Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2010

A declining interest in sex as we age is typical for women, but many face a couple of additional factors that are really big: 1) It is painful; and 2) the event itself may not be particularly engaging. Is it any wonder that there isn’t much motivation to participate?

If you have pain, you need to find a practitioner who can help solve that issue. There is almost always a solution for pain with intercourse. NAMS (The North American Menopause Society) is a good resource for finding a certified menopause practitioner if you feel your provider isn’t able to find a solution–or you’re not comfortable discussing the issue with him or her.

The other issue is more difficult to address. After years, maybe decades, of a less-than-fulfilling sexual relationship, it is hard to reinvent, but most women would agree it is worth trying. For some menopausal women a great sexual relationship doesn’t even need to include vaginal penetration, but that takes a caring, nuturing partner.

Your partner needs to understand that romance and emotion are key to improving your libido–and you need to feel confident that you deserve that… because you do. For some women testosterone, in addition to that intimacy and foreplay, can make a remarkable difference in libido. Again, finding the right provider to investigate that option would be beneficial for you.

Some women have told me that visiting our site with their partners has been helpful. You might review the bonding behaviors together to start a conversation about what kind of foreplay and attention you need for a better opportunity for comfortable–even satisfying!–sex.

Your lack of interest is not in your head! I have yet to see a woman with pain with intercourse for which I couldn’t find some cause and some solution options. Things to explore with a menopause care provider are atrophic vaginitis, vulvodynia, or vaginismus. Sometimes localized estrogen is required in addition to HRT to fully estrogenize the vagina.

There are solutions out there! Please explore them fully. Good luck, and don’t give up!

Read Full Post »

I had a call the other day from a friend who’s been a widow for several years. “I’ve found someone!” she told me, with just the slightest quiver in her voice. “I’m so excited I can hardly concentrate at work.”

Of course I was happy for her — and happy that she called to set up an appointment with me for an exam in anticipation of resuming her sexual life. “I think everything’s going to be okay,” she said, “but I think I might want to come in and see you first so you can tell me for sure.”

She did come in to see me and I was glad to be able to reassure her that, from a physical perspective, she was good to go. If I am able to place two fingertips in a patient’s vagina without causing pain or discomfort, it’s a good bet that she’s going to be able to have intercourse comfortably.

But more than a few post-menopausal patients who come to my office have been astonished to discover that they can’t pass the two-finger test. Their vaginal walls have narrowed and thinned over a period of time without regular intercourse, and I have to tell them it’s going to take some work to get back into a condition where penetration will even be possible, let alone comfortable.

I run into this fairly frequently with women who are widowed and divorced at our stage of life. They are grieving or angry — or both — and, without thinking too much about it, decide that their sexual days are behind them. Don’t need to worry about that anymore! But, as my ecstatic friend can attest: You never know. Surprises happen, and when they do, it sure would nice to know that your body’s ready and able to experience the pleasures of intercourse.

It’s one of my biggest concerns for single women our age. If you’re 30 when you divorce and 40 when you want to take it up again, there’s been no lost ground. But if you’re 50 and decide to resume sex at 60, it’s a very different story. You find yourself in a new relationship, you’re ready to be intimate, but your vaginal “architecture” has changed. It can be a very unhappy surprise.

Physical therapy with vaginal dilators can help to restore capacity for intercourse, but it’s much simpler — and more pleasant! — if you don’t lose that capacity in the first place. For all my patients and friends who are currently without partners, I recommend a “vaginal maintenance plan” that will help them keep their genitals healthy and ready for love: moisturize regularly; use a good lubricant; and experiment with a personal vibrator or dilator to preserve your capacity for penetration.

Because you never know.

Read Full Post »

Estrogen-containing vaginal preparations are prescription only. If you haven’t tried lubricants and moisturizers, which are available over the counter, you might try those first.

Lubricants are designed for short-term effect, to make intercourse immediately more comfortable. They can be water-based, silicon-based, or a hybrid of the two.

Vaginal moisturizers are designed for longer-term maintenance of your vaginal tissues. They don’t contain hormones, so don’t require a prescription. They’re typically used every several days.

Localized estrogen, which is available as a ring or vaginal tablet in addition to cream, helps to increase blood flow and elasticity in genital tissues. If you’ve tried lubricants and moisturizers and haven’t yet been comfortable during sex, consider talking to your health care provider to see if localized estrogen or another hormone therapy might be right for you.

Read Full Post »

Maybe I was naïve. We ran into some issues with the launch of MiddlesexMD.com earlier this year: We couldn’t advertise on a popular social networking site. An article we submitted was rejected because of subject matter. We were “ineligible” for a medical site designation.

And I took all that in stride, with some disappointment, as an entrepreneur, and some concern, as a physician trying to get the word out to women that sex is good for you and still possible and pleasurable, well beyond menopause. But I’m a parent, too, and I understand that there’s adult content that can’t just go everywhere.

But in the last week I saw a couple of articles (one in the New York Times, one on Salon) about Zestra and the walls its makers were hitting in trying to advertise. If you’ve missed the story, a commercial for Zestra Essential Arousal Oils was turned down by TV networks, cable stations, radio stations, and web sites. When it was accepted at all, it was slated to run in the middle of the night. Rachel Braun Scherl, the president of the company that makes Zestra, says, “When it comes to talking about the realities of women’s lives, you always have some woman running in the field…. There’s a double standard when it comes to society’s comfort level with female sexual health and enjoyment.”

