How to Improve Sexual Health in Older Women

A good sex life has multiple health benefits – lower blood pressure, improved cardiac health, good immunity, and higher self-esteem. There is a reduction in stress, depression, anxiety, and body pain. Sharing a good intimate relationship with your partner also strengthens the bond.

Changes in women’s sexuality after 50

Women experience changes in their bodies as we start nearing our 50s. Our menstrual periods start becoming infrequent, eventually stopping completely. Our ovaries no more produce eggs. This diminishes our ability to have children. Our sex hormones estrogen and progesterone start decreasing. The transition phase of ongoing changes is called perimenopause. Once the periods have stopped for a year, it is called menopause.

The decrease in estrogen leads to various symptoms like

  • Hot flashes – sudden, brief,increase in their body temperature, excessive perspiration. 75% of older adult women suffer from hot flashes.

  • Vaginal atrophy – It is the drying and thinning of the walls of the vagina and urethra. It leads to pain during sex and an increased predisposition to vaginitis, cystitis, and urinary tract infections.

  • Loss of tone ofpelvic muscles-leads to urinary incontinence and vaginal hernia of the uterus, bladder, or rectum.

  • Hair growth-increase in facial hair or a thinning of scalphair.

  • Sexual dysfunction – Anorgasmia (inability to have an orgasm), low libido, inability to get aroused, constriction of the vagina

Older adults are mostly sexually inactive. Despite many treatment options available to improve adult reproductive health, the sexuality of older women often gets neglected.

Following are some ways to improve a sexually active women’s health:

Lubricants – The vagina becomes dry and narrower in older women, especially if we are not sexually active. Intercourse becomes painful. Using a lubricant during sexual activity and a moisturizer during the day helps combat vaginal dryness.

Frequent sex – It helps increase blood flow to our vagina and genitals. Increased blood circulation reduces vaginal dryness. It keeps the tissues healthy.

Practice pelvic floor exercises – They strengthen the muscles preventing vaginal prolapse common in older women. It also increases blood flow to the vagina and clitoris. This improves orgasm.

Medications and pre-existing conditions – Certain drugs can affect our libido. We can check with our doctor to replace those with drugs with lower side effects or minimise their dose. Conditions like thyroid, and diabetes can lead to sexual dysfunction. Treating the underlying conditions can help relieve sexual dysfunction.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – Taking female hormones estrogen and progesterone in combination can help relieve the symptoms of menopause. This includes sexual dysfunction. It is available in pill form, skin patches, and vaginal creams.

Estrogen therapy (ET) – Reduced estrogen causes most menopausal symptoms, and taking estrogen alone is helpful. Available as pills, skin patches, and vaginal creams. We can also try synthetic estrogens like ospemifene. They have fewer side effects than estrogen.

We need to consult our healthcare provider before starting HRT and ET.

Alternative therapies

Homoeopathy and herbal treatments offer relief from some symptoms of menopause. They also improve adult reproductive health. Herbal remedies can increase libido and sexual performance. Vitamins and minerals improve overall well-being. They reduce fatigue and increase energy levels. Thus they improve sexual performance. High-protein meals improve physical strength and stamina.

Tribulus Terrestrisplant extract has been used for centuriesto improve sexual healthand sexual dysfunction in menopausal women.

Epimedium extract or Horny goat weed has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat low libido, fatigue, and menopausal symptoms.It can improvethyroid hormone levelsas well. It increases muscle mass and energy levels.

Ginseng’s aphrodisiac properties have been well-known since ancient times. It can treat sexual dysfunction and enhance sexual behaviour. It also helps manage stress and biochemical imbalances. Regular use makes us feel energized and calm.

Ginkgo Bilboa reduces stress and improves blood circulation. Terpene lactone in Gingko increases blood supply to the brain and sexual organs. It increases sexual arousal and sexual satisfaction.

Maca root increases libido and reduces sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women. Maca root balances the female hormones. It provides relief from hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

Black Cohosh extract can effectively reduce menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low libido, and irritability.

We must consult a doctor before taking any supplements, as some may react with our routine medications.

Health check-ups

Women in their 50s should also get regular health check-ups. We need to monitor any abnormality in our reproductive organs. There is a high risk of uterine and ovarian cancers.

We should look out for abnormal uterine bleeding. This is the most common symptom of uterine cancer. We should self-examine our breasts monthly and get a mammogram yearly to look for any signs of lumps or skin changes suggesting cancer. Taking a Pap test or the HPV test regularly keeps a check on cervical cancer.

Safe sex

The chances of pregnancy are almost nil in menopausal women. But we are still at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs, or STDs). We still need to practice safe sex, especially if we are not in a monogamous relationship. Condoms can protect us against STIs when we have sex.

We can contract an STI even if there is no ejaculation in the vagina. Vaginal dryness or irritation increases our chances of contracting an STI. The vaginal dryness increases friction during sex, causing small cuts or tears.

We must follow a healthy lifestyle and practice safe sex. Having a balanced meal, high in nutrition improves sexual health. Fresh vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamins and minerals. Regular exercise, yoga, and meditation keep our body and mind healthy. Limiting alcohol and tobacco reduces lethargy and increases stamina.

Good sexuality and reproductive health are outcomes of good physical, mental, and social well-being. Sexuality and healthcare go hand in hand. Our body and mind need to be healthy to enjoy healthy sexuality. We should be well informed and choose safe, effective, affordable options to maintain our sexual and reproductive health.

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