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    Women’s Wellness: Experiencing Changes in Sexuality Around Menopause

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National Women's Health Week May 10 - 16

Stephanie Faubion, M.D., Women’s Health Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

Women frequently experience changes in sexuality around menopause.  These can include a change in sexual interest or desire which may move from a more spontaneous sexual desire pattern to more of a willingness or receptive desire pattern. This means that a woman may feel like being sexual if the situation is right and all the necessary ingredients are in place.  For example, the necessary ingredients might be that she is well rested, that she isn’t stressed and that the relationship with her partner is in a good place.

These changes in sexual desire are likely the result of hormonal changes around menopause, and can be bothersome and even distressing to some women and to their partners.  In addition to sexual desire changes, many menopausal women report that sexual arousal actually comes before feelings of desire.  So a woman may find herself in a sexual situation and notice that she is aroused before she experiences sexual desire.   Becoming more planful about sexual activity may help cultivate situations that can lead to arousal (and then desire) and also help maintain intimacy.

Journalists: Sound bites with Dr. Faubion are available in the downloads.



When we talk about causes for problems with sexual functioning in women, we look at biological, psychological and sociocultural factors in order to make sure we try to identify all of the potential contributors to sexual problems.  In addition to hormonal changes around menopause, medications and medical conditions can impact sexual functioning. Some of those conditions include diabetes, neurological diseases or a history of cancer. Even fatigue and the aging process itself can have an affect.  In the psychological or emotional category, things like anxiety, depression, body image issues and a history of abuse may factor in.  Sociocultural influences include messages about sex from family, culture or society, and even how much sex education a woman had.  Finally, relationship factors are extremely important.  These include the quality of the relationship between a woman and her partner and whether the partner has sexual dysfunction.

For women, the changes in sexual functioning in midlife may not be welcome, but there are ways to address these issues.  Identifying the ingredients that need to be in place in order to maximize willingness and desire, and being more planful about sexual activity, may help women maintain intimacy beyond menopause.


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