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Menopause & women's sexuality: Tips for enhancing your sex drive

by Linda Cook (posted with permission of the author)

Let's face it, menopause has the potential to be a very difficult time in a woman's life. You already had to deal with the annoyances, peculiarities, and hardships of your hormones changing in puberty, and, possibly, pregnancy and now here you are again dealing with hormones disrupting your life.

Menopause can bring about many changes in your body, some good, some bad--some just "oh, what is that?"   Womenshealth.gov says things like night sweats, headaches, vaginal dryness, hair loss, and mood swings could all come into play, but on the flip side you non longer have to deal with menstrual cramps, PMS, or birth control.

However, one of the annoying side effects of menopause that you may not have been expecting is the potential loss of your libido.  Some women actually enjoy a big surge in their sex drive after menopause. This can be due to the fluctuating hormones and the change in the balance of estrogen in relation to other hormones, but for some women it is more situational. Many women feel more sexually free now that sex won't cause pregnancy. And some women find that once their kids are grown up and out of the house, the relief of that responsibility and work, as well as more privacy, allows them to feel more sexually liberated, with more energy to explore their sexuality.

However, it is much more common for the changes in hormones to cause your interest in sex to slowly decrease. As the amount of estrogen produced  by your body decreases during and after menopause, your libido may seem to evaporate. For some women, the hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia they experience with menopause are natural buzz-killers and make them feel cranky and less interested in sex. For them, once menopause is over, their sex drive is likely to come back, not like when they were teen-agers but at least back up to their pre-menopause levels of sexual interest.

If your libido is flagging during or after menopause, don't panic. This usually is not a medical condition that should cause alarm and it usually does not require medical treatment. However, you should definitely see your doctor and have a check-up to make sure there are no other medical conditions that could be causing this drop in your sex drive. And your gynecologist should be comfortable talking to you about ways you can reinstate your libido.  In the meantime, there are a few things you can do on your own to rev it back up. Use some of these tips and see if you notice a difference.

1. Get Your Stress Under Control:

Stress can destroy your body in a multitude of ways--hair loss, weight gain, mood swings--but it can also cause your libido to take a little hiatus. Whether you're stressing over menopause, work or family, try to get it under control. Practice some  stress management techniques and you should see an overall improvement in your life.

2. Increase your Exercise and Improve Your Diet:

Menopause can cause you to gain weight and make it harder to lose weight, and can lead to feeling lethargic.  Exercise gets your heart rate up and the blood flowing, improving your circulation, causing more blood flow to the vagina which will make it easier to get aroused and to reach orgasm. Increasing your exercise will usually help you get a better night's sleep as well. A healthier diet will give you more energy, make you feel sexier and keep you from feeling weighed down. This is a way to give yourself overall life improvement.

3. Ditch the Smokes and the Alcohol:

Smoking and drinking can constrict your blood vessels and decrease circulation in your extremities, among many other larger health issues. Throw out the cigarettes and cut back on the drinking. When you do drink, try to stick to red wine as it is full of antioxidants and is good for your heart (in moderation of course).

4. Engage in Sex More Often

This doesn't sound very helpful, I'm sure, but thing is, sex is a lot like chocolate. When you give up chocolate, you slowly need it less and less, but when you taste it again you remember how great it is and re-spark the chemical reaction in your brain causing you to want it more and more. So fight the headaches and the "not in the mood's" and just do it. It may not be great the first, second or third time, but the more you do it the more you'll naturally want it again. You can negotiate with your partner to limit the types of sexual activity if your energy is low, such as sticking with oral or manual sex if intercourse is uncomfortable or if you find it easier to get aroused through those activities.

5. Take the Time to Enjoy It:

In your twenties, you could jump into sex with no prelude, introduction or invitation. You were just ready to go. It's not like that anymore. Our bodies need time to warm up and be ready for the main event. Be sure to include a lot of foreplay in your bedroom time and don't hesitate to introduce plenty of lube. The vaginal dryness can cause sex to be painful, so give yourself a hand.  You can find all different brands, types, flavors (you name it!) at sex stores like adameve.com, just be sure to stick to water-based lube. It is the only kind that is truly safe for women and to pair with toys and condoms. And most women find that sexual arousal and sexual sensations change as they age, and some sexual activities and techniques that felt great before are now either uncomfortable or no longer arouse them. Don't be shy about talking with your partner and gently teaching them what works for you now, as they are probably in the habit of utilizing those "sure-fire" ways of making love with you that you may no longer want. It may be awkward to go outside your comfort zone to ask for and try new things, especially in a long-term relationship where you have developed certain patterns of sexual activity. Give it a try!

6. Get Checked for Bigger Health Issues:

Don't just assume that losing your libido is automatically a sign of menopause. Get tested and screened regularly for other major medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease. An unhealthy body and disease can wreak havoc on your libido. Don't stop having your pap smears (recommended every three years), breast exams (annually), and mammograms (annually unless otherwise advised by your doctor) just because you no longer need to go to the gynecologist for birth control or pregnancy. Your life could depend on it!

7. Finally, Practice Your Kegels:

Kegels are a vaginal exercise that strengthens your pelvic floor muscles, which in turn can help you orgasm faster, makes you tighter and brings more blood flow to the vagina. You can do them on your own or use Ben Wa Balls. Start here to learn how to do them correctly.  However, for women who are having vaginal pain on intercourse, Kegels may actually make that condition worse, but tightening the opening to the vagina. Consult with your gynecologist about whether Kegels are right for you, and seek treatment for any vaginal pain. Pain on intercourse is not just a normal part of aging, and  it can be treated with medication, physical therapy, and other treatments. Don't give up on sex or suffer in silence, as this problem can be resolved.

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