Perimenopause happens in the years before periods stop and is characterized by hot flashes and other symptoms. Menopause begins when the menstrual cycle has stopped for at least a year.
While every woman's experience is different, an estimated 17-45 percent of menopausal women say sex can be painful.
Luckily, there are options to help treat the most common complications. In this article, we look at menopause effects and some helpful treatments.
The physical changes during menopause can vary from woman to woman and may cause emotional side effects as well.
During perimenopause, the hormones that bring about fertility and pregnancy decrease, including the hormone estrogen. This produces changes in the blood vessels and tissues of the vagina and vulva, making the organs more vulnerable to damage.
Most sexual complications of menopause stem from vulvovaginal atrophy, a condition marked by a loss of elasticity, moisture, and thickness of the vulva and vaginal tissues.
During perimenopause, tissues of the vagina and vulva receive less estrogen. As a result, these tend to thin, lose their folds, and dry out. Thinner tissues are more easily broken, bruised, and irritated.
The tissues also receive less lubrication, which intensifies the friction they are exposed to during intercourse, so increasing the risk of damage.
Other physical symptoms of menopause include:
- decrease in vaginal tone or loss of stretch in the vaginal wall
pain, bleeding or burning during sex
a feeling of tightness during intercourse
decreased libido or sexual drive
difficulty becoming or staying aroused
repeated urinary tract infections
Not all women see the same physical changes during menopause, and the severity of symptoms can vary. Women should see their doctor if symptoms begin to interfere with daily life or reduce the quality of life.
Emotional side effects
The physical symptoms of menopause can cause emotional side effects as well. Changing hormone levels can interfere with sleep and mood, causing tiredness, anxiety, irritability, and depression.
Decreased sex drive or inability to enjoy sex can also lead to loss of self-esteem and intimacy.
What menopause represents can also cause emotional problems. These side effects can be just as debilitating as physical effects, especially when it comes to sex.
During times of stress or sadness, people often lose interest in activities that would otherwise bring them pleasure. In this respect, pain and discomfort can make it difficult to enjoy sex.
Many of the physical changes that occur with aging can also intensify the emotional symptoms of menopause.
If sexual arousal or sensitivity is also affected, some women will shy away from sexual activity altogether, which can worsen symptoms.
The most common emotional side effects that interfere with sex include:
anxiety, nervousness, or uncertainty
lack of concentration and motivation
depression or sadness
sense of loss or regret
loss of sexual desire or interest
loss of self-confidence
loss of intimacy
feelings of worthless or helplessness
One survey found that 70 percent of menopausal women who experienced pain during sex said the problem also caused tensions with their partner.
Not all women experience negative emotional symptoms linked to menopause. Some women gain additional wisdom, confidence, and ability to speak for themselves. Those who do experience negative symptoms should talk to a doctor if they interfere with healthy sexual activity or everyday life.
Simple ways to reduce the sexual complications of menopausecouples feet at end of bed
The sexual complications of menopause may be reduced by maintaining an active sex life.
Staying sexually active is one of the easiest ways to lessen the sexual complications of menopause.
The physical and emotional side effects of menopause cause many women to reduce or refrain from sexual activity. However, the vagina needs consistent use to remain healthy, especially after menopause.
Regular sexual stimulation helps promote blood flow to the vagina. It also helps maintain the vagina's elasticity, depth, and overall shape.
Behavioral changes and over-the-counter products are often the first recommended treatments. In worse cases, a doctor may prescribe hormone therapies to help reduce vaginal dryness or hormonal creams to apply to the tissues.
Simple tips and treatments for the sexual side effects of menopause include:
- engaging in regular sexual activity
vaginal lubricants applied before intercourse
vaginal moisturizers applied regularly and before intercourse
avoiding detergents, soaps, oils, or washes that can cause vaginal dryness
using lukewarm versus hot water for cleansing
increasing foreplay or activities that promote sexual arousal
engaging in couple bonding or strengthening activities
regulating or reducing stress through exercise and therapies
talking to a therapist or counselor
finding ways to rekindle passion or repair partner relations
trying new or varied sexual activities
treating vaginal irritation, infections, and inflammation
avoiding materials that irritate the skin
Around 55 percent of women do not seek medical treatment for menopause symptoms, although most side effects lessen over time and eventually go away.
For some women, however, menopause symptoms are intense and persistent, so medical treatment is advised. Doctors may prescribe medications or creams that are composed of estrogen, progesterone, or both.
Individual treatment plans depend on a variety of factors, including additional health complications. Women who no longer have a uterus will not require extra progesterone, for example.
Medical treatment options for managing the side effects of menopause include:
Topical estrogen or progesterone medications: Prescribed rings, tablets, creams, or suppositories put directly on vaginal tissues to help reduce dryness.
Low-dose oral contraceptives: Mainly prescribed to reduce vaginal dryness, moodiness, and hot flashes. May also come in transdermal patches.
Menopausal hormone replacement (MHRT): Prescribed to help reduce vaginal dryness, discomfort, and associated pain during sex. MHRT may also help reduce hot flashes, mood swings, and mild depressive symptoms.
Medications meant to treat other conditions: Some management medications used to treat depression, anxiety, epilepsy, and high blood pressure may help reduce hot flashes and moodness