Sexual discomfort due to vaginal dryness is a common symptom. Decreased oestrogen can lead to thinning of the epithelial lining and the underlying tissues of the vaginal wall may become thinner and less elastic , a condition known as atrophy. This causes decreased lubrication, which in turn may lead to substantial pain during and after intercourse. As painful intercourse is seldom a turn-on, it might lead to a decline in the desire for making love.
Vaginal dryness and thinning may continue after menopause. Some doctors estimate that at least half of all women over 60 have some degree of vaginal dryness. Vaginal changes may also increase the risk of infections due to reduced local protection against micro-organisms which may enter the vagina due to self-contamination or sexual intercourse.
The menopause shouldn’t affect your libido itself. 60% of women experience no change in libido, 20% experience a decrease and in 20% of cases libido improves.
The following factors place women at greater risk:
Lack of regular sexual stimulation of the vagina
History of temporary amenorrhoea (missed periods)
What to do
Short-acting, water-based vaginal lubricants such as K-Y jelly or oestrogen cream can be used. immediately before sexual intercourse to supply moisture Petroleum-based products such as Vaseline should be avoided.
It may also help to take a warm bath before intercourse.
Regular sexual activity can help improve natural lubrication and keep the vagina moist and toned.
Compiled by Ilse Pauw, Health24. Reviewed and updated by Dr Alan Alperstein, obestetrician and gynaecologists in Cape Town, in February 2011.