Our popular culture is dominated by sexual imagery. From movies and television shows to magazines and books, the topic of sex is everywhere. Sexuality is such a large part of our day-to-day lives – so why are we so afraid to talk about it?
An estimated 43 per cent of women will encounter sexual problems at some point in their lives. Many of these issues occur during perimenopause (the time period leading up to menopause) or menopause. Common concerns include decreased sexual desire, vaginal dryness, and pain during intercourse. As a woman ages, she experiences decreased blood flow and estrogen levels, which leads to a thinner vaginal lining. This thinning, known as vaginal atrophy, makes the vagina more prone to pain and bleeding. Vaginal atrophy affects more than two million Canadian women.
The results of a recent study confirm what many medical professionals have known to be true all along: we are not very good at talking about sexual health issues. A first-of-its-kind global online poll dubbed CLOSER (CLarifying Vaginal Atrophy’s Impact On Sex and Relationships) looked at the sex lives of post-menopausal women aged 55 to 65 who have experienced vaginal atrophy and male partners of post-menopausal women aged 55 to 65 who have experienced vaginal atrophy.
The survey found 58 per cent of women shied away from sex due to vaginal discomfort and 64 per cent of women reported a loss of libido. One third of women also reported that they no longer felt attractive and lacked confidence in themselves as a sex partner. Seventy-eight per cent of men attributed a loss of intimacy to their partner’s discomfort, with 30 per cent reporting all sexual activity had stopped. Almost one quarter of Canadian women feel uncomfortable discussing vaginal atrophy with their partner.
It is time for women to stop suffering in silence. Many women are too embarrassed to talk to their partner and family doctor about the symptoms they are experiencing, and many physicians are also embarrassed to begin this conversation. Unlike hot flashes and other temporary symptoms of the menopause transition, the symptoms of urogenital or vaginal aging will not go away on their own.
It is important to keep the lines of communication open. Try to be open and honest with your partner, as your partner can be a source of emotional support when you are seeking treatment that can ultimately strengthen your relationship.
It is also important to talk to your doctor about the various treatment options available. Treatment not only allows women to continue using their vagina in the post-menopausal years but also helps women maintain the lower urinary tract.
One of the best ways to treat vaginal aging is through local estrogen therapy. There are a variety of options such as cream, rings and tablets that can easily be placed in the vagina. Many women fear local estrogen therapy is linked to increased breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes, but this is untrue.
It is time to start a dialogue about sex over the age of 55. We all need to speak up on this important matter to make sure the women in our lives get the help they deserve.
Lois Glover is a nurse and menopause practitioner in Victoria General Hospital’s Mature Women’s Centre. To support patient care at the Vic, contact Victoria General Hospital Foundation at 204-477-3513 or online at http://www.thevicfoundation.ca.