Sex is something we may laugh about, even brag about, but if it’s becoming a problem in our lives and our primary relationship, it’s usually the last thing we want to talk about.
For many midlife women experiencing the “joys” of menopause one of the most distressing symptoms is the loss of libido. Unlike hot flushes and mood swings which can easily be discussed with friends, low libido is a deeply personal issue and one which most of us feel ashamed of.
Low libido can be a difficult issue to deal with because it means discussing sex with your doctor if you decide to seek treatment for it and everyone knows that doctors don’t like to discuss sex.
But the most distressing reason of all is that if you’re in a relationship, having a low libido could place your relationship under serious strain. It’s very difficult explaining to a partner that you still love them but you’d rather not have sex with them. There is only so much sexual rejection a person can take.
It’s also difficult trying to understand what is happening to you, and to come to terms with the loss of your vitality and sexual self.
What is Libido?
Libido refers specifically to sexual drive or the desire to have sex. It’s about sexual motivation and also encompasses things like thinking about sex, sexual fantasies and looking for sexual activity.
Libido does not refer to matters of sexual arousal like lubrication or ability to orgasm. Libido is also associated with a general life force and qualities of confidence and energy.
Low Libido during Menopause
In her book The Wisdom of Menopause Dr Christiane Northrup likens libido at menopause to sap in a tree. In autumn and winter sap goes into the roots of the tree where it waits for spring and the new growth that it brings. While it may look as though nothing much as happening on the surface, the tree may in fact look quite dead, but the tree is undergoing rest and renewal before a new cycle of growth.
So too, in many women libido turns inward to nourish new growth that is underway on a spiritual level. Dr Northrup describes menopause as a time of transformation, when women reprioritise their lives and reassess goals, boundaries and relationships and they may have more of an inner focus during this time.
This means that if there are any unresolved issues in a woman’s sexual relationship, a lack of tenderness or care, resentments or unfulfilled desires, they are likely to surface at this time. Menopause is a time to redefine and update our relationships.
Low libido is usually only a temporary state while a woman deals with the changes she needs to make in her life. For many women their libido returns once they have taken steps to get their needs and desires met. A woman with a strong life force, who is in love with her life, who feels sexy, and who knows how to turn herself on, can continue to have a strong libido regardless of what her hormones are doing.
Symptoms of Low Libido
A woman with a low libido will most likely feel sexless and quite happy never to have sex again. The desire to have sex will hardly ever occur and so she will rarely initiate sex. She may also have lost her enthusiasm for life, have low energy and lost confidence in herself. If she is in a relationship, having sex with her partner may feel like an obligation to keep the peace rather than something which is enjoyable and life-enhancing.
If this sounds like you, trust me, you’re not alone. Low sexual desire, or a loss of libido, is a growing problem amongst women in the Western world.
Causes of Low Libido in Women
Female sexuality is a complex issue and there are a myriad of reasons why perimenopausal and post-menopausal women experience a loss of libido at this time of life. Libido in women is where the head, heart and hormones meet and so the causes of low libido could be cultural, psychological as well as physical. The more I learn about female sexuality and libido, I more I think it’s a miracle that anyone has sex at all!
Here is a list of some of the things that could be contributing to your low libido.
Being in a long-term relationship
Experiencing relationship problems like anger and resentment, infidelity, not spending enough time together etc
Depression, stress and anxiety
Looking after children and ageing parents
A history of sexual abuse
Body image dissatisfaction
Chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease, chronic pain or pain from having sex
Medications such as antidepressants, birth control pills and high blood pressure treatment
Exhaustion from poor sleep and/or nutrient deficiencies
High serotonin levels
Low testosterone and/or high oestrogen levels
Underactive thyroid (Hypothyroidism).
How to Improve Your Libido
That’s a long list! Where do you begin to improve your libido? Does anything jump out at you? Could your lifestyle do with a review? Do you need to get more sleep, cut back on the alcohol, improve your diet? Perhaps you just need a little more “me time” to relax or exercise.
You may decide you need counselling if you have been sexually abused or help for depression . Perhaps it’s time to talk honestly with your partner about how you’re feeling about yourself sexually and your relationship.
In my case, once I had overcome my shame and realised I had to do something about my low libido or risk losing my relationship, I asked my doctor to check my hormone levels, including thyroid function. After a long battle I was eventually referred to a Gynae-Endocrine consultant and prescribed bioidentical HRT including testosterone for my low testosterone levels. After about a month my depression lifted and my libido returned. I was fortunate that I got the treatment my body needed.
Sexual energy is a life force that is inexorably linked to the health and vitality of our lives. Taking one small action to do something to improve your libido will help you reclaim your sexuality and lust for life.