Sexuality is the way we think and feel about ourselves as well as our sexual feelings for others. It encompasses the ability to desire intimacy or sex (libido), become aroused and reach orgasm. Although women who enter menopause can experience physical and emotional changes to their sexual wellbeing, women can lead healthy vigorous life which includes regular intimacy and sexual intercourse.
The factors that can impact on a woman’s sexuality include:
- Physical changes; these can be caused by changes in hormones, general health and medication use. Common symptoms include vaginal dryness which can make sex uncomfortable or painful as well as reduced desire (libido).
- Psychological changes; these can be caused by changes to the way you think and feel about yourself, your body, the desire for a relationship or the quality of your relationship and past experiences
- Social/Cultural/Environmental factors; these can inform our beliefs and feelings about what is normal or expected of us and in some instances what is possible
Some women may experience changes in their sexuality and sexual functioning which may mean an adjustment to expectations and to the engagement in intimacy and sexual intercourse. Many women experience the benefits of knowing what is normal within the natural aging process, what can happen as side effects of treatment and what are the practical ways to address these changes. Other women experience more significant changes that require further support or treatment.
If you are experiencing changes in your feelings of sexuality there are many ways to help with this. As there can be more than one factor involved it can be helpful to write down any changes as this can helpful for a health care professional to work out a plan or solution to help you.
What help is available?
There are specialist clinics that can help you if you are experiencing problems relating to sexual function and your GP can also be a good source of support. Changes can often be helped by suggesting or prescribing treatments such as vaginal creams, lubricants that can be used during sexual intercourse, as well as hormone replacement.
GP’s and specialists can be an excellent source of psychological support but can also refer you to see a psychologist, or trained sexual health therapist if needed.
Addressing your feelings is sometimes important as how you feel about yourself or the health of your relationship can impact on sexuality and sexual functioning. Dealing with these issues can be just as important as managing any physical symptoms.
If you have a partner, talking to your partner about your fears and concerns can be helpful. This is because it may be useful to work on the issues together.
It is not uncommon for women who are experiencing changes to their sexuality to find it difficult to talk to close family and friends. If you are experiencing changes and would like to talk to a trained female peer support provider see the Further Information section for more details.
- Call Cancer Council Victoria on 13 11 20, there are trained nurses who can discuss ways to link you in with medical experts over the phone and trained women to provide peer support.
- Australasian Menopause Society www.menopause.org.au
- EVIQ www.eviq.org.au
- Jean Hailes Menopause www.jeanhailes.org.au
- Osteoporosis Australia www.osteoporosis.org.au
- Royal Women’s Hospital Menopause Website www.thewomens.org.au/patients-visitors/clinics-and-services/menopause
- Assert NSW Australian Society of Sex Educators Researchers and Therapists www.assertnsw.org.au/find-a-practitioner.html