Between the ages of about 48 and 55, women experience menopause: the permanent cessation of menstruation. The ovaries cease to release eggs and produce oestrogen, which results in physical changes that may affect sexuality. The vaginal walls become thinner and less elastic, the vagina and labia shrink slightly and there is less vaginal lubrication, which may make intercourse uncomfortable or painful.
Many women use hormone replacement therapy and vaginal lubricants to relieve these and other negative side effects of menopause. Women who were sexually active either through intercourse or masturbation before menopause and who continue regular sexual activity after menopause are less likely to experience vaginal problems: sex helps to improve lubrication and keep the vagina moist and toned. The menopause doesn’t usually affect the sex drive itself, however: although some women experience loss of libido, most experience no change, and in some cases, the libido improves. Another positive aspect is that many women find they are able to relax more because they are no longer worried about falling pregnant.
In the middle years, women and their partners may find that the sexual experience has widened to include new aspects of sensuality and intimacy, and is less narrowly focused on penetration and orgasm. Although this is a busy time of life for most women, many find that, with their children entering adulthood, they have more time to devote to their relationship with their partner.
Women who find themselves newly single during their middle years, often after divorce, may struggle to find the confidence to get back in the ‘dating game’ as mature women. Dating services and support groups can be helpful in overcoming the difficulty of finding new suitable partners, and in dealing with loneliness and sexual frustration.