It’s not unusual for vulva-owners to go through times when they can’t enjoy sex in the way they used to. In fact, it’s so common in older women that a major study on the topic was recently published in medical journal Menopause. But changes in sexual desire and enjoyment aren’t just connected with menopause – they can occur much earlier in life too. Here are five possible causes and approaches.
Alarmed by a sudden lack of responsiveness in the bedroom? If you’re under an unusual amount of stress or dealing with depression (particularly if you’re on antidepressants), that’s likely to be a factor.
Another possible culprit is an underactive thyroid, This is a common problem that is renowned for reducing sex drive (as well as causing depression).
Your first port of call should be your doctor. While some people find it embarrassing to tell their doctor they can’t enjoy sex anymore, it is a doctor’s job to address this issue just like any other.
Alongside your doctor’s help, it IS possible to reclaim your enjoyment of sex when dealing with mental health issues. Check out JoEllen Notte’s many resources on sex and depression or read our guest post from Andrea Hubert about how she reclaimed her orgasm while on SSRIs.
The aforementioned study in Menopause journal included over 24,000 women and was intended to investigate sexual satisfaction after menopause. But one of the most interesting findings was just how much respondents’ enjoyment of sex was affected by their partners’ state of libido and health. (This study seemed to feature only heterosexuals so we can’t say whether queer couples are affected in the same way). Sexual dysfunction can affect penis-owners at any age, as can conditions like depression or diabetes that affect libido.
PULSE DUO is a premium product for couples that doesn’t require an erection or penetrative sex for use. It can bring both partners to intense, face-to-face orgasms. It’s useful not only for penis owners with erection difficulties but vulva-owners who find sex painful (see below). Introducing PULSE DUO for foreplay enhances pleasure and increases intimacy for both of you and may also boost erection.
However, there is no substitute for communication around sexual difficulties. So we hope bringing PULSE or any other sex toy into the bedroom will also start the important conversation about how sex can be most satisfying for both of you.
Did you know that hormonal changes in vulva-owners as they head towards menopause can begin from the mid-30s onwards? Menopause (defined as the point where you haven’t had a period for 12 months) normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. But perimenopause, the period of gradual hormonal change leading up to menopause, can last for as long as 10 years in some people (the average is four years).
During perimenopause, the ovaries gradually stop making as much of the hormone oestrogen. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including reduced vaginal lubrication, discomfort during sex, and lower sex drive. If you suddenly find you can’t enjoy sex and you’re having other perimenopausal symptoms, your doctor can help you work out if you are in perimenopause. If so, various treatments are available, including low dose birth control pills, oestrogen patches and creams, and hormone replacement therapy.
Outside of your doctor’s help, it’s time for lube, if you’re not already using it. Sam of Jo Divine suggests YES organic oil based lubes. Their non-irritating, natural formula and thicker consistency are particularly useful for people with vaginal dryness. But do not use with condoms as you need water-based lube for that.
If you’re shy about introducing lube to partner sex, start off by experimenting with lube on your own, seeing what it feels like to apply it to your own body and how it can enhance sensation. After that, you may be eager to tell your partner about it!
We already mentioned that perimenopause can cause painful sex, but there are many other potential causes too, including vaginismus, endometriosis, infection and even just a lack of arousal. In fact, in a recent study it was found that 1 in 10 British women find sex painful, so you’re really not alone. However, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s an acceptable state of affairs. It’s important to get it checked out either with your doctor or at a sexual health clinic to rule out life-threatening health conditions. If the pain is caused by a condition like vaginismus, there are treatments available.
You can also try using external sex toys while you can’t enjoy sex with penetration, like PULSE DUO, a non-penetrative toy for couples. Alternatively, our versatile finger vibe DiGiT enhances the natural fingertip technique of self-exploration and is a good starting point for someone new to masturbation. It’s also great for a partner to use on you.
Using sex toys like this can take the pressure off penetrative sex, which is important for conditions like vaginismus. It will also increase arousal and lubrication, which may make penetrative sex easier if you decide to try it again.
Many of us keep our true sexual desires under wraps, saving them for fantasies and accepting sex that’s less-than-ideal in reality. While that may be a conscious choice, some people do it because they don’t feel able to talk about what they really want in bed. Whether you want something simple like more oral sex, or something more complicated like experimenting with kink, it may be that holding those desires back is blocking you from truly enjoying sex.
Research by London-based Scarlet Ladies Talk found that one in three UK women can’t talk freely to their partners about sex. And women who don’t feel empowered by sex are 10 times more likely to have no one to talk to about it than those who do. So let’s start talking about it! If you don’t feel able to raise the subject with a partner just yet, start your conversation in one of the many online spaces available, or listen to sex podcasts like Shameless Sex or Loving BDSM.
You might also consider attending a workshop or coaching session aimed specifically at people who want to reclaim their sex lives after a break. You could even bring along a partner. Good luck!