As we age, our bodies may change in ways that make it more difficult to engage in sexual activities, but that doesn’t mean that the desire fades away. According to gynecologist Katie Propst, MD, for many women over 50 the act of sex, even if they really want it, can begin to present challenges that make it feel like a chore.
After menopause, some of these obstacles to sex can include pain and discomfort, dryness and constriction of the vagina, or medical conditions such as diabetes and putting on extra weight. If you can relate, then keep reading for Dr. Propst’s advice that will help you deal with these difficulties so that you can continue to enjoy a healthy sex life for years to come!
Lubricate and moisturize
If you’re not sexually active, then the vagina can actually become narrower, which could worsen the symptoms of vaginal atrophy. Vaginal atrophy is a condition common in menopausal and postmenopausal women where the lining of the vagina becomes drier and thinner because of a lack of estrogen.
To continue having intercourse, try using lubricants during intercourse. If you still need an extra boost, then try using a vaginal moisturizer, the same way you moisturize the skin on the rest of your body. Propst recommends looking for water-based and fragrant-free lubricants and moisturizers, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Take time and relax
Vaginal dryness is painful, so make sure that you and your partner allot plenty of time and attention to foreplay. Before getting into it, you can even take a warm bath to relax your muscles and destress in preparation for intimacy.
Remember to be purposeful about scheduling time for intimacy. “We are all so busy, but if you want to continue to be intimate with your partner, you need to be intentional about making time for him or her,” notes Propst.
Consider health and medications
Overall health is a huge factor in sex drive, so it’s important to stay on top of your health by getting enough sleep, regular exercise, and cutting out unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive drinking.
Sometimes, medications you may be taking for a chronic medical condition can lower your libido, so make sure to review your medications, switch medications, or adjust your dosages, (all with your medical practitioner’s approval, of course) to see if this may help.
Your clinician might also suggest medications such as low-dose vaginal estrogen for postmenopausal women if lubricants and moisturizers aren’t working.
Communicate with your partner
Communication is always key for flourishing and intimate relationships, no matter how old you are. However, as sexual intimacy may get more complicated with age, Dr. Propst suggests describing how you “feel” about certain tricky situations, because talk around sex is often very sensitive. Be sure that you both remain on the same page by avoiding accusing your partner of doing the wrong thing—instead find a neutral place and focus on the overarching goal: making sex enjoyable for both of you.
If finding your own solutions is challenging, then consider consulting a therapist.
When physical barriers and medical conditions limit sexual activity, think of it as a chance to get creative! Try out new sexual positions and rethink intimacy so that it encompasses more than just sex. A sensual massage or experimenting with toys are great alternatives, and you can continue to play and have fun with your partner while you discover what you both like.
Talk to your doctor
While it may be uncomfortable at first, remind yourself that part of your doctor’s job is to help you. “Ob/Gyns understand the reasons for dysfunction and we can work with you to get back to the underlying problem,” Propst explains. “We want to help you get back on track—and we can guide you to additional resources if you need them.”
According to Propst, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology website is a great place to start.