Dear Sex Counselor,
I’ve entered menopause and I’ve noticed that my libido is not what it used to be. Are there things I can do to get it revved up again?
Yes, it’s true - there are natural changes that happen with our libido when our hormonal balance changes at menopause. Libido, or the desire to be sexual, takes practice to happen easily, and it often goes away when you’re distracted by life’s challenges, or your physical health changes.
Fortunately, libido is an elastic state of being that can be invited back into your life. It’s also true that you can enjoy pleasurable sex without having a strong libido. Rosie King, MD writes: "Desire and arousal are two separate components, and are run by different parts of the brain ... it is much easier to be turned on if you start with a high level of desire. But even if initially you feel sexually uninterested, if your partner helps to warm you up ... you can enjoy a very pleasurable sexual experience ... [including] high levels of arousal and orgasm." (Rosie King, MD, "The Right Conditions for Lovemaking" from "Sex Tips and Tales from Women Who Dare" edited by Jo-Anne Baker)
Where do I start?
To begin nurturing your libido, start with your brain. Start thinking about the good sex you’ve enjoyed. Reflect on your favorite past encounters and fantasies. Allow your body to become aroused, paying attention to the feeling of blood flowing to your genitals. You may not produce lubrication the same way you used to, and that’s perfectly normal. Try to recognize different signs of arousal: swollen labia, a flush on your chest, tension in your nipples, and an increase in breathing. If you have a partner, your partner may notice that your eyes are dilating as well. If you experience dryness of your vulva and vagina, we recommend massaging a moisturizing lubricant into those tissues twice a day. This encourages blood flow to your labia so you become aroused more comfortably.
Don’t stop now.
Allow yourself to think positive sexual thoughts throughout the day, including fantasies, remembering past sexual experiences, and envisioning wonderful sex that you’d like to enjoy. Think about the variety of sexual activities that would be pleasurable, including genital massage, oral sex (on you by a partner) and comfortable penetration of your vagina, if you’re ready for that and enjoy it.
Then, try something a little frisky ...
Invite yourself on a sex date. If you did not masturbate before now, you are encouraged to begin. Make self-pleasure a part of your self-care routine. Learn how your body now responds to erotic thoughts, erotic stories and erotic pictures or videos. There is a lot of woman-friendly erotica available to help expand your fantasies and nurture your arousal during both self-pleasuring and partner sex.
Pleasuring yourself will help you know how it feels as your body becomes aroused, and what kinds of touch and sensation feel the best. If you enjoy vaginal penetration, include that in your self-pleasuring, exploring how deeply you like to be penetrated and what width is most comfortable. Begin with one finger, then gently introduce a second when you feel ready. If you can comfortably be penetrated by two fingers, consider using a dildo or vibrator to increase your pleasure. Then, when you choose to have sex with a partner, you can teach your partner what you’ve learned about what works best for you.
But what do I do with my partner until I’m ready for sex?
If you have a partner, make time to enjoy each other in sensual ways. Set aside time for you to give each other massages, enjoying touch and sensation without pressure to have sex. The goal is to get more emotionally connected to your partner. Encourage your partner to masturbate, adding an erotic toy if desired. When you’re ready, start with genital massage using a personal lubricant as your massage lotion (oil can be quite irritating, so avoid oil or Vaseline on the genitals). Eventually, plan to massage each other to orgasm, focusing on the sensations of arousal and orgasm. Then, if you’re interested in intercourse, have your partner massage you until you are quite aroused and ready for penetration.
Keep sex going
It helps to create space for your sex life, without interruptions. Make a date with yourself and/or your partner to enjoy one or two hours of pleasure without answering the phone, dealing with the kids, or thinking about work pressures. If orgasms are important to you, make sure you get the stimulation you need to have at least one orgasm during sex play with your partner.
Slowly building a set of pleasurable, comfortable sexual experiences will encourage your libido to grow. Take time to cuddle afterward, and enjoy the feelings that come from pleasurable sex. The warmth of a positive sexual connection is something you can think about and enjoy when you’re ready for more pleasure.
The Sex Counselor