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Menopause and Painful Sex: What You Need to Know

Menopause and Painful Sex: What You Need to Know

By Vera Sizensky

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There is a "painful" truth about menopause. One of the common symptoms associated with this stage of life is that sexual intercourse starts to hurt. Through a recent HealthyWomen survey, sponsored by Duchesnay USA, we found that while 62 percent of respondents reported experiencing pain during or after sex, just under half recognized that this pain is actually related to menopause.

While 73 percent of women surveyed indicated that they were still sexually active after menopause, 83 percent of respondents to questions about pain reported experiencing pain in half or more instances of sexual activity with 73 percent rating the pain moderate to severe.

So. What are women doing to treat this pain? In some cases, not much.

Almost 60 percent of respondents said they had never discussed their painful sex with their health care provider. In fact, 45 percent of women who answered questions about management techniques said they were using lubricants to cope with the pain, while one in three were resorting to avoiding sex altogether.

Yes, this pain is a natural symptom sometimes associated with menopause. Before menopause, estrogen helps maintain the thickness and elasticity of your vaginal tissues, but as you age, estrogen levels drop causing change in these tissues. These changes can lead to a medical condition called vulvar and vaginal atrophy, which can lead to painful sex, known as dyspareunia.

However, this pain does not have to be accepted as a normal part of the aging process that women must simply manage. More importantly, this pain will not go away on its own, and it can get worse if not properly treated. Yet, 69 percent of respondents were not aware that the painful sex they were experiencing is treatable.

Starting the conversation with your health care provider about painful sex may not be easy, but it is an important step toward enjoying pain-free intimacy. Satisfaction with your sex life can be important for health-related quality of life at any age. Menopause certainly does not have to mean the end of sex.

Make it a priority to talk to your health care provider about painful sex at your next appointment. Here is some information that you should have on hand to share:

  • The date of your last menstrual period.

  • How often you experience pain during or after sex.

  • How intense is your pain during or after sex? Moderate? Severe?

  • How are you currently coping with pain during or after sex?

Be sure to ask your health care provider about treatment options. Painful sex can be managed with lubricants or moisturizers, but these only provide temporary relief and do not address the underlying condition causing your pain.

There are prescription options that can treat moderate to severe painful sex, including a once-daily, hormone-free oral pill, which provides women with an alternative option to vaginally applied or inserted treatments.

If you experience moderate to severe pain during intercourse, talk to your health care provider about treatment options that work best for you and your lifestyle. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of treatment options with your health care provider to determine which one is best for you.