I recently turned 44 and the small signs of perimenopause changes in my body are becoming increasingly obvious. I was expecting many of them, but one thing I wasn’t expecting: an increased sex drive in perimenopause. I was prepared for a loss of libido rather than an increased interest in sex.
The symptoms I was expecting are predictable enough. My PMS and mood swings, which were previously manageable by eating chocolate (and keeping my online comments to myself), have increased in intensity and length. My menstrual cycles are changing and my hair is not growing back as quickly as in the past. And my most intense sexual desire is no longer near ovulation, as it once was. Now, it’s closer to the end of my cycle.
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Many of these are symptoms that we already associate with perimenopause and peri-perimenopause (the years before perimenopause where we may have hormonal changes but they are almost unnoticeable). There’s also the anger, the changes to our cycle and the shifts in how we see ourself and the world.
Sexual desire in perimenopause
Loss of libido was something that the MPowered Women medical experts write about – and I was waiting for it, but no sign so far. “There are two areas concerned with the loss of libido – one is physical and the other is psychological,” says Dr Stephanie Goodwin.
“In physical terms, you may now be experiencing discomfort during intercourse. This is caused by the decrease in oestrogen which had previously kept the walls of the vagina healthy and lubricated. Lower levels of this hormone can now make those walls dry and irritated which can make things painful. Surveys show that a very large percentage of women find sex painful and the majority of those find this causes a low sex drive which can then negatively impact upon their relationships.”
Dr Goodwin also writes about the night sweats that can make a good night’s sleep a thing of the past for many women. And who wants sex when you’d far rather be nodding off!
My perimenopause sex life
I had heard about all of the above, but there was one thing I wasn’t prepared for because I’d never heard of it: a surge in my libido in the peri-perimenopause phase. I’m talking about a libido so high I felt like stereotypical 20 year-old man, looking to have sex with anyone I found attractive, at any time. I called it the ‘Sex Surge®’ because it felt very much like an electrical surge, a sudden burst of sexual energy in my system that sometimes threatened to blow my circuits. Ringing any bells with anyone?
Increased sex drive in perimenopause
I understand that the desire for a lot of sex sounds like something crazy when we’re talking about perimenopause, but it does happen.
For some women, there is a slight shift upwards in testosterone, to the point that they want sex much more frequently than they have in the past. For me, this first started around ovulation. I wanted sex 10 times more than I ever had before, but only around ovulation.
Over time though, my libido grew to be a constant factor in my life. At the most intense point, I would wake up, have about three minutes of peace, and then begin thinking about and desiring sex until I went to sleep at the end of the day. It was exciting – in many ways I really enjoyed thinking and feeling sexy things all day long – but it was also exhausting.
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As I began to write on my blog, about this new level of libido at midlife, 100s of women emailed me with similar stories. So many were afraid something was wrong with them, or that they had a brain tumour (which speaks to how different this level of libido can make a woman feel; she feels so different about herself and her behaviour that she’s worried she has a brain tumour).
Most women spoke of how this phase has helped them feel great; confident, sexy, creative, focused, driven. These are the neuro-chemical gifts of testosterone. Many women also discussed the difficulties of having a high sex drive; partners who can’t keep up or refuse them outright, their desire for extra-marital affairs, how the highly-distractive sexual thoughts made it hard to work, feeling like their body was sexually on fire and not knowing how to deal with it.
Most of all, women described not having safe places to talk about these symptoms and be believed, a frustration shared by so many midlife women.
The Sex Surge is personal
Over the last eight years I have researched the Sex Surge and listened to many women and their stories of increased sex drive in perimenopause.
What I know is that each woman has to walk the path of the Sex Surge in her own way. For some this means big changes in their lives; getting divorced, trying an open marriage, performing in burlesque shows, living on their own for a while. For others, it has meant small changes; increasing the frequency of sex in their already happy relationship, wearing sexier clothes on a daily basis, flirting with the local barista a bit more.
Exploring the energy and finding ways to express it are key to handling the Sex Surge well, but what that looks like is unique to each woman, her life, and her needs.
Like any hormonal phase, the Sex Surge does come to an end. For most women it ends with small hormonal shifts that are steps on the path to perimenopause: the circuitry quietly returns to its normal supply.
In rare cases, the end of the Sex Surge is as if someone shut off the power entirely; confidence, libido, and a sense of self crash into the dark. Most women report relief when the Sex Surge ends, even if it was great fun or allowed them to choose an amazing new life for themselves. They are glad to not think about or desire sex all the time.
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The Sex Surge is not something that happens to every woman, but it is an important and life-changing phase for those who experience it. It is my hope that, with greater awareness, the Sex Surge will be considered a normal aspect of the peri-perimenopause phase and women will no longer feel afraid or alone when they find themselves in the midst of it.
When the Sex Surge fades
So what about those women who have experienced a drop in libido around perimenopause and menopause?
“Firstly, don’t be embarrassed about talking to your doctor,” says Dr Goodwin. “They see these kinds of problems frequently, understand their impact and can advise on the many forms of available treatment from HRT to vaginal estrogen and other lubricants which is available in many forms.”
For many women, hormone replacement therapy can help. Declining levels of estrogen and testosterone can affect a woman’s sexual desire. “Testosterone deficiency affects a lot of women after the menopause,” confirms Dr Goodwin. “Testosterone Replacement Therapy can be very helpful for women who have got lack of libido as part of their menopausal symptoms.”
The last word goes to Dr Goodwin, who has some empowering advice for all women. “I think when we talk about libido, it should be for everybody, it’s not just for people who have a partner,” she says. “So if you don’t have a partner, don’t just park your libido, celebrate it. Go and buy yourself a vibrator ladies, everybody should have one.” We couldn’t agree more – you’ll find plenty to tempt you here.
Read more from Joanna at Joannameriwether.com