Sunday Independent, Dear Mary
Mary O'Conor answers readers' questions in her Dear Mary column on Sundays. A mention of My Second Spring in one of her problem solving answers regarding sex and the menopause provided a flurry of activity on the website.
Is my lack of interest in sex a permanent change?
Question: I just turned 50 and am very concerned about the future of my sex life. Recently, I find that I am much less interested in sex and worry that this is going to cause problems with my partner, who is very interested in sex.
In the past few months I feel as though I am dead inside, like there is barrier between me and my sexual feelings. I also have noticed that my vagina can be dry and itchy – I'm not painting a very pretty picture! I wonder how this body is going to manage the future and whether sex can be enjoyable again after 50. I really hope so, because in the past it has been very enjoyable.
I still have periods so I assume this is not the menopause. I think it's difficult to feel confident about our bodies as we age and things start to get looser and sag a bit. I know we hear about lots of people who have a very satisfying sex life later in life and wonder how they do it.
Is it just the men, or do women enjoy sex later too?
This is not a problem I feel I can bring up with my GP because I don't imagine he will have too many solutions for me. I have never really discussed my sex life with family or friends – they would normally be my support in other areas. My partner is fairly understanding as I try to keep things going as normally as possible without sharing my fears, especially because I don't want to point out what I see as my deficiencies. However, sex is definitely becoming less enjoyable and more of a thing to tick off my busy list of things to do. Do you think this is a phase or a permanent change?
Answer From what you say, it sounds like you could be perimenopausal, which is that time of transition before the actual menopause. It usually starts in a woman's 40s and can last for up to four years. In the perimenopause the ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen and this decline accelerates as she reaches menopause.
A woman is considered to have reached menopause when she has had no period for 12 months, as her ovaries have stopped releasing eggs.
With the decrease in oestrogen comes vaginal dryness, which can cause itching and irritation such as you describe. This, of course, can result in painful intercourse and nobody would look forward to that, so I'm not surprised you are experiencing a lack of desire.
No two women are the same regarding symptoms or time of onset, but if you are lucky enough to still have your mother then you can check with her when she experienced the menopause, as you will most likely start it around the same age as she did.
Regarding the vaginal dryness, make sure to use a good lubricant and if the over- the-counter products are not enough then your GP will be able to prescribe a stronger one.
I agree that it is difficult to accept the ageing process in our bodies, as we are constantly exhorted to keep our bodies beautiful, but try to bear in mind that this process is also happening to your partner and you no doubt accept him for what he is.
It should not, however, be all doom and gloom regarding the menopause. Many women are delighted that there is no longer any possibility of becoming pregnant and report a whole new lease of life regarding their sexual activity as a result.
Indeed in China the menopause is referred to as the Second Spring as women in middle age are respected for their wisdom and experience.
I learned this when I came across an Irish website www.mysecondspring.ie, which has been created to provide women going through the menopause with information, and it's well worth a visit.
16 November 2013