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Coping With Sexual Dysfunction in Midlife

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 8 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Menopause Perimenopause Impotence

While sex may not be the only component of healthy relationships, most people consider it to be an important one. During middle age, many couples find that one or both partners may experience some form of sexual dysfunction.

Identifying problems is the first step toward solving them, so couples should be open and honest with one another in order to get the help they need to keep their sex lives satisfying.

Times of Change

With midlife often comes the realisation that time does indeed march on. Gone are the days when poor dietary, exercise, and sleep habits seemed to have no immediate consequences; middle aged people often experience symptoms that signal the beginning of significant physical changes.

The menopause affects women both physically and emotionally, with each woman going through the change in her own way. For men, the changes of midlife may be more subtle, but they are happening, nonetheless.

Sexual Dysfunction in Men

While men may retain their ability to father children through midlife and beyond, levels of the male sex hormone testosterone diminish gradually beginning at about age 40. This decrease can lead to a lower sex drive than in years past, and in some cases, may be responsible for performance problems, as well.

Men who have never had difficulties achieving and maintaining erections may experience occasional (or frequent) incidences of impotence in midlife, which they are likely to find troubling. Fortunately, in most cases impotence can be treated and corrected, allowing men to have satisfying sex lives well past middle age.

Impotence may be caused by a number of factors, from simple aging to the presence of an underlying health condition such as diabetes, liver disease, anaemia, or even poor nutrition. Sometimes, the causes are psychological in nature. Men who are depressed or under a great deal of stress may experience episodes of impotence. Talking with a GP can help to determine the cause of male dysfunction, which will in turn help both doctor and patient to decide on a course of action.

Sexual Dysfunction in Women

The biggest sexual complaints that women express in midlife are a lack of desire and vaginal dryness. Both of these symptoms can be associated with the hormonal changes that take place in the years leading up to menopause and in the first few years after menopause.

Perimenopause, the span of time preceding actual menopause when hormones are in a constant state of change, can last up to ten years. Fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone can cause both physical and emotional symptoms, even when the fluctuations are subtle.

Eating well and exercising regularly can be helpful for many perimenopausal women, but those who have considerable difficulty with symptoms may wish to consider taking additional steps to help them cope. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be prescribed, but this type of treatment is not without risk. Many women prefer to take a more natural approach, utilising herbal remedies such as sage and Dong Quai to minimise hot flushes, St John's Wort for mild depression, and Black Cohosh, which may help to maintain a comfortable hormone balance. Natural progesterone has shown promise in not only helping with perimenopausal symptoms, but also for rebalancing the hormones.

It's important to note that sexual dysfunction in midlife women isn't always related to the hormonal changes associated with the menopause. Underlying illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes can be to blame, too, so women should always check with their GPs before assuming that their symptoms are simply natural reactions to perimenopause.

Seeking Help

Some people are hesitant to seek help for matters of sexuality, feeling embarrassed about their problems and reluctant to discuss such personal issues, but medical professionals are well versed in dealing with the symptoms of midlife. The changes that occur in middle age are perfectly natural and in a great majority of cases, help is available. Most people are capable of enjoying rich and satisfying sex lives well beyond midlife, so to avoid seeking help out of fear or embarrassment is to cheat oneself and their partner out of an important part of their close relationship.

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