Many women and uterus owners experience the natural biological process known as perimenopause. Perimenopause occurs during the years leading up to menopause when ovaries produce less estrogen, and starts as early as our 30’s. The average duration is three to four years, although it can last just a few months or extend as long as a decade.
The symptoms vary from person to person, but some general sexual health issues related to this transition are physical changes, libido, mental health and self-image. Navigating these concerns are shrouded in mystery for many people. The occurrence of perimenopause as a natural part of the aging process is left out of societies’ conversations on reproductive health. Often, people are taught that women have periods, and then suddenly, one day, they magically and instantly go into menopause. Part of the reason for this is a culture’s focus and the value placed on youth. Preserving the illusion of youth and vitality leads to subconsciously equating fertility status with desirability. This can impact talking about ways we can enjoy our bodies and feeling sexy and connected as we continue to age. Here are some ways to embrace these changes.
Physical changes that affect your pleasure during perimenopause include vaginal dryness. This is because when less estrogen is produced, the vaginal walls start to thin and become less elastic. This can make penetrative sex quite painful and cause tearing, inflammation and irritation while destroying the natural bacteria. While lube is always your friend, it will especially help you combat those issues during this time. Spreading lubricant onto you and your lover’s bits doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be a very pleasurable part of foreplay. It’s best not to use oil-based products, such as petroleum jelly, baby oil, mineral oil, or vegetable oils. They are not ideal to use vaginally, and damage latex condoms and/or diaphragms and make them less effective at preventing pregnancy or STIs. (Yes, people can and do get pregnant during perimenopause!)
There are many lubricants that can help vaginal dryness. They include silicone-based and water-based products. Lubricants are usually used to have sex be less uncomfortable rather than for long-term vaginal lubrication. For a more in depth look into researching what lube is right for your body, this website by Smitten Kitten has invaluable researched and up-to-date info on lubrication and lowered estrogen.
Vaginal moisturizers, can be found over-the-counter and are an effective way for many bodies to minimize vaginal dryness over several days with one application. Moisturizing agents help introduce water into the tissue of the vagina. There are also medical estrogen replacement therapies that you can talk to your healthcare provider about, as well. Whatever makes you feel wet, go for it! Regular sex can help promote blood flow and reduce dryness, too, as it increases the production of testosterone. Usage of a great vibrator to stimulate your genitals helps maintain sexual function and keeps the blood flowing to those areas.
Libido, and the lack or abundance of it, is something experienced by many people during perimenopause. Desire slows with age for all genders. Women and uterus owners are two to three times more likely to have this problem, due to a decrease in testosterone. This is the hormone active in every stage of sex response, starting with desire. Our brain is one of the most powerful erogenous zones. Addressing brain health when discussing libido issues becomes especially important for people in perimenopause. When considering lifestyle factors for a healthy brain, be mindful of doing things that increase blood flow and include them in your everyday life, while at the same time reducing or eliminating the ones that decrease blood flow and deprive the brain of vital nutrients.
Here are some suggestions to help support your libido:
- Drink and smoke less. Excessive alcohol and nicotine usage constricts blood flow and overall, and reduces the health of your vascular system.
- Exercise. It strengthens your heart, and floods your body with endorphins and increases serotonin levels, and helps facilitate blood flow to all of your tissues.
- Eat good fats — like Omega 3 fatty acids. They are essential to cell function and integrity. Cholesterol is also needed to make adequate levels of sex hormones. Also, eat foods that give you plenty of essential vitamins and nutrients. For instance, dopamine, the brain’s pleasure center, needs both iron and vitamin B6 in order to produce it.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day. It keeps your reproductive tissues hydrated. When you are dehydrated, it makes it difficult to think or feel amorous.
- Get full, quality nights of sleep. It is essential for healthy libido, as well!
- According to some studies, there are also supplements used in traditional medicine that improve blood flow and sexual function, like Asian ginseng, the Peruvian herb, Maca, and Ginkgo.
Circling back to our brain health, it’s important to be aware of what is going on inside your head, mentally, as it pertains to self-image. Physical changes like graying hair, weight settling in different places on your body, and dry skin can contribute to some people feeling unattractive, which does not boost feelings of sexiness and desirability. Some people report feeling depressed during perimenopause, as well. However, there are activities and therapies you can try in order to embrace your changing body, and use it to empower you in discovering ways to celebrate you.
Doing a boudoir shoot is a fun and empowering way to remind yourself that you are a beautiful and sexual creature. Having a visual representation of yourself, looking hot and sensual, can be very uplifting and supportive of feeling sexually positive about your body. If a photo-shoot or having another person take photos of you is not your jam, try taking hot selfies! You can share your pics or keep them private- these snaps are for you and your esteem!
It goes without saying that if you are experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety, seeking medical attention can help. Talk therapy, sometimes in conjunction with medication, can help. Many SSRI medications that are prescribed to treat mood disorders can also kill your sex drive, though. Some non-SSRI antidepressants, such as bupropion, cause fewer sexual side effects.
Perimenopause is a natural transition in life, and the more you accept and make peace with this change, the better it is, mental health-wise. Find ways to be supportive of yourself as you usher in this new stage of life. After all, this is your life, and how you treat yourself during this time can make a huge difference in embracing and maintaining a healthy sex life.