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Can using sex toys help menopausal symptoms?

Can using sex toys help menopausal symptoms? | Jo Divine

A new survey by the British Menopause Society (2017) found that 51% of women said sex is off the menu due to menopausal sexual symptoms. These can include vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, vaginal tightness, all of which can cause painful sex, decreased libido, decreased sexual sensation and body confidence.

50% of women are too embarrassed to speak to their doctor even though over two in five women said that symptoms of the menopause had been worse than they had expected.

A 2014 study of 8,000 women found that over half experienced vaginal atrophy post-menopause and 41% said it made sex painful, yet British women are 50% less likely to ask for help compared to those in the US and Europe which is sad as using pH balanced sexual lubricants can really help vaginal dryness.

However a smaller survey of 832 women aged over recently conducted by HealthyWomen.org and sponsored by Duchesnay USA (2018) found that whilst 73% of women were sexually active, 62% reported that sex was painful. 60% said they had never discussed it with their healthcare provider and 69% did not realise that it could be effectively treated.

Of all the respondants, 33% said they avoided sex whilst 45% treated with lubricants ( which lubricants was not stated)

Dr Louise Newson, a GP and menoapuse specialist says

“Many women I talk to in my menopause clinic no longer have sex but never talk about it”.

Many feel that there is still very little awareness about treatment options and support available due to the pervading misconceptions and the attitude of some GPs. Some say that it depends on which GP you speak to as to what treatment options are offered, and also the manner in which symptoms of the menopause is discussed.

Some women are left completely debilitated by their menopause symptoms, which can impact upon intimate relationships too, yet others breeze through this phase. The recently published NICE guidelines on managing the menopause go some way to helping women navigate this period of their lives and, hopefully receive appropriate treatment. However we know that not all GPs follow them or have even read them.

The menopause and your sex life

Like our body, our sexual function slowly declines as we age. It is a natural process, just like menstruation and childbirth, but often our sexual relationships change as we move through the menopause.

Conducted by the University of Manchester (2015), a study of more than 6,000 men and women aged 50-80 plus living in the UK found that age is no barrier to an active sex life.

For the over 70s, more than 50% of men and almost 33% of women said they are sexually active.

Younger women and the menopause

Younger women who have cancer can experience a surgical or medical menopause, which can affect their sex lives. Coping with a cancer diagnosis and going through debilitating treatment, to be left with a low or no libido and physical symptoms, is life changing. Some women are sadly infertile after treatment, impacting further upon their health.

More advice is needed for younger women about their fertility and what options are available to them to preserve their fertility. This is often overlooked or considered an afterthought when younger women have a cancer diagnosis but being unable to have children affects both your physical and mental health, which in turn, impacts upon recovery and quality of life post treatment.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a scientifc paper about Fertility Sparing Treatments in Gynaecological Cancer (February 2013) offering options for women undergoing gynaecological cancer treatment and surgery.

It is estimated that 110,000 women aged between 12 and 40 are affected by premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) in the UK. A spontaneous (natural) early menopause affects approximately 5% of the population before the age of 45. For the majority of women (90%) the cause is unknown. Production of eggs stops years and even decades before they should, in addition to oestrogen and progesterone production, both of which play an important role on the health and well being of women.

This can impact upon relationships and the ability to conceive, although around 5-10% of women with POI may still conceive due to the intermittent temporary return of ovarian function.

Menopause advice is aimed at the older women, yet more younger women are experiencing menopausal symptoms and need sexual advice tailored to their needs too.

The Daisy Network is a support group for younger women experiencing the menopause.

Menopause Post Cancer Treament

Many of the side effects of cancer treatments including gynaecological and breast cancer can bring about symptoms of the menopause which can be distressing. Hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal atrophy and vaginal dryness can affect your sexual intimacy, pleasure relationships.

Some women are unable to take hormone replacement therapy, however there are alternative ways to overcome symptoms of the menopause. YES organic lubricants are completely hormone free and are the best natural sexual lubricants and vaginal moisturisers you can use to improve vagina health and makes sex feel pleasurable.

The impact of menopausal symptoms can be difficult for any woman including younger women who are often put into a surgical or medical menopause overnight, especially when they may be surrounded by family and friends who may not understand the menopause. The Young Womens Breast Cancer blogspot is a great support group, connecting younger women going through treatment and beyond, providing a valuable network of people going through the same experience

Common sexual symptoms of the menopause

The most common sexual symptoms that women experience is vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, painful sex, low libido and decreased sexual sensation.

For some women who don’t enjoy sex or don’t have a great sex life, the menopause gives them an excuse to give up on their sex life, often feeling relieved that they have an excuse not to avoid sex. However, these problems can be frustrating for those women who enjoy sex, have a good sex life and want to continue enjoying it.

The first port of call for treatment is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to alleviate their symptoms. However, some women prefer to go the natural route, choosing herbal supplements, changing their diet and exercising to improve their symptoms. Some are not able to take HRT following cancer treament, other health condtions or it simply does not control symptoms.

Sex toys are not the first thing you think of when considering the menopause, yet incorporating sex toys and lubricants into your sex play may help many symptoms that occur during this period, which can impact upon your sexual health and pleasure.

Talk to your Partner

Many women struggle to talk to their partner about their sexual issues and other menopause issues , yet this is so important to help them understand why you may not want to have sex or feel less aroused and for them to offer support. Tell them that once worked for you no longer works and discover new ways to enjoy intimacy together

Also remember, many men experience sexual problems as they age, affecting erectile function.

This can often occur when their partner is experiencing symptoms of the menopause, making sexual intercourse difficult, which is why communication between couples is important to overcome any sexual problems and to enjoy good sexual intimacy and pleasure.

Indulge in Regular Solo Sex

Even if you are not in a relationship enjoying frequent orgasms through masturbation is important for your health and wellbeing. Regular orgasms help you to sleep, often an issue during the menopause due to night sweats and restless legs. They also help you to look younger, make you feel less stressed and boost your immunity. Not bad for something that is free and feels so good.

Vaginal Dryness

Some women, including those experiencing symptoms of the menopause, consider using lubricant as fixing a problem, yet lubricants can transform your sex life.

Often affected by stress, anxiety, hormonal changes due to contraception or pregnancy and medical interventions, vaginal dryness isn’t just a symptom of the menopause. However, it is one the main problems many women experience due to low level of oestrogen, which causes vaginal changes including reduced vaginal secretions and changes to vaginal pH, which reduces acidity and increases risk of infection.

These changes can lead to small tears, injury and pain during sexual intercourse. Using a good lubricant, such as YES organic lubricant, can ease vaginal dryness, making sex feel so much more pleasurable and comfortable for you both.

Your doctor can also prescribe localised HRT to ease vaginal dryness. This comes in ring/cream/tablet form to increase blood supply and rejuvenate the tissues. Localised means you use it vaginally so the hormone isn’t passing through the liver, avoiding potential side effects and it will work more quickly. It is also safe to use with YES organic lubricants.

When choosing a sexual lubricant or sex toy, consider what it is made from, just as you would when choosing cosmetics and personal hygiene products.

Many people are unaware that some lubricants and sex toys can be harmful to health due to the type of material they are made from and can cause allergic reactions, leading to irritation, burning, stinging and vaginal thrush.

Often recommended by GPs and HCPs, KY Jelly is a fairly well known brand of lubricant. However, it contains parabens,glycols and glycerin, which can cause thrush. It also has a higher osmolality than the cells in the body, drawing moisture out of the walls of the vagina rather than hydrating them, exacerbating vaginal dryness, not helping it. This can leave the body vulnerable to infection, especially during the menopause.

You may need to try a few lubricants to find one that suits your needs, rather than just sticking with one your GP has prescribed. Some lubricants available on prescription contain glycerin, parabens or glycols, all of which are vaginal irritants. Ask to change to a different one if you don’t find it helpful.

Using an oil based lubricant first and applying a water based one on the top creates a ”double glide“ affect, which feels more comfortable and can help sex last longer.

However, oil based lubricants are not condom compatible so stick to water based lubricant if you are using them.

YES Vaginal Moisturiser is a long lasting natural vaginal moisturising gel. pH balanced to match and maintain vaginal health.

YES VM is free from glycerine, parabens, glycols and preservatives which are common chemical found in many vaginal lubricant which irritate the delicate tissues of the vagina and vulva.

Both the lubricants and vaginal moisturisers come in handy 5ml dose applicators which help you to get the products higher inside the vagina.

Some people prefer a silicone lubricant which feel more slippery and can be used with condoms, making it a great alternative to oil based lubricants.

SUTIL LUXE is a silky smooth water-based lubricant that moisturises, nourishes and soothes our most intimate areas, as well as lubricating for sexual pleasure. Feeling like a silicone lubricant without the silicone, this fabulous water based lubricant gently cushions and glides, blending seamlessly with your own natural lubrication during sex. Being water based it is easy to wash off too.

Free from irritating ingredients and hormone free it is perfect for anyone, including those not able to have hormone replacement therapy and post cancer treatment, not only as a sexual lubricant but also as a vaginal moisturiser and can be used with any sex toy or dilator.

Certified by Ecocert, SUTIL is committed to creating natural and organic cosmetics that are not only great for your skin, but also derived from renewable resources and manufactured using environmentally friendly processes. Even the sleek tube is biodegradable.

Become lubricant savvy and protect your vagina health by checking the label and avoid products that contain glycerin, glycols, parabens or are not designed for vaginal use.

Painful Sex

Sex should never be painful, but this can be a problem during the menopause as a result of decreased lubrication, thinning of the vaginal walls and vaginal tightness. If using a lubricant does not help, consider trying a slim vibrator.

Take your time to explore your vagina and clitoris to discover pleasurable sexual sensations. This is a great way to experience an orgasm through clitoral stimulation, which will both relax you and make you feel good, allowing yourself to slowly insert the vibrator to gently ease any vaginal tightness.

By exploring your body in this way, it can help you to recognise what feels good and what doesn’t, which in turn, will help you guide your partner during sex.

When penetrative sex isn’t possible, using sex toys as part of your sex play can enhance sexual stimulation, allowing you to enjoy sexual pleasure and intimacy. Both male, female sex toys and couples toys are fun to use and often offer different sexual sensations from penetrative sex.

Some people prefer to use dilators instead of a sex toys and our CalExotics Inspire Dilator Kit offers 5 dilators that are ergonomically curved and easy to use. Unlike most medical dilators which are made for hard plastic and can feel uncomfortable and clinical, they are made from flexible, skin-safe, velvety soft silicone. The easy to use loop handle makes them comfortable to hold, and the gentle tapered shape and varied sizes allows you to increase the insertion size at a rate that is comfortable to you. You can also slip the Slinky Kama Blue through the handles of the smaller dilators which makes them vibrate. Vibrations promote the blood flow to the tissues of the vagina, keeping them healthy and stimulate sensation too. It is also great to use on your clitoris, massaging the entrance of the vagina or as a forst step to getting back to penetration, ideal for using on a partner’s penis or vulva, great for nipple play and lots of fun too.

Many people use them to open up the vagina before any penetrative sex or to prevent the vagina from becoming tight and shrinking.

Low Libido

There are many common physical factors which can affect libido include hormonal changes – pregnancy, breastfeeding, contraception and menopause.

Having to juggle your job, children, elderly parents and relationship issues can all affect your levels of stress, impacting on your libido, in addition to side effects of some medications such as antidepressants, cancer treatments and blood pressure medication. However, these problems can be overcome without having to take medication through self help.

Thinking about the way in which you view sex and enjoy sexual pleasure can help you enhance your relationship. Enjoying more intimacy through cuddling, intimate touch and kissing may lead to more sex rather than give up on your sex life.

Sexual intercourse isn’t solely the act of sexual penetration, but the whole experience. You can still experience great sex without intercourse through prolonged foreplay and incorporating sex toys into sex play.

Many couples experience a greater level of sexual intimacy when penetrative sex is off the cards, and explore other ways in which to enjoy sexual pleasure together.

Decreased Sexual Sensation

Decreased sexual sensation often occurs as both men and women get older, affecting the ability to orgasm, which may take longer to have or not occur at all. Many women think they can only orgasm through penetrative sex, yet 70% of women orgasm through clitoral stimulation.

Many sex toys offer different sexual sensations and levels of stimulation, so you need to decide what your sexual needs are before buying a sex toy.

The vibratory power of a small clitoral vