One of these days, I will finish writing a book titled, “The Top Ten Myths about Human Sexuality.” But every time I begin writing this book, I find it impossible to fit all 100+ human sexuality myths people need to have debunked for their health, happiness, and safety, into a single top ten list. I guess I need to write a book titled, “The Top 100+ Myths about Human Sexuality.” In any case, this paper is about one of these top ten, 100+ myths: Menopause causes women to lose their desire to have sex.
Sex is Not About Pregnancy
People believing women’s sexual desires end with menopause is driven by another sexual myth, that women’s sexual desires are primarily driven by pregnancy. The truth is, most women’s sexual desires do not end with menopause. In fact, many women’s sexual desires increase with menopause. And, although pregnancy may be important to women, it rarely rates as being important for driving sexual desires. Instead, women’s sexual desires are primarily driven by pleasure. Science clearly shows pleasure over pregnancy being the primary force driving sexual desire (see Table 1) and you can easily prove this to yourself by answering a few simple questions.
Over your lifetime, which of the following two numbers is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY BIGGER?
The number of times you have had (and will have) sex for the purpose of pleasure?
The number of times you have had (and will have) sex for the purpose of pregnancy?
Menopause marks ovulation coming to an end. Women can no longer become pregnant. Losing the ability to conceive may make women sad, but it has nothing to do with women’s capacity for pleasure. Thus, menopause should have no effect on women’s sexual desires. However, both women, and men continue to believe this myth because menopause is used as a scapegoat for three genuine reasons women lose their desires to have sex.
Most menopausal women are married. And if they are in unhappy, sexless marriages, then it is easier to blame the lack of sex on menopause than on the relationships composing the marriages. Indeed, menopausal women who describe their marriages as being unhappy are significantly less likely to be having sex with their partners than menopausal women who describe their marriages as being happy.
Depression and Anxiety
More than 50% of menopausal women may be suffering from undiagnosed depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety decrease sex drive. Although not healthier, it is easier to blame this decrease in sex drive on menopause than seeking treatment for depression or anxiety.
The last way menopause is used as a scapegoat for causing women to lose their sexual desire, is by focusing on menopause’s physical effects, which are often uncomfortable and painful; and ignoring menopause’s psychological effects, which are often sexually liberating.
The Physical Effects of Menopause
Menopause decreases levels of estrogen and progesterone to the extent of causing a variety of physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and vaginal atrophy (the thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls).
Hot flashes and night-sweats occur because of blood vessels dilating near the surface of the skin. There is no scientifically agreed-upon reason why this occurs during menopause, but with time, most women cease to experience these symptoms.
Vaginal dryness, which is associated with painful vaginal intercourse (medically referred to as dyspareunia), can be addressed with doctor-prescribed topical estrogen therapies or with over-the-counter personal lubricants, which come in a variety of forms, including creams, suppositories, and sprays.
As for vaginal atrophy, the best way to treat this is by having a rich and vibrant sex life! A vaginal dilator may be needed to initiate vaginal sex. Nonhormonal and available without a prescription, vaginal dilators relieve vaginal discomfort by stimulating and stretching the vaginal muscles to reverse the narrowing of the vagina.
The Psychological Effects of Menopause
Although society often sells it as being negative, decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone is not all bad, because of the reduced levels of these hormones, post-menopausal women have relatively higher levels of testosterone, the one hormone that is directly associated with libido and sexual energy in post-menopausal women. In fact, nonvaginal sex (e.g., masturbation) increases relative to testosterone levels in postmenopausal women and is associated with decreasing dyspareunia and vaginal atrophy.
Further, menopause eliminates one of the greatest fears women have when engaging in vaginal intercourse, the fear of getting pregnant (see Table 2).
So, what does this all mean? Although society and its ticking maternity clock, lectures, shames, and guilts women about the mythical motherhood-reasons they should be having sex; the true reasons women desire to have sex are either unaffected or benefitted by menopause.
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Dr. Don Lucas, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. He loves psychology, teaching, and research.
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