Hormones and Sex: When Pregnancy, Nursing, or Menopause Kill Your Libido (thoughts on what to do to stay intimate!)

Women are hormonal. We make jokes about PMS. We use hormones as our excuse to eat chocolate. They’re part of our regular vocabulary, but I’m not sure we women understand how much they can impact our sex drives. Hormones and sex are deeply interconnected.

Yesterday we were talking about pregnancy and sex, and today I want to talk about hormones and sex–and how to handle it when hormones kill your libido. I was going to talk specifically about sex and breastfeeding, but most of the problems come back to hormones (or lack thereof), and this applies to not just your childbearing years, but to menopause, too. So let’s try to understand this.

First, a little background. In both men and women, testosterone is related to arousal and libido. Men obviously have more than women, but we still need that testosterone boost. Normally we get a hormonal surge smack in the middle of our cycles, when we’re ovulating, that lasts several days. God made us that way so that we’d desire sex on the days that we’re able to get pregnant. (Incidentally, that’s also why people using hormonal birth control often find that their sex drives plummet. They aren’t getting these normal hormonal fluctuations that cause an increase in libido at certain times.)

So what happens to us when those cycles aren’t happening? Let’s look at pregnancy first. When we’re pregnant, some people find sex even better (especially during months 4-7). But others find their libido almost shuts down. One woman commented yesterday, saying that in her first pregnancy sex was great, but this time she just can’t get aroused. And she can’t figure it out, because she totally loves her husband.

Now what about nursing? For many of us, that kills libido, too. If nursing prevents you from having your period (which it will, at least for a few months), then that hormonal surge is gone. But even when you do start your period again, many women find that as much as they may want to, they just can’t seem to get aroused.

Something similar happens with menopause. Women who have gone through the hormonal changes menopause bring will often say the same thing. Mentally they want to have sex, and they’re doing the same things that they always did before that worked, but this time they’re just not getting turned on. And it drives them nuts! What happened to your sex drive? Did menopause just steal it?

How do you cope?

I’m going to give a couple of quick thoughts, and then I would love to pool the cumulative wisdom we have on this blog and ask you all for more of your thoughts! Then maybe this weekend I’ll try to do a roundup or something. But here goes:

1. Use Lubrication

Coconut Oil Absolutely, no doubt about it. In the comments on previous threads lots of women have suggested coconut oil, and then of course there are the lubricants you can purchase in the drug store. But lubes don’t just help sex work without discomfort; they can even aid in arousal.

You see, when you’re trying to have intercourse and you’re dry, it’s rather unpleasant. But when you’re wet it feels so much better. It’s like the difference between a massage with no massage oil and a massage with oil. It just feels more delicious. So using lubrication doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s not “second best”. It just is simply something that can help you feel better and help keep everything more comfortable!

My husband and I speak at FamilyLife marriage conferences, and one weekend we were speaking with another couple that was in their late fifties. And they absolutely swore by lubrication. After menopause, she needed it. And it made a tremendous difference.

2. Spend a Lot of time Relaxing

Our sex drives are largely in our heads. When we want to make love, our bodies TEND to follow. They don’t always, though, as many of you have said. But relaxing first can help that process. So spend time in the bath together. Ask for a massage (especially if you’ve been carrying babies around all day). Drag things out so that sex is about real connection and not just about release, and you may find that arousal does come when you give it time. But even if it doesn’t, you’re still relaxed and you still feel good!

You’ll notice I haven’t really said “spend more time on foreplay”. It’s not that I don’t think foreplay is important; I do. But I know for many women, when hormones just aren’t there and arousal is difficult, foreplay can actually be quite stressful. You end up feeling like a failure. I’d recommend instead that you spend a lot of time in leadup in other ways. Ask for a massage while you’re both naked. Concentrate on how it feels. Ask him to massage your thighs and not just your back. If you are able to get aroused, it’s more likely to start then than while he’s actually touching a more erogenous zone. So I’m not saying don’t do foreplay; I’m just saying don’t get all stressed about it. Concentrate instead on relaxing and feeling physically wonderful in other ways, and then if arousal happens, that’s great. But don’t work yourself into a frenzy with foreplay, because that can actually have the opposite effect sometimes!

3. Concentrate on the Other Benefits of Sex

I read a thread on another blog recently that said, basically, that breastfeeding meant her libido vanished, and that was God’s birth control, to make sure that our children were spaced out farther. And so her husband just realized that this was the baby’s turn, not his turn.

Again, I’m very uncomfortable with women swearing off sex for extended periods of time. I know it may be difficult to get aroused, but that doesn’t mean that sex can’t be meaningful in other ways.

Sex is supposed to connect us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Even if you’re not multi-orgasmic, you can still have those other two elements. You feel closer together. You laugh together, like you have a shared secret. You feel intimate. You may be able to live without an orgasm, but do you really want to live without all of that? Certainly there are other ways to feel close, but this is the main one that God gave to us.

Again, you may not have an orgasm, but if you’re lubricated and relaxed, it can still be fun. And if you turn the tables sometimes, and decide to be the initiator and challenge yourself to make him feel great, your own arousal level isn’t quite as important. He’ll feel like a million bucks, too!

4. Don’t Stress About It

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t worry about our own pleasure; of course it’s wonderful to feel pleasure. I’m just saying that there are times when things aren’t going to work as well. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. And if this is tied up in pregnancy or nursing, there is an end in sight. But during those times when hormones aren’t surging, just make sure that you don’t give up on intimacy. Find other things to look forward to while making love, and stress the touch and the massage and the relaxation, and you may just find that you yearn for it, too–just in other ways!

Now, what thoughts can you offer us on hormones and sex? What’s been your experience? Let me know in the comments!

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