Friday 21 July 2017

Dear Mary: The menopause is wrecking what should be a time of joy

HRT is not suitable for everyone
HRT is not suitable for everyone

Mary O'Conor

QI am a young, fit 50-year-old woman almost two years into menopause, and my 30-year, sat isfying and loving and close sex life with my husband has changed in the past couple of months. I have always had a higher sex drive than him, but though I would have had more 'Nos' from him than the other way around, it has been a joyful and satisfying sex life.

It has held our marriage together through tough times even when we would have arguments. I couldn't stay cross with him as he only had to look at me and I would melt.

I always felt what we have is so special, but my body is changing and sex is becoming uncomfortable (even with using a lubricant), and his libido is dropping down to next to nothing, because he is feeling like a failure as a provider. Every business venture he has tried over the past few years has failed, and now I am keeping the bills paid through my own business. I think our relationship is changing and I want to do whatever I can to sustain our loving and close relationship.

It's heartbreaking to see him depressed, and I've begun feeling less sexually attractive, as I feel my body is letting me down with my vagina changing. I feel angry that I never knew this could happen to me. It seems like the best kept secret of womanhood! Why hasn't all this been talked about in an open forum, so women wouldn't get a shock and could somehow prepare for it?

I intend to make it better, somehow. I have asked for an appointment from my gynaecologist and intend to take any advice she has to give me even if it means taking oestrogen, but then I worry if it will all be for nothing if my husband does not want sex or very little sex. As he is aware of what is happening to me, I also think that he is not turned on by me now, as sex with me is a bit uncomfortable for him too.

I buried my parents not long ago, and our children have left home in the past year.It all seems to be about loss, Mary, when it ought to be about having morefreedomandspare time to myself and time alone with my husband. Instead I feel like I've lost all that and also lost my husband's desire and my body is losing its sexual capacity to be an enjoyable host to her man.

I must be strong to keep my business running and paying the bills, but I need advice to help me through all this. If you feel I need counselling, then please suggest somewhere in Dublin or Cork.

AThere are two separate issues here – your vaginal changes due to the onset of menopause and your husband's depression. So let's deal with your menopause symptoms first.

As you are discovering, when levels of oestrogen are lower than they used to be, the vaginal lining gets thinner, less flexible, and doesn't stretch so well. As a result, intercourse can become painful because the tissue in the vagina has become dry and fragile.

You have made the right decision in going to see your gynaecologist, and she may suggest HRT if she feels it is necessary. This, however, is not suitable for everybody and carries its own risks, so you may like to try a different lubricant to the one you are currently using. Replens and Sylk are two very good products, although you may have to get Sylk from the UK.

In addition, taking a capsule of Vitamin E daily will also help alleviate dryness. It has been found, however, that regular sexual activity through menopause can help keep the vaginal tissues thick and moist, and this brings me to the current situation with your husband.

It is only natural that he feels depressed because of his repeated business failures. Men are reared to believe that they should be the main provider in the household, and that is not happening right now. If you think he needs to, he should discuss this depression with his GP.

Depression can lead to loss of interest in sex, and as he never had a very high libido it is to be expected that sex isn't high on his list of priorities. However, it is on yours, and you should explain to him how important it is for you to feel desired and loved in this very intimate way. So when you get your lubrication problems sorted out, you can ask your husband to help you to rediscover your body and make regular 'dates' to be sexual.

You should emphasise that if you have sex even once a week, he will be helping you maintain your vaginal wellbeing – and he can even have some fun along the way, which is what seems to be lacking in your relationship at the moment. I love your idea of being an enjoyable host to your man, and I'm sure he will also.

After all this, if nothing is resolved then by all means go as a couple for psychosexual counselling. In Dublin, Relationships Ireland can be contacted at 1890-380 380 and in Cork Angela O'Mahony is at 085-129 2092.

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