Know that old song, "Where Did Our Love Go?" Many women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s are asking, "Where did our sex go?" Loss of desire is common among women in the years before and after menopause. Desire problems peak between ages 35 to 64.
Hormones don't deserve all the blame, though. The causes of lost sex drive are complex. Here are some of the top factors behind "hypoactive sexual desire disorder," and what can be done.
By Virginia Sole-Smith
Nothing makes me feel more overtly "married" than when I open up my wallet to pay at Home Depot and pull out the shiny blue debit card labeled, in big block type, SHARED. My husband, Dan, broke out the label maker two months after we got married to distinguish the cards linked to our joint account from the identical blue debit cards we use for our separate personal checking accounts. (And in the rush of newlywed excitement, it didn't occur to him to use a more discreet...
Before menopause, your sex drive peaked just before and after you ovulated. But when your periods stop, estrogen dips, and those revved-up days in your cycle are gone.
Menopausal women may respond less to touch, too, and find it harder to get aroused. Less estrogen also means less blood flow to the vagina, and more dryness. So when you do have sex, it can hurt. Who wants sex that feels bad?
What helps: First, stop the pain. Try over-the-counter water-based lubricants. Ask your doctor about prescription medications to fight dryness: There are oral drugs available, as well as vaginal creams, which have fewer side effects than oral hormones.
Traditional hormone replacement therapy doesn't seem to kindle desire for most women. What it can do is ease hot flashes and other symptoms that leave you feeling not-so-sexy.
Sex Drive Zapper: Life Stress
At midlife, many women are deep into a marriage, a job, raising teens, and caregiving. Any of these can amp up stress, and stress puts your sex drive in park. Avoiding sex can, in turn, cause tension with your partner. Low desire is more common in long-term relationships. Because all this happens at once, it may seem like menopause is the cause, but there are many factors.
What helps: Take the focus off intercourse. Spend more time on foreplay and try other kinds of sex play, such as massage and oral sex. Seek out short-term couples counseling when your sex life hits a rough patch.
Sex Drive Zapper: Androgen Changes
In both sexes, desire tends to fall as we get older. Women are two to three times more prone to a drop in desire. In part, blame dropping androgens -- male hormones that are also found in women.
What helps: There's no FDA-approved male hormone therapy for women with sexual problems, but some doctors prescribe creams off-label for some women. The major problem with this type of treatment in women is the side effects, which include acne and excess body and facial hair. Being mindful of diet, sleep, and exercise can help restore libido.
There's good news about aging and sex, too: Time. Many women report feeling an uptick in desire after menopause.