November 1, 2014
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Sex and Aging: Use It or Lose It!

A case of hormones

A case of hormones

Most people know about menopause, a natural stage in a woman's life where her body stops producing the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Menopause is defined as not having had a menstrual period for the past 12 months. The average age at menopause is 51 years, but symptoms of declining hormones often begin years before. This is called perimenopause, and often starts when a woman is in her 40s. Symptoms of menopause include:

  • irregular menstrual periods that eventually stop completely
  • hot flashes (feelings of intense heat, flushing, and sweating)
  • vaginal dryness
  • bone loss
  • weight gain
  • sleep problems
  • problems with concentration and memory
  • lower sex drive
  • fatigue
  • night sweats

Many of us are unaware that men also experience declining sex hormone (testosterone) levels as they get older. The gradual decrease in testosterone production that occurs when a man ages is called andropause.

Andropause is different from menopause. After menopause, women are unable to become pregnant. But men can still father children after andropause. During menopause, a woman's hormone levels decline very suddenly and dramatically. With andropause, the decline of hormone levels is more gradual. But it can still lead to very real physical effects. Symptoms of andropause include:

  • lack of energy and drive
  • lower sex drive
  • decreasing strength and endurance
  • loss of height
  • mood changes (a man may be sad or grumpy more often)
  • erections that are less strong
  • decreased work performance or athletic ability
  • decreased enjoyment of life

At around the age of 30, available testosterone levels in men begin to decrease about 10% every 10 years. Andropause usually affects men over 40 years of age.

Both menopause and andropause can cause physical symptoms (such as loss of energy and sex drive) that can put a damper on a couple's sex life – especially if both people are going through menopause or andropause at the same time! The most important step is to recognize the problem and seek help. A declining sex drive in middle age may often be due to hormonal changes or other physical causes, which can often be treated.

Once you've figured out the cause of your dampened desire and gotten access to treatment, the next step is to rebuild your sexual relationship. The key is communication. Because sex is a way of reaffirming your attraction to and feelings for the other person, it's important to reassure your partner that it's not their fault. Explain how the changes in your sex life have been making you feel, and encourage your partner to share their thoughts and feelings as well. Try to use "I" statements rather than "you" statements, as these are less likely to make the other person think you are accusing or berating them. Discuss your expectations for your sex life going forward, and don't be discouraged if it takes time to build up the relationship again. Make sure you take time to be alone together, and don't be afraid to get creative!

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