As Andy Rooney once confessed, older women are far sexier than their younger counterparts.
"Her libido is stronger because her fear of pregnancy is gone ... and her lovemaking is honed."
A compliment to be sure, this acquired confidence may, in fact, only apply to a small cohort of women, especially as we enter menopause. According to a 2008 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, almost half of all menopausal women experience a decrease in libido. What's more, is that only 25 percent of these women report being concerned about this drop in sexual desire.
So what's the reason behind the midlife turn-off? Low estrogen levels responsible for other notorious menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and decreased sleep also contribute to altered arousal thresholds and overall interest in sex. During menopause, a woman may not respond to the same turn-ons or triggers that she had only years before, and all this is normal.
In addition to a baseline decrease in libido, other factors complicate the issue. Decreased estrogen also decreases blood supply to the vagina, creating a drier and potentially more irritated environment. Issues with bladder control and sleep disturbance can also interfere, as can depression and other stressors that may arise around the menopause.
But, like Rooney so keenly picked up on, not all women experience this decline. Some women, in fact, report an increase in libido that might have something to do with an acquired confidence over time.
For others however, the Cleveland Clinic suggests the following tips for improving sex drive. Water-soluble lubricants like Astroglide or K-Y Jelly can improve vaginal dryness, and distraction techniques to relax can decrease anxiety that may arise during this transitional period.
While the research to support using hormone replacement to increase sexual drive during menopause is a somewhat conflicting, some doctors do prescribe combined estrogen and progesterone pills for this purpose. Like with hormone replacement for other menopausal symptoms however, you should discuss the length of time using hormones and risks/benefits of use with your care provider first.
Another promising option includes couples sex therapy to improve intimacy and arousal. Professionals trained in treating sexual dysfunction commonly address issues with sexual arousal, orgasm achievement and painful intercourse to name a few. According to MayoClinic.com, this type of therapy can be very effective, even after just a few sessions (although the length of time recommended will vary by individual or couple).
Lastly, it's important to remember that intimacy involves a lot more than the act of sexual intercourse alone. As our bodies and sexual desires change over time, so should our creativity in thinking up new ways to express love with our partners. This is perhaps what Rooney already knew when, in the same quote from above, he went on to say, "she's lived long enough to know how to please a man in ways her daughter could never dream of."