple agenda. It should go in our commitment vows – that we will navigate menopausal symptoms as a united team."
Can you relate to any of the above? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
Feature image: Getty.