For a woman in midlife, the hot flushes increase as her libido cools — or so we often assume.
New research, however, suggests that for significant numbers, sex remains a key aspect of their lives right through those menopause years and beyond.
A survey of 45 to 60-year-olds for the University of Pittsburgh revealed that for 25 per cent sex was ‘highly important’, while for nearly half it remained ‘important’.
So what’s the truth about sex, the menopause and beyond? Five Femail writers and a menopause doctor reveal all . . .
I CLING TO EVERY EMBER IN THE GRATE
Rowan Pelling, 52, has been married for 25 years.
Surely I can’t be the only woman to note an orgasm knocks ten years off your face, puts a spring in your step and is free at point of access — unlike Botox or gym membership.
I may not be distracted by random feelings of desire now I’m older, but what I’ve gained is the certainty that sex, when it happens, won’t disappoint.
My beloved and I may take longer to get in the mood than when we first met, but we’re better versed at giving each other pleasure.
Rowan Pelling, 52, (pictured) has been married for 25 years and has gained the certainty that sex, when it happens, won’t disappoint
I’d be surprised only 25 per cent of the women surveyed said sex was still ‘highly important’ to them, if it weren’t for knowing how badly women are let down as they approach menopause.
As hormones fluctuate, it’s common for middle-aged women to experience loss of libido, pain during intercourse and sweat‑drenched hot flushes.
And yet we still get fobbed off with antidepressants and lectures about health risks if you take hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
But new forms of body-identical HRT have negligible risks for most women. Those who do have informed access to the safest HRT generally see a surge in their energy, spirits and mental clarity (brain fog is one of the menopause’s unkindest gifts) which boosts their sexual va-va-voom.
I’m hoping to get a prescription for testosterone, too, after five female friends said it was ‘miraculous’ in terms of reviving their desire.
But it’s almost impossible to get on the NHS — unless you’re a man.
It’s a national scandal that we don’t prioritise older women’s rights to a decent sex life, but almost any bloke who asks can get his mitts on Viagra.
Of course, women who want to beat a retreat from the erotic arena should be supported, too.
I totally understand why some friends feel delighted to be unshackled from the demands of an unruly sex drive.
Many find gardening, cooking, travelling and dancing give them more joy.
But those of us who feel there is no pleasure greater than sexual intimacy will cling to the flame while there’s the tiniest red ember in the grate.
A Cambridge gynaecologist once told me that his oldest client was a woman in her 90s and she was dating a ‘toyboy’ in his 80s.
There’s hope for us all.
BOREDOM, NOT THE ‘CHANGE’, KILLS LIBIDO
Linda Kelsey, 68, has been with partner Ronny for 11 years.
Many of my friends have, like me, formed new relationships in midlife. I, for example, met my partner after my 25-year marriage ended in my mid-50s.
For all of us, rediscovering the spark of desire has been a wondrous revelation.
Which proves it’s not age and it’s not the menopause which kills off sex, except perhaps for the temporary blip when your hormones are raging against you and depleting your energy and enthusiasm.
Linda Kelsey, 68, (pictured) has been with partner Ronny for 11 years after her 25-year marriage ended in her mid-50s
What sounds the sexual death knell in long-term relationships is laziness, routine, predictability, arguments and all the other stuff of life that stops you both from really appreciating one another.
Intimacy is essential in relationships, and sex is one form that intimacy takes, although it’s not the only one.
If a couple have everything else in their favour and both no longer care about sex, fine. But that’s rare before the age of 60.
I know enough couples where one of them has stopped desiring their partner, while the other longs to be sexually connected again, and is left feeling bereft and sad.
Mismatched libidos contribute hugely to break‑ups and this is borne out by the increasing prevalence of divorce among those in their 50s and 60s.
According to the latest research, nearly half of women say sex is important during midlife, with 25 per cent believing it’s ‘highly’ so.
But that still means a quarter don’t feel it’s a significant part of their lives. This is why I’d recommend a couple’s MoT for those who’ve lost interest in sex.
It should be prescribed, free of charge, by the government in a bid to keep relationships going and, as a consequence, keep families together.
The end of sex was one of the catalysts for the break-up of my marriage in my mid-50s, though it was other things that triggered the end of intimacy.
By intimacy I mean things like really listening, and talking to each other, resolving rows, being kind and sometimes saying something as simple as: ‘You look lovely in that new dress.’
Get all of that right, and desire may bubble up way beyond 60.
STILL IN LOVE, BUT TOO TIRED FOR DESIRE
Hilary Freeman, 49, has been with her partner Mickael for ten years.
So only a quarter of women my age really think sex is a ‘highly important’ part of their lives? That statistic surprises and rather saddens me.
For me, sex is as important as it ever was; the glue that cements a loving relationship and that differentiates it from mere friendship.
Hilary Freeman, 49, (pictured) has been with her partner Mickael for ten years and said sex is as important as it ever was
While my peri-menopausal libido might not be quite the revving engine it used to be, it’s still ticking over nicely.
However, I’d be lying if I said that I’m having as much sex as I did in my youth. Or even half as much.
My mind is willing. The idea of sex is still very appealing, and I find my partner of ten years as attractive as the day we met.
But the flesh? It’s not so much weak as knackered.
Most evenings, I’ll start with good intentions. But by the time I’ve dragged myself into bed, I’m too tired to read, let alone partake in anything more physical.
Like many women in their late 40s these days, I have a young child, a daughter who recently turned five.
She needs constant attention and supervision, and there is a lot of tidying up to be done in her wake, which might have been less exhausting in my 30s.
She also has a dislike of staying in her room or going to sleep at night, and has a habit of climbing into bed with us for cuddles in the mornings, neither of which are conducive to parental passion.
My partner is usually as tired as me, so neither of us feels rejected or disappointed. In fact, we both laugh about it together, which stops it becoming a problem.
Perhaps we need to get more imaginative, or creative, or just better organised. In my experience, the more sex you have, the more you want: use it or lose it.
But one thing is for certain: just because I’ll be turning 50 next year, I won’t be giving up on sex, and I hope I never will.
MY SEX LIFE HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER
Olivia Fane, 60, has been married to her husband Mark for nearly 30 years.
I remember thinking when I had small children: ‘Is that curtains for the libido, then? Is that the end of a passionate sex life for ever?’
A decade later it came back overnight. I’m 60 now, and can honestly say our sex life has never been better.
The timing coincided with a change in the way I felt about my body. As a lithe 18-year-old, I was shy. But now — flab and all — I feel freer than ever.
Olivia Fane, 60, (pictured) has been married to her husband Mark for nearly 30 years and said their sex life has never been better
Most likely it’s the menopause that’s brought about these shifts in mindset.
You often hear about women getting to an age when they just don’t care so much about what other people think.
No longer biologically primed to please a mate or nurture children, we can be more selfish.
When you’ve been married for a long time, there’s less at stake anyway — you’re more sure of each other. But perhaps I’ve lost something, too.
There is a romance surrounding sex in our youth which I seem to have lost. My sexuality has become more male; it’s about release, not about tenderness.
I’m now blind, for example, to any connection between love and sex, and afterwards all I want to do is escape to another bedroom and read a book in peace.
So what I once thought of as my ‘love life’ has become my ‘sex life’. Luckily, my husband doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think he quite enjoys his wife’s libido.
For intimacy, for love, for true spiritual connection, we lie in bed in each other’s arms watching black-and-white movies, or go outside in the middle of the night to gaze in wonder at the stars.
When sex takes centre-stage in a marriage, my goodness, it can seem important.
One friend told me that he was giving his wife six months to initiate sex, and if she failed to do so, that was proof she didn’t love him.
I tried hard to persuade him it didn’t mean anything of the sort, but he wouldn’t listen.
A libido is a libido and nothing more, nothing less. Sex should never be anything more in a marriage than a delightful recreation.
IT’S RARE FOR ME TO THINK ABOUT SEX NOW
Monica Porter, 68, is single.
Some years back, when my long‑term relationship had just come to an end, I reacted by signing up to dating websites and having the raciest time of my life.
I was already well into the dreaded menopause, but whether I was helped by my daily dollops of wondrous HRT or it would have all happened that way in any case, I found that physical relations with the bevy of charming men (mostly younger, I admit) were excellent indeed.
Monica Porter, 68, (pictured) is single and said that when her long‑term relationship had just come to an end she signing up to dating websites
As I discovered, menopause certainly didn’t have to stand in the way of an enthusiastic libido. It was a last love-life hurrah, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
But that was then. It’s a very different life I lead today. But I don’t resent having a rather nun‑like existence these days (if nuns had children and grandchildren and wrote books).
According to the latest research, sex continues to matter as women head into their senior years, but it’s a rare day indeed when the subject of sex enters my thinking.
I have many women friends of my generation who are still contentedly married.
Whether or not they still, occasionally, have a little sedate sex now and then I’ve no idea. I suspect not. Certainly, none of them talk about fireworks any more.
And, biologically, surely this is the way it should be. No longer needing to procreate, we women should be free to indulge ourselves, and not feel under pressure to stay sexy and alluring for ever.
I’m not saying I’ll never consider sex again. If some nice-looking, age-appropriate chap with his own teeth and who doesn’t bore for Britain should cross my path and we ‘click’, well, maybe it could happen. After all, I’m not an automaton.
But I’m not holding my breath. And I’m fine with that.
For my evening’s entertainment, it’s a relief to confess that I’d rather read my little grandson bedtime stories than entertain the idea of doing anything saucy.