Have you lost it? Low Libido and what to do about it
Sexual desire may decrease as we get older, but it doesn’t have to be a problem…
A reduced sex drive is not an inevitable part of ageing, but it’s something many women and men experience. Thirty per cent of 55- to 59-year-olds aren’t sexually active, according to a recent YouGov survey. The reasons for this include lower levels of sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone) before, during and after the menopause. However, it can also be caused by relationship problems, such as overfamiliarity, loss of sexual attraction, poor communication or lack of trust, or physical problems, such as such as vaginal dryness and problems with erection or ejaculation, or conditions that make certain positions uncomfortable. And there may be a lack of confidence in your changing body. Stress, tiredness and depression can also reduce desire.
When I was younger I was rampant, crackling with sexual energy, and expending it frequently. However, in the past few years that has ebbed away, not completely, but noticeably. And I’m pretty sure it’s not the over-familiarity that comes with being in a long relationship; I’ve been in one of those before – but that was before menopause. Conversely, one thing I have noticed since menopause is that I can reach orgasm much faster, like my body has become more finely tuned after decades of practice, and I know what it likes.
If you’re in a new relationship, of course, or dating, that initial surge of attraction will probably lead to more sexual action.
Is it a problem?
If having less sex than you once did is on a par with other activities you do less of, or do differently, than you used to, that’s fine. Things change. We don’t eat the same, think the same or dress the same throughout our lives, so why should our sexual side stay the same?
One Relate counsellor says: ‘Of course, sex isn’t just about sex organs and what to do with them. It’s very much more than that. Many couples would say that they have a very intimate relationship that isn’t based on penetrative sex or indeed having “sex” at all. Couples and individuals often put themselves under the most intense pressure to do what they think everyone out there is doing, without stopping to think about what they actually want from their relationship together. Of course, sex is a healthy and vital part of many relationships while equally, for some people, it really isn’t all that important and that’s entirely normal too.’
If your sex life doesn’t feel fine, talk to your partner. Talking about sex, particularly in ‘later life’, is not something we’re comfortable with. Relate, the relationship charity, recently teamed up with photographer Rankin to challenge that, and to champion the importance of sex and intimacy in later life. Take a look at the beautiful photos of older couples and read their interviews here – both are revealing.
Up your intimate contact, maybe try some classic suggestions like new underwear, sex toys, going on what used to be known as a ‘dirty weekend’ and other ways to ‘spice up your sex life’. You can also get advice from your GP, who may refer you on to a psychosexual counsellor or sexual health clinic, from relationship charity Relate’s sex therapists, from a sexual health clinic. The NHS’s ‘loss of libido’ page is a good place to start.
Sex is good for you
Orgasms (and skin-on-skin contact) cause your body to release mood-boosting endorphins, which can help relieve stress and make you happier. You also produce the hormone oxytocin, which reduces blood pressure and stress. An orgasm before bed can help you sleep, thanks to the production of prolactin. Serotonin and dopamine levels also rise, boosting sensations of pleasure. And the rise in heart rate, like climbing a flight of stairs, gives the heart a mini-workout.
Show yourself some self-love
It’s worth noting that in the YouGov survey above, ‘sexually active’ meant ‘with someone else’ not ‘with yourself’. And sometimes, ‘with yourself’ is the best kind of sex. Masturbation counts as me-time and self-care, and May is National Masturbation Month, so you’ve still got a few days left to indulge… You know what you like, you can do it how you want, when you want… and it takes a lot less effort to masturbate than to take into account the needs and wants of a partner. Although doing it together can be twice as nice…
Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor.