We know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it enough that perimenopause and menopause bring on a whole host of less than appealing symptoms and bodily changes? Do we really have to add a link between menopause and sexless marriage issues? Well, yes. But it’s not hopeless! Disparate expectations, increased physical pain during sex, differing levels of desire, reduced ability--all of these symptoms are frustratingly common in middle age, and allthey can make intimacysex difficult. According to therapist and author (Sex Without Stress) Jessa Zimmerman*, about 20 percent of people are in “sexless” marriages, meaning they have sex fewer than 10 times per year. Of the remaining couples, about 25% have sex less than once a week.
Pause and take a deep breath. You don’t have to settle for a sexless marriage. And once you understand what’s causing the issues getting in the way of your sex life, you’ll know how to move forward with confidence and control.
Struggling with a sexless marriage? A menopause-certified health coach can be helpful. We can provide a personalized plan to revitalize your marriage's sex. Book 30 minutes for your personal consultation with a health coach.
Couples who don't have sex are missing out on that physical connection in their relationship. There's a correlation between divorce and menopause due to lack of sex.
As you probably already know (but it bears repeating) estrogen and testosterone levels drop during perimenopause and menopause. This can cause thinning and drying of the vagina of the vaginal tissue--the vagina may even become shorter, narrower, and less flexible during menopause. Put this all together and you’ve got painful sex. Not to mention you'll still have these same struggles with sex after menopause. First, talk to your doctor.** There are all sorts of options available to try, including lubricant, topical estrogen, a clinical therapy device (used to increase blood flow to the vagina), and even drugs--though there are some serious side effects that come with these medications, so, not to sound like a broken record, but talk to your doctor.
Another sexual side effect caused by lowered estrogen and testosterone is a lagging labido. The one-two estrogen/testosterone punch can lessen your sensitivity to touch. Throw in some of the other distracting symptoms such as menopausal depression,sleep disturbances, anxiety, and stress, and it’s pretty easy to understand why sex might not be at the top of your to-do list. What can be done? Well, it might be time to try something a bit outside your box. Look for inspiration in erotic films and books. Put a new foreplay plan in place by adding sensual massage or extended oral sex. Play with new sexual positions, especially ones that allow for you to control the depth of penetration. First and foremost, have fun! And please, remember to communicate with your partner. If something isn’t working for you, they need to know.
There’s sex, and then there’s intimacy. They’re inexorably linked, and both are vital to a healthy marriage. Sex is exciting, pleasurable, a mood booster, stress reliever, and can even strengthen your immune system. Intimacy, on the other hand, is the closeness that builds between two people over time in a loving relationship. Does sex increase intimacy? You bet. Do the two work as a team to make you and your partner feel fulfilled in your relationship? Yep. Which is why it’s important when talking about menopause’s impacts on your sex life that we address what it can do to your level of intimacy, too.
So we asked Jessa about how couples can navigate the rocky terrain of sexual and intimacy issues in a relationship. What can couples do to keep the closeness and intimacy if sex is complicated? This is a big part of her couples therapy, Jessa says, and it begins by widening our definition of “sex.” It doesn’t have to be limited to penetration to “count.”
“My definition of sex is that it’s the physical expression of our innate drives for love, intimacy, and pleasure. That means any pleasurable physical intimacy between partners counts as sex. I encourage people to find ways to touch and be touched that each find pleasing. If one person wants sexual stimulation and the other wants their hair brushed or their feet rubbed, they can participate in pleasure with each other. It is so important to open up your idea of what sex is and what it’s for; it takes the pressure off the couple and allows them to find intimacy and pleasure in new, flexible ways.”
So, let’s say you’re happy, you’re satisfied, you’re compatible sexually, and in your approach to midlife. How do you keep this going as menopause starts to throw hurdles in your way?
If your relationship is happy and has been for a number of years, chances are you’re already doing what you need to do. But even good relationships take work, so Jessa gives us three tips to be sure your happy partnership stays that way.
“Marriage is like a garden; it needs tending,” Jessa explains. “Continue to spend quality time together. Make sex and intimacy a priority. Don’t let yourself get so comfortable you don’t water and weed the garden, letting it fall into disrepair.”
This can be a tough one, Jessa acknowledges: “When things are going well, it can be hard to bring negativity into the relationship. People avoid talking about difficult things because they don’t want to spoil the good feelings they’ve been having with their partner. But it’s crucial that a couple maintain open and honest communication, especially about the hard things. If you stop talking and start hiding things that are bothering you, resentment and distance will grow.”
A healthy, supportive partnership is worth celebrating! Jessa underscores. “Recognize that you have something special. Enjoy every moment. Don’t take it for granted because life brings changes, one way or another. Be grateful for what you have and express that to each other.”
Sex and intimacy are so hard to separate, we often use the latter as a softer “code” word for the former. But the link is real. Physical touch is critical to a healthy relationship, whether that’s foot rubs or foreplay. Ultimately, how a couple defines intimacy and satisfaction is entirely up to them--as long as both parties agree.
So, openly communicate about what gives you pleasure, what you love about your partner, and how important the relationship is to you--it doesn’t get much sexier than that. And if you commit to doing these things, menopause does not have to lead to a sexless marriage.
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**It is not Gennev’s intention to provide specific medical advice, but rather to provide users with information to better understand their health and their diagnosed disorders. Specific medical advice will not be provided, and Gennev urges you to consult with a qualified physician for diagnosis and for answers to your personal questions.
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Parts of this article were first published on PRiME WOMEN – a great resource for women to learn more about health, fashion, lifestyle, careers, "second acts" and more.