The menopause is a natural part of the ageing process that every woman will go through. However, as a condition that can have a significant impact on mood, memory, health, and sex drive, the menopause can often be challenging for women and those in a relationship with them.
In this article, you’ll find information to help you better understand:
- what happens during the menopause
- how these changes can affect a woman
- how to deal with the impact of the menopause on your sex life
- how to support your partner during this time in her life
- how a health professional can help your partner
What is the menopause?
The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
The menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. However, around one in 100 women experience it before they are 40 years old – known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
In most cases, periods become less frequent over a few months or years, eventually stopping altogether. However, some women may find that their periods stop suddenly.
Regardless of how it happens, a woman is said to have reached menopause when she has not had a period for a year.
How can a woman tell if she’s going through the menopause?
The symptoms of the menopause are caused by a fall in levels of the hormone oestrogen in the body. However, this change affects every woman differently. Around eight in 10 women develop menopausal symptoms, while some women never develop any symptoms.
Common symptoms of the menopause include:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- low mood or anxiety
- reduced sex drive
- vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- difficulty sleeping
- problems with memory and concentration
- weight gain, especially around the tummy
- loss of muscle tone
These symptoms can begin months or years before periods stop. In some women, menopausal symptoms can last for a few months, while in others, symptoms may continue for several years. More than 50% of women have symptoms for more than seven years.
How the menopause can affect a woman
Menopausal symptoms tend to improve as the menopause ends. However, because oestrogen levels remain low after the menopause, women can experience lasting changes that may negatively affect their health.
These changes include:
- skin changes - women tend to have lower levels of the skin proteins collagen and elastin after the menopause. This can lead to thinner, drier and more itchy skin
- genital changes - a lack of oestrogen after the menopause often causes the vaginal tissues to become thinner and drier, which can lead to: pain during sex, dry, itchy skin around the vulva (the skin next to the vagina), recurrent urinary tract infections, passing urine more often, having a sudden urge to pass urine and/or accidentally passing urine (urinary incontinence)
- bone thinning - men and women lose bone tissue as they age, but the fall in oestrogen after the menopause speeds up bone loss in women. This puts women who have been through the menopause at a higher risk of osteoporosis and fractures from falls
- cardiovascular disease (CVD) - a woman’s risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, increases after the menopause because oestrogen helps to protect against CVD
Can the menopause affect your sex life?
It is quite normal for a woman to lose interest in sex during and after the menopause. There are many reasons for this. A person’s sex drive usually decreases with age, but falling levels of the hormones involved in sexual desire around the time of the menopause can also reduce a woman’s libido.
Other menopause-related changes such as disturbed sleep, lack of energy, and vaginal pain or dryness due to vaginal thinning may also decrease your partner’s sex drive.
The menopause can affect your partner’s emotions in ways that can make her less interested in sex. Women often report feeling more anxious or irritable, and having mood swings during the menopause.
Women going through the menopause may also have an increased risk of developing depression, which is more serious than mood swings and needs medical attention. Encourage your partner to see her doctor if she has, or you suspect she may have, depression.
What to do if the menopause is affecting your sex life
If your partner is not as interested in sex as she used to be, the first thing to bear in mind is that this change is often temporary.
You can help the situation by discussing your feelings with your partner and communicating your needs. Just because your partner does not feel like having intercourse does not mean that she wants no sexual intimacy. She may be comfortable with kissing, massage and oral sex. You can also help to encourage feelings of intimacy between the two of you by spending quality time together and going on dates.
A doctor can also help in this situation, so encourage your partner to see her doctor if she would like some help. A doctor may advise taking treatments to increase the libido and improve the vaginal symptoms that can make sex uncomfortable.
A doctor may recommend taking Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can help with increasing sexual desire. If your partner is considering HRT to improve her symptoms, encourage her to speak with a doctor. They will be able to offer further guidance on whether to use these medications and how to get and use them. If HRT is not effective or safe for you, there may be other options which you can discuss with your doctor or pharmacist.
Your partner's doctor may also advise taking oestrogen to improve vaginal pain, dryness or itchiness. This usually takes the form of a cream, ring or pessary that is put directly into the vagina.
Lubricants and moisturisers that can be bought from a pharmacy may also help to improve vaginal discomfort. Your partner can speak with her local pharmacist for advice on the best treatments to use.
Supporting your partner
The menopause can be a challenging time for many women. Aside from the physical and emotional symptoms caused by a fall in oestrogen levels, entering this new stage of life can make some women feel old, unattractive, and no longer useful.
Reading this guide is a great first step in supporting your partner through the menopause. Educating yourself about the condition, the symptoms it causes, and the changes women may go through can help you to become more patient and understanding towards your partner.
Other ways in which you can support your partner during the menopause include:
- communicating openly – respectfully talk through the changes she is going through, acknowledge any frustrations you may be experiencing and find solutions as a couple
- be patient – if she has mood swings, understand that they are not aimed at or caused by you. Instead, make small gestures to help her feel supported and happy
- show empathy - put yourself in your partner’s shoes by imagining how you would feel if your body suddenly changed. Show her the same care and kindness you would want to receive
- spend quality time together – whether you take her out on a date or just watch a film together on the sofa, setting aside time to spend with your partner can help her feel loved and significant
- pay compliments – remind your partner that she is attractive and share the changes you’ve noticed in your body as you grow older. This can help to improve your partner’s self image
encourage her to seek medical help if she is struggling to manage her symptoms
How a doctor can help
If your partner is finding the symptoms particularly difficult to manage, encourage her to speak with her doctor.
They can help by:
- reassuring her that everything she is experiencing is normal
- investigating her symptoms with blood tests and scans if she has unusual symptoms or is younger than 45
- advising treatments for menopausal symptoms
Sources of support for partners of women going through the menopause
While the menopause can be challenging for women going through it, it can also be a difficult time for their partners. If you would like support to help you cope better with your partner’s life change, you may find the following resources useful: