Sex and the menopause

The sexual and menopausal changes of middle age are usually much less fearful and dramatic than is often thought. From the age of about 40 years most men begin to be gradually less interested in sexual intercourse and tend to take longer to become aroused. At about the same age many women, on the other hand, have lost much of the hesitancy with regard to sex of their younger years. They often have learned to enjoy sex more than they did during the earlier years of pregnancies, births and sleepless nights looking after babies.

Although their husbands may be losing some of their sexual potency, in a loving relationship women often feel sufficiently at ease to arouse their partners through their own efforts. An advantage of the middle-aged man’s slowness to become aroused is that his staying power may as a result improve, allowing both partners to enjoy intercourse that can be notably more prolonged than it often is with younger men. The female menopause is defined as the time when menstruation ceases, which may happen abruptly or gradually. For most women, this occurs at the age of about 50 years. The first signs that the menopause has begun are usually irregular periods and a short menstrual cycle. Part of the menopausal changes are the result .of the ovaries not producing any more eggs. This in turn halts the production of oestrogen, the female sex hormone. The commonest physical symptoms of the female menopause are hot flushes, vaginal dryness, pain on intercourse, lightheadedness, headaches, muscle and joint pains and dry skin. Personality changes may occur, but are less likely if a woman has a supportive partner, and plenty to occupy herself with. These changes may include depression, excitability and a loss of confidence. If the symptoms of the menopause are severe, a doctor may prescribe hormone treatment. The menopause need not necessarily be a difficult time for a woman or her husband. A woman who is sexually active, or in other ways involved and busy, usually has fewer menopausal problems. Some women believe that after the menopause, because they have ceased to be able to bear children, they have somehow lost the right to enjoy or even to have sex, and are less sexual attractive. This is completely the wrong attitude. In fact, with the passing of worries about contraception, many women enjoy sex more, not less, in later years. In some cultures the post-menopausal woman is revered because she has left the childbearing stage of life and has entered the group of ‘wise women’ who can give help and advice to younger women.