When Ashley met Daniel seven years ago, she couldn’t get enough of him. Their intimacy was, to her mind, affirming of how in tune they were with each other. Daniel seemed to know and understand her body like no-one had before, and as their relationship deepened, sex just got better and better.
“I don’t think a man had ever made me orgasm the way Daniel did,” Ashley explains. “We had an immediate sexual attraction. You know when people say things like ‘it felt like fireworks’ and you think really girl? Well in our case really. Full fireworks!” she laughs. But all too quickly, the giggle turns to sadness. “I wish we could get a bit of that back. I feel so embarrassed to think about how much our intimate life has changed.”
In 2021, Ashley started getting feelings of anxiety. Her mood dipped and she found herself feeling irritable over the slightest thing. “I felt on edge all the time. I spoke to my doctor and he said I was probably stressed.” Then the migraines started. “They drove me crazy. I was taking time off sick and couldn’t get to the bottom of what was causing them.”
During this time, Daniel would try and initiate intimacy but Ashley found herself making more and more excuses. “In my defence, a lot of the time I did have a headache but the truth was that I just really did not want to have sex. It was like a switch had flicked inside me and turned off all the desire. I didn’t understand it and couldn’t explain it and unfortunately, Daniel felt rejected no matter how much he tried to empathise with what was happening for me.”
What Ashley discovered soon after is that her symptoms were associated with perimenopause. At 43, she had thought she was too young, and it wasn’t on her radar yet. “We don’t have children, so if I’m honest it didn’t even cross my mind that I was ready for this next life stage. I was still using birth control – so not remotely thinking menopause might be around the corner. I went from someone who enjoyed sex, and had a high sex drive to absolutely nothing. I feel, well, sad. It’s like part of me has died, I feel embarrassed and if I’m honest? A bit ashamed too.”
With the average age of menopause at 51, many women, like Ashley, start to experience perimenopause symptoms between 7 and 10 years prior. Unfortunately, for many millenial women there still isn’t enough information available to determine that symptoms they are experiencing might in fact be connected to the menopause. Including, as Ashley found, the loss of libido. But how – and why – does perimenopause affect our sex drive?
More than a third of women experiencing perimenopausal symptoms report that their libido has declined, so if you do feel like your sexual self is something in the dim and distant past, you aren’t alone. Research has shown that there are various factors that contribute to low libido, with one of the main problems being due to hormone imbalance. We often discuss the decline in estrogen as a cause of menopause, but if you are finding yourself lacking in sexual desire, it might actually related to testosterone.
Testosterone plays several roles in women’s bodies, including maintaining muscle mass, bone density, libido, and overall energy levels. During menopause, there is not only a decrease in estrogen but also a decline in testosterone production. This decline in testosterone levels can contribute to symptoms such as decreased libido, reduced energy, and decreased muscle mass.
While decreased libido is often felt taboo, talking about being unable to reach orgasm is definitely an unspoken area of women’s sexual health. Amanda found that while her libido hadn’t been too affected by perimenopause, she was unable to reach climax as easily during penetrative sex and sometimes, when alone too. “I feel so embarrassed to talk about this. But that’s half the problem, isn’t it? So many women experience problems reaching climax during menopause and yet no one is talking about it.”
As a generation raised on Sex and the City and sexual empowerment, there’s an assumption that as a long as you still fancy having sex, that’s all there is to worry about. “Wrong”, says Amanda. “For me, it’s both physical and mental. I know my hormones are affecting my ability to climax, but it’s also now affecting me mentally. I worry so much about not being able to orgasm that I can’t relax and be in the moment. It’s a vicious cycle.”
So how can you manage a loss of libido, or inability to climax during perimenopause?
According to the North American Menopause Society, loss of libido is common but there are things you can do to improve things. Their advice is to “take a break from vaginal intercourse.”, which on the face of it might seem a little counterintuitive. The rationale behind avoiding penetrative sex though is about rebuilding intimacy, through stroking and caressing. But if you are struggling to even get to that point, how can you ‘turn your body on’ hormonally?
Shanae was 42 when her sex drive went out of the window. “Michael – my husband – was frustrated like anything!” she laughs, but for Shanae, it wasn’t a big issue initially. “The kids were young and needing me all the time. I thought it was just that, until Michael said he really needed us to be more intimate.” Over the following months, their marriage was impacted as irritation and resentment grew the more intimacy declined.
“So, we saw a sex therapist. I die telling people that!” she laughs. “The thing is, we needed to get back to the intimacy part of sex, not just ‘sex’ and I think in a lot of marriages that is lacking. But the sex therapist also advised me to get my hormone levels checked, and after finding out that my estrogen levels were low I did some research into natural supplements. That’s when I found out about topical supplementation and how it can improve this little ‘situation’.”
Shanae started using Glow by Hormone University’s Menopause SOS and Intimate Hydrator together, and felt almost immediate relief. “Man, the difference! Our marriage has improved vastly because the intimacy is there now my libido is back. And let’s just say, Michael is super relieved!”
Have you experienced a lack of libido during perimenopause? We’d love to hear your experiences in our Facebook Community.
Kate is a content writer, community creator, and ‘Endo-Warrior’ with Stage IV Endometriosis. She’s mum to three kids, two dogs and unsurprisingly; a lover of wine. Kate lives with her family in Hastings, UK.