Women's sexual desire: Does it change over time?
Time to read 6 min
Time to read 6 min
"Why don't I have a sex drive anymore? Is there something wrong with me?"
There are many factors that can affect a woman’s sexual desire over time. One of the main contributors to the change of desire is often menopause. Many women experience hormonal changes and vaginal dryness which can result in sex becoming painful or women feeling less desire. Sometimes, however, it can also increase women’s desire. During menopause, it’s important to consult a doctor and consider potential treatments to help with the symptoms. Using a lubricant might become increasingly more important to address potential dryness.
Other factors that can significantly change women’s desire include pregnancy which can both increase and decrease desire.
Most people experience some level of diminished desire toward their partner in long-term relationships. Most of us don’t want to have sex with our partners as often as we did in the beginning and that’s okay. But it’s important to communicate about your expectations and desires and prioritize the sexual relationship whenever possible.
Some women experience higher levels of desire as they get older as women often start to feel more comfortable in their bodies and are more accepting of themselves. They may also know better what makes them feel good so sex becomes more enjoyable.
The effect of hormones on women’s sexual desire is not very well understood. There have been many studies that have tried to better understand the hormonal influences, but the results are often mixed. What we often find, however, is that women tend to experience higher levels of desire shortly before and during ovulation. (Women still ovulate after menopause!)
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is the most direct way to combat hormonal fluctuations during menopause, but regular exercise and stress management can also help with the symptoms. There are also some natural solutions that might help manage the symptoms and increase libido but these have not been systematically studied so it’s not clear whether they do help or not:
There is currently no direct evidence to suggest that having regular sex would have an impact on menopause.
“It is certainly possible although it usually requires more work than with a new partner. Continuing to explore different things and ensuring that you’re not just doing the same thing each time you have sex is a good start. You can make it a habit to, for example, once a month take turns to find something different to try that you haven’t done before like trying a new sex toy or watching an erotic movie or going to a burlesque show.”
It can be really difficult to differentiate what is influencing our sexual desire and often it’s a combination of factors. Sometimes trying different things like addressing the hormonal changes to see if that makes a difference can help isolate which factors are not the cause of the issue. However, often we enter into a spiral where our sexual desire is lowered initially due to one thing (e.g., change in hormones) but this has an effect on other things like maybe the hormonal changes made our vagina drier and results in sex becoming more painful so we started avoiding sex and not we associate sex with something negative. Even with lube maybe we don’t want to try sex again because of the association with pain. So it’s not always easy to isolate what happened to our desire but there are many evidence-based ways to help improve our sexual desire even if we don’t know the original cause.
It is certainly possible although it usually requires more work than with a new partner. Continuing to explore different things and ensuring that you’re not just doing the same thing each time you have sex is a good start. You can make it a habit to, for example, once a month take turns to find something different to try that you haven’t done before like trying a new sex toy or watching an erotic movie or going to a burlesque show – whatever can help ignite your sexual desire.
One option is therapy which can help you work through the challenges with body image and self-esteem. There are also many books, websites, and apps available that help people work through these challenges. Trying to accept yourself as you are is complex and can take time. It’s also ok sometimes to not feel ok in yourself. Sometimes that means we want to change something in ourselves. Sometimes it just means that we need a bit more time to feel ok about it. Having compassion for yourself is important, accepting that sometimes we have good days and sometimes we have bad days and even the “most perfect” people often struggle with their bodies or at least have struggled at some point. Body image and self-esteem do have a big impact on our sexual desire so the better we feel in ourselves the better we usually feel being naked with others so addressing these challenges can have a big impact on your enjoyment of sex.
Often women can’t have sex for a certain period of time after having had children and partners are often exhausted due to not sleeping so it can be hard to think about sex in these situations. Also, there may be lesser opportunities with a baby especially if they don’t sleep very well.
Taking small moments out of the day for intimacy and affection can be a good start. It may start with something as simple as a neck massage whilst one person is holding the baby or having naked cuddles in bed before falling asleep. It can be helpful to try to maintain a physical connection and affection even when having sex may not be an option.
There are plenty of things that you can do to stay mindful of your sexual desire. Perhaps you want to actually engage in some mindfulness practices but in a way that you tune into your body and notice different sensations and arousal in the body either during sex or in thinking about sex. When exposed to sexual stimuli like erotic scenes in a movie or a book or seeing an attractive person, just notice how your body responds. What changes do you feel?
More generally, if you notice that your desire levels have changed, spend some time thinking about what has been happening for you that might have changed your desire. Maybe it’s time to take a more active approach with desire again and engage with stimuli that makes you think about sex to see how that feels.
Here’s my website: https://www.lauravowels.com/. I’ve got quite limited capacity for new clients as I spend a lot of my time doing research and teaching but I can always take some time to discuss options with you and if needed refer you to a trusted colleague if I don’t have space.