Sex at Midlife

older couple walking arm in armWhether you've been married for 25 years or are only dating, sex at midlife—we're talking 40s and 50s—can hold some unique challenges for you and him.

For women, this time of life is one in which your hormones rise and fall like a roller coaster. As estrogen levels fluctuate, eventually bottoming out with menopause, you may notice certain changes in your body that affect your sexuality. One of the most significant changes occurs in your vagina.

Like many parts of your body, your vagina relies on estrogen to keep it healthy. Low estrogen levels can lead to thinner vaginal walls, increasing the risk of tears during sex and sometimes causing itching, burning and dryness. In addition, there is less lubrication, which can make intercourse painful and further contribute to the risk of vaginal and labial tears.

Estrogen loss can also shrink the clitoris (a major player in a woman's sexual pleasure and orgasm) and reduce blood flow to the clitoris.

Estrogen receptors (as well as progesterone, another sex hormone) are also particularly prevalent in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls sexual function and mood. So, we think, estrogen plays a role in terms of getting you in the mood.