Ask a group of women what they fear most about menopause, and you’re bound to hear “loss of sex drive” on many of their lists. Other symptoms, such as hot flashes, insomnia, and mood swings just don’t seem to say “goodbye, youth” in quite the same way that loss of libido does.
As someone who has always had a healthy sexual appetite, I know that I feared this symptom greatly. After all, I figured, if one has a hot flash, one can strip down to a t-shirt. But until someone invents the female equivalent of Viagra (and right here is why more women need to go into the STEM fields, girls!), I assumed that nothing could be done about this particular symptom (stripping down to a t-shirt probably not helping in this case).
Imagine my surprise, then, when I experienced — among the other symptoms of perimenopause — my sex drive actually increasing, not decreasing. And it turns out I am far from alone.
Can you have a higher sex drive during menopause?
Menopause is defined by a woman’s not having had her period for 12 consecutive months, and the average age at which menopause occurs is 52. (That is, “natural menopause” is defined in this way, when a cisgender woman stops releasing eggs, and periods cease. Women can also go through menopause by having a hysterectomy or by having their ovaries damaged, as through chemotherapy.)
Perimenopause is the time before menopause (on average four years before, though it can begin as early as 10 years before), when the body begins to make less estrogen, and women may begin to experience symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, and changes in libido.
Most women who experience these changes see a decrease in their sex drive, but some women do experience an increase. According to Barb DePree, M.D., a menopause care specialist and author of the blog “MiddlesexMD,” testosterone is the hormone that is linked to libido for women as well as men. In women, testosterone levels slowly drop, so that a 50-year-old woman has about half the testosterone levels she had at 25.
Testosterone interacts with other hormones, and Dr. DePree believes that an increase in libido in some perimenopausal women could be due to “the relative balance and interaction of these hormones…that for some women works very favorably during perimenopause. Relatively speaking, testosterone may have some ‘dominance,’ even though the levels are lower than they used to be. Enjoy!”
Is this increase in sex drive normal?
And among my acquaintanceship, there are quite a few women who are indeed “enjoying” this “symptom” during this time in their lives. Lynn from Arlington, VA, for example, is 49, and while she has some traditional symptoms of perimenopause, such as irregular periods and night sweats, she’s also experienced an increase in her sex drive for the last few years. Jordan, 43, from San Jose, CA, experienced a decrease in libido a few years ago, but recently, as other perimenopause symptoms have kicked in, she’s definitely seen an upsurge in her libido.
Journalist and adventurist Jill Gleeson is 51 and hasn’t had a period in about a year; she says that since becoming perimenopausal, her sex drive, while always high, has “skyrocketed.” What Nina has found is that the swings are higher. For example, the week before her period, she says she has no interest in sex at all, but in the days before her period, she’s insatiable! This surge in desire lasts for about three days every cycle. “I’ve always enjoyed sex and had ebb and flow of desire, but this is crazy!”
Some experts think that an improved sex drive could be due to women feeling less anxious as sex becomes less linked to the possibility of pregnancy. This seems to be the case with Katrina, a 45-year-old from the Atlanta area. “I never wanted sex in my fertile 30s,” she says. “Now I want to have sex often and for hours. I’ve never experienced this magic.” And her ideas of partners have also expanded, as she is now open to having sex with women as well as men. She sees these developments as a combination of factors, one of them being the fact that she is no longer as fertile as she once was. Sex is now “productive — not procreative.”
This explanation — of increased libido coming with a drop in fertility and a lessened fear of pregnancy — makes sense: after all, the largest sexual organ in the body is the brain.
To my knowledge, a survey of libido and perimenopausal women has not been done. But a Siecus survey of 580 post-menopausal women reported in The New York Times in 2009 revealed that 45 percent of the women surveyed experienced a loss in libido, 37 percent experienced no change in their sex drive, and 10 percent saw an increase.
What are treatment options if you have a lower sex drive during perimenopause?
If you do experience a loss in libido and are unhappy about it, there are some things you can do to help. Experts recommend asking your doctor about Hormone Replacement Therapy, using over-the-counter lubricants, exercising to improve your mood and self-esteem, communicating with your partner to let them know what you’re going through, and, whether you have a partner or not, “changing things up.”
Perimenopause and menopause are natural stages of life, but they can be challenging ones as well. It’s nice to know that along with hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia, some perimenopausal women are finding that their sex drives are “skyrocketing,” and that they are experiencing “magic.” Here’s hoping you are one of these women — and if not, that you get the help you need to turn up the heat! (But of course, not too hot…we are experiencing hot flashes, after all!)
This article was written by Kelly Dwyer, a published novelist, playwright, and freelance writer.