As evidence, Rachel points to the advertising for Viagra and Cialis. And that’s when I start to think I may have been naïve. I remember the first time Bob Dole came on my television, during prime time, when my daughters were in middle school and still watching TV with me. It was a little awkward, maybe, to explain to them what “erectile dysfunction” was, exactly. Now they’re old enough to snicker with me (in a compassionate way—I am a doctor) when we hear “in the event of an erection lasting more than four hours, seek medical attention.”

So this gets me thinking. Why can we be so public about an aid to a man’s sexual satisfaction, but not aids to a woman’s? Is it because Viagra and Cialis are prescription products for a condition that’s been named a medical problem? In the case of erectile dysfunction, have we successfully separated the erection from sexuality? Because women’s arousal and satisfaction are more complex (remember why we love Rosemary?), is it too difficult to make that same separation? Or is there really still a double standard, with men’s sexual satisfaction ranking higher then women’s?

I’ll keep thinking. And, I’m sure, gathering anecdotal evidence on both sides of my questions. I’d love for you to join the conversation.

Read Full Post »

I saw a patient this week who is in her early 60s, in great shape, and happily married to an attractive and generally healthy man also in his 60s. Recently retired from executive positions, they have been traveling to exotic — and romantic! — locales, enjoying fine cuisine and luxury accommodations.

They haven’t had sex in two years.

My patient told me that her husband had started having problems maintaining an erection since beginning medication for hypertension. After a series of failed attempts at their usual way of making love, they had given up trying to have intercourse. When I asked her if they pleasured each other sexually in other ways, using oral or manual stimulation for example, she simply shook her head.

This female response to male erectile dysfunction — not an unusual one by any means — intrigues me.

When the female half of an otherwise healthy, happy, heterosexual couple experiences a condition that prohibits penetration, she is typically eager to explore other options for sexual intimacy. But it doesn’t seem to work the other way. It’s like if he’s not going to get the ultimate end result — orgasm — then neither of them are.

I suspect what happens is that when men have difficulty performing, they start initiating sex less often. So once a week becomes once a month, and then there’s a problem and three months go by and it doesn’t work that time either, and — then it’s done!

What’s up with that, girls? Do partners with erectile dysfunction really lose all interest in any type of sexual intimacy? Or is it just hard  — for both of you — to change the game plan, the way sex happens, the way it starts, the way the “end result” is achieved or defined?

My guess is that many of these men would welcome their partners’ attempts to change things up, to experiment with new techniques and sensual aids that can enhance pleasure on both sides.

What’s your experience? What have you tried? What has worked — or not? Other women would love to learn from you!

Read Full Post »

Are the medications you’re on behind your loss of interest in sex? Are they making it more difficult for you to reach orgasm? These are tough questions. On one hand, the answer is almost always “yes”: So many of the medications we take–including pain meds and sleeping aids–list lower libido as a potential side effect. On the other hand, the answer is also usually “no”: In my experience, the meds aren’t usually the primary cause.

With one exception. If a patient reports a notable change in her ability to reach orgasm and is taking medication for depression or anxiety, I ask if she’s on an SSRI.

The most commonly used antidepressants today, SSRIs–selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (I know it’s a tongue twister)–are very effective in treating depression and anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, they also tend to dampen a woman’s ability to experience orgasm.

SSRIs–some of the most commonly prescribed are Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline)–work by raising levels of serotonin in the brain, enhancing neurotransmission and improving mood. The “selective” part of the name is because SSRIs affect only one type of neurotransmitter–serotonin. But higher serotonin can lead to lower libido–and missing orgasms.

Of course, depression and anxiety all by themselves often lead to reduced interest in sex, so it can be hard to tease out cause and effect. But when a patient tells me she has lost desire or orgasmic function since beginning antidepressants, I often suggest that she consider switching medications.

Other types of antidepressants, like Wellbutrin (buproprion), act on dopamine neurotransmitters and typically have fewer adverse sexual side effects. In fact, studies suggest that increased levels of dopamine in the brain may actually facilitate sexual functions including libido and orgasm.

Sometimes bupropion is prescribed in addition to an SSRI, sometimes as a replacement. Doctors can often try different combinations and dosages until they find the prescription that treats the depression without robbing patients of their orgasms.

If switching isn’t an option or if changing the prescription doesn’t do the trick, there are other options. Even on SSRIs, a sluggish libido or elusive orgasm will respond to increased lubrication and stimulation.

Dealing with depression is hard. We don’t have to make it harder by accepting the loss of an important part of ourselves. If you’ve struggled with the trade-offs, let us know how it’s worked out for you.

Read Full Post »

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things can change? You say you were tested as being mid-menopause. Blood work is accurate at assessing ovarian function on the day you’re tested, but it is miserable in predicting what may happen in the next weeks or months. An FSH level may come back 40 (suggesting menopause) on one day, but you may ovulate 6 weeks from now at have an FSH at 8. It’s really only over time that you really can better understand if this is the ‘new norm’ or transient. Perimenopause is known to have fluctuating symptoms; once in menopause, most women’s symptoms are more predictable.

To make sex comfortable again, I would start with a lubricant. I would try a water-based lube like Carrageenan or Yes. If using a lube makes you comfortable and doesn’t irritate the area, that can be a great, simple solution for now.

A warming lube can add some additional sensation for arousal and make orgasm somewhat stronger. Try Oceanus G Stimulating or Sliquid Sensations. Occasionally the warming lubes can be irritating if the area is sensitive, which is why I’d start with a non-stimulating water-based lube; then test a small amount of the warming lube to see if it works for you!

Good luck! I know you can have satisfying sex again.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: