Dear Dr Ren,
After making it through the hot flashes and mood swings of menopause a couple of years ago, I started to feel like my (old) self again. Sex actually improved, and I felt more alive than I had in years.
Then about six months ago, my libido vanished. And not just the desire part, but the physical sensations in my body flattened, too. Even when I talk myself into masturbating, nothing happens. I can’t even unearth any hot images — never a problem in the past.
Needless to say, this has been perplexing for me and frustrating for my partner.
Is this normal? Will my libido ever come back? What can I do?
Dear Sexually Dead,
First of all, you’re not dead; you’re just hibernating.
Yes, it’s normal in some women, though rarely discussed. Your libido will likely return. This is a naturally occurring and benign phase in our sexual development.
The fact that you are about six months into this period, and perplexed, is a sign that you are already reawakening sexually. I suspect you’d not have penned this letter a few months ago when you were feeling even more deeply “dead,” because you would have been comfortable in your sexless cocoon then.
In other words, your depressed sexuality may resolve itself. Some research (Weinstock) suggests that “between one-half and three-quarters of women age 45 to 58 report a significant drop in sex drive.” So you are in good company.
There is considerable anecdotal information that many women experience this slump about two to five years after the start of menopause (when you have your last menstrual period). Further, these women report that it quite often passes in less than a year.
Most research concentrates on hormone “deficiency.” Loss of estrogen may play a part in your sexual suppression, as may a deficiency in testosterone, though this latter is rare. Low estrogen levels can cause your vaginal tissues to become thin and dry, which necessitates adaptations for penetrative sex. You would be wise to check with your doctor, though a hormone deficiency would likely result in low libido from the very beginning of menopause, not several years later.
The emotional changes that often accompany menopause, including anxiety and depression, can also add to your loss of interest in sex or your inability to appreciate arousal. Monitor your psychological health as you move through this stage.
You are now playing with a different body, and the old game plans may no longer work for you. Try masturbating in different ways, and expand your repertoire with your partner as well, including ongoing communication. Encourage your girlfriend to stay sexy herself and resist becoming complacent.
You see, to some extent, your libido depends upon your personal expectation of what it should be. Many of us don’t really understand our own bodies and how they work sexually. If you relied on clitoral orgasms in the past, deeper cervical stimulation may be what you need now — or vice versa.
Be patient if it takes longer to get in the mood, and be open to new means of eroticism, like vibrators or dildos, the visual stimulation of porn, or trying new positions or techniques in the bedroom. And always use a lubricant for those drier, estrogen-depleted bits!
Our erogenous zones are limited only by our imagination and exploration. Experiment till you find what works now. Remember, though, you don’t need to rush this process. Pace yourself and listen to your body’s cues.
Once you have eliminated any physiological or psychological causes for your decreased libido, relax. Give yourself time to leave this transitional stage behind and move into the confident, unhurried joy that generally accompanies our older sexual years.