With menopause comes a variety of side effects, issues, and problems that can directly affect sexual function, causing bouts of dysfunction. Some of these issues and effects may improve over time, or with the help from medications.
Some of the most common side effects and issues that accompany menopause are:
- Hot flashes. These are one of the most common and reported symptoms and are random experiences of mild to extreme heat throughout the body. They may also be accompanied by rapid heartbeat, flushing of the face (or other body areas), and sweating. Hot flashes can begin in perimenopause, and last for years- even after menopause. There are optional treatments available that can be discussed with your medical care team.
- Sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbances can be triggered by the hormone shifts, hot flashes, or general malaise one may feel during their menopause. If your sleep struggles are persistent or do not get better, discuss this with your medical care team at your earliest convenience.
- Weight gain. As the body shifts, weight can become an issue. Eating healthy, exercising when you can, and ensuring you are treating your body well with proper sleep and mental health can all help you to better maintain a healthy weight. You and your doctor can determine a healthy goal weight and plan to get you there, together.
Vaginal Issues & Sexual Dysfunction. Menopause causes the vaginal tissues and walls to become thin and dry. This is most commonly called genitourinary syndrome of menopause. In some cases, this can also lead to vaginal atrophy. These conditions make inserting anything into, or even touching the external parts of the female genitalia, very painful. These conditions can also lead to more frequent or recurrent bladder or yeast infections.
- Vaginal atrophy. This condition happens due to the thinning, weakening tissues in the vagina and surrounding areas. Along with the overall skin dryness and tightening of the tissues, this creates a disaster for gynecologic exams or insertion or penetrative sexual activities. While there are surgical interventions and prescription medications that might help with this condition, many doctors and specialists now route their patients to begin dilator therapy, using special dilators to help open and stretch the vaginal opening and canal. Or, Kegel exercise therapy, which can help to strengthen weak pelvic floor muscles.
- Decreased lubrication. The body’s natural lubrication ebb and flows through the years, and through various life cycles and stages. However, after menopause, you may find that you need assistance in the moisture department. Using a natural daily moisturizer, or a thicker silicone-hybrid lubrication, may provide the relief from friction pain that you are seeking. There are also numerous over the counter, natural lubrications that you can use to help ease friction pain.
- Decreased Libido. “Libido” is the word used to discuss someone’s level of sexual desire. Many people experience a decreased libido at various points throughout their lives.
Heart Disease. A leading cause of death in women in America, this risk increases after menopause- and even sooner in those who had a surgical induced menopause at a younger age. Some signs of heart disease are:
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- A waistline larger than 35 inches around
- High blood pressure or cholesterol; or both
- Certain cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation
- Family history of heart disease and/or genetic factors
- Bone weakening. Osteopenia, or low bone density and mass, weakens the bones which can lead to further issues with bone health, breaks, and serious injury. Bone density tests can be given to find out the levels one is facing. These tests are then repeated every one or two years to track bone health.
- Urinary and bowel incontinence. Incontinence refers to the inability to control the bladder, and in some cases, the bowel. Most often, menopause hinders the ability to hold the bladder. The most common types of urinary issues are leakage of urine and persistent urge to urinate. There are both hormonal and nonhormonal treatments for these issues that can be addressed with your doctor or medical care team. Kegel exercise therapy can also help with incontinence issues.
- Memory and mood changes. Menopause directly affects memory and the ability to focus. Research is regularly being done to learn more about the effects of menopause on memory. Mood changes have been linked to hormone fluctuation, overall discomfort, and even hot flashes.
If you are struggling with menopause and the side effects that come with it, do not hesitate to reach out to your gynecologist, doctor, or medical care team. There are many options available that might benefit your situation.
Reclaiming Intimacy’s Menopause Series
- Menopause: The Basics, Part One https://reclaimingintimacy.org/menopause-series-part-one-the-basics/
- Menopause: Diagnosis & Treatment, Part Two https://reclaimingintimacy.org/menopause-series-part-two-diagnosis-and-treatments/
- Menopause: Side Effects & Sexual Dysfunction, Part Three https://reclaimingintimacy.org/menopause-series-part-three-side-effects-sexual-dysfunction/