Loss of Sexual Desire and Libido in Menopause | Stella
Sex & relationships
7 mins

Menopause and libido – a guide to understanding sexual desire

byDr Zoe Sever

Experiencing a loss of libido during menopause is common for many women and it can leave you feeling guilty or in the worst case a failure. While it’s normal for our interest in sex to change at various times of our lives, it can also be frustrating if you want to have sex but don’t feel like doing it. Don’t despair yet! There are plenty of things you can do to help your lust along, as sexual and reproductive health expert, Zoe Sever explains.   

Am I normal to have a loss of libido in menopause?

Sexual functioning changes as we age and many women report that sexual desire, or an interest in sex, can be challenging during menopause. Menopause and libido can certainly have an impact on your sex life, but the good news is you can still have a satisfying sexual life well into menopause and beyond – if you want to. 

If you are not feeling in the mood for sex and are worried about low sexual desire, you might be thinking:

  • “I’m broken, there must be something wrong with me”
  • “I feel like I am letting my partner down” 
  • “My partner is going to leave me if I don’t have sex” 
  • “I feel guilty for not wanting sex” 
  • “I suppose reduced sexual desire is just what happens as I get older”
  • “I feel pressured/obligated to have sex more often than I want” 
  • “I feel inadequate”

Many of these thoughts may leave you feeling frustrated, desperate and helpless. To be clear, you are not broken and it is time to let go of the guilt. 

Your struggles are common and normal during menopause. Lots of women experience low libido in menopause, or a loss of libido. Acknowledging this can encourage self-compassion and help you move towards making positive shifts within your sex life.

How does sexual desire work?

Let’s start by letting go of any preconceived ideas of sexual desire. There are two doorways to sexual arousal and while you may fit one, you may also be a mix of both. 

Door 1: Spontaneous desire

This is when sexual desire simply appears out of the blue, spontaneously – a sudden, intense, and immediate desire for sex. It occurs when a mental desire for sex arises before any physical touch or other stimulation. For example, you may be thinking about the last time you had sex with your partner and bang! You feel desire. Research suggests that around 75% of men and only 15% of women report spontaneous desire. This type of desire may also fluctuate and decline over time. 

Door 2: Responsive desire

This is the most common form of sexual desire experienced by women and it is just as healthy and normal. It’s when mental interest in sex comes after stimulation, such as touch, physical closeness, or sexual contact paired with the right context. For example, you may be receiving a back rub, feeling relaxed and close with a partner which may result in responsive desire. 

Unfortunately, you often only hear about door number one, the standard narrative portrayed for sexual desire. Yet there is absolutely nothing wrong with needing stimulation to build your longing for sex, or having a combination of the two doorways.

How does responsive desire positively impact my sex life?

Low libido is not a disorder, but rather a symptom of a culture that doesn’t promote awareness about desire. Women who experience responsive desire more frequently are simply less understood. This knowledge can help remind you that when you might be mentally neutral about having sex, it may be worth leaving room for the possibility of responsive desire (cue massage!)

How can I leave room for the possibility of sex?

Imagine being open to saying maybe rather than taking an all or nothing or yes or no approach to sex. Be open to the possibility of responding to sexual stimulation, being adaptable and engaging in sexual experiences. 

Research shows that women often make conscious decisions to engage in sex based on reasons often unrelated to sexual desire. Sex may be beneficial for a number of highly personal reasons such as validation, self-esteem, emotional connection, physical closeness or other motivations. This does not mean having sex out of obligation or when you don’t want to. What this may look like is asking for a massage or sending some dirty texts and keeping an openness for sexual intimacy.

What’s the difference between sex and intimacy?

It’s not a good idea to have sex when you don’t want to. Sometimes you may just want some closeness or intimacy without having to commit to sex, which may feel like too steep of a climb. 

For example, imagine every time that you get hungry for a small snack, that you have to commit to eating a three-course meal. It is the same with sex. Sometimes we might just want some touch without having to commit the whole act. That is totally OK. Have the mindset that if sexual desire arises then great, but if not, we can just enjoy what we are doing. Without guilt.

Don’t force sex

Many people may also fall into the habit of having sex out of obligation, which may feel like a chore, or worse if you’ve had challenging sexual experiences in the past. Forcing yourself to engage in sex when you’re not necessarily in the mood, or dealing with low libido because of menopause, can create emotionally harmful and uncomfortable sex. While this may start with good intentions, such as pleasing a partner, the partner often also isn’t fully happy as they are aware that you are not fully enjoying the experience. You need to be engaging in sex for you.

Five ways to manage loss of libido during menopause

1. Rediscover what works for you…alone  

One aspect that may contribute to low libido in menopause is that you feel that the sex you are currently having simply isn’t worth it. If this sounds like you, remind yourself that you are not alone in feeling this way! 

Your sexual wants and needs vary over time – so what may have felt good in the past may not be working for you now. Menopause can be a time for self-discovery when it comes to what turns you on right now. Take the time to explore your sexual self and what feels good. Revisit fantasies, try sex toys, read erotica, or give watching/listening to porn a try! There is great stuff out there created for (and by) women. 

Your self-exploration is to understand your sexual accelerators and brakes, essentially what turns you on and off. It may help to ask yourself questions, such as:

  • I love it/get turned on when… 
  • I get distracted/turned off when…

2. Include your partner

Once you start to discover your sexual self, consider bringing your partner on board. It can be daunting to talk about sex, but sharing is a great way to prioritise your sexual needs. You might consider completing Diana Sadat’s Yes/No/Maybe list, that outlines your sexual wants, interests, curiosities and boundaries.

Read more about talking to your partner about sexual intimacy.

3. Create foreplay outside of the bedroom 

Foreplay is vital for good sex, especially for building arousal and creating intimacy. While this may mean cuddling, kissing, outercourse and aftercare, it should also include non-physical acts. As psychotherapist Esther Perel says, “Foreplay begins the moment the last orgasm has subsided”. Ideas to promote foreplay outside of the bedroom and build anticipation could include sending sexy texts, eye-gazing, self-massage or wearing that underwear or outfit that makes you feel sensual. Whatever works for you! 

4. Making time for intimacy 

Often in the midst of our busy lives, sex can become a bit of an afterthought. While it might not feel spontaneous or sexy to schedule a date and time for creating intimacy, this can open you up to the possibility of creating sexual desire – if it feels right! It also builds anticipation. 

This doesn’t have to result in sex (whatever sex may mean for you), but you are leaving the door open to pleasure and connection. 

5. Consider sex therapy 

Many psychological interventions have shown to be effective in improving sexual desire (you can read about it in the ‘Learn more’ section below). Sex therapy is an evidence-based approach that focuses on addressing beliefs, attitudes, anxieties, and the context surrounding sex and sexuality. Some approaches to improving sexual desire may include cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, sensate focus and communication exercises (among many others).

Final word on menopause and libido

We are often told that sex is only good sex if it is spontaneous. However, most women experience responsive desire which needs to be cultivated. Think about whether you really do have low desire or if perhaps you are just more responsive with your desire? 

This doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you, with your partner, or with your relationship. It simply needs to be addressed. Try finding time to rediscover your sexual self as you’re dealing with your menopause and libido, and create intimacy with a partner while still leaving room for the possibility of sex. 

Read more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library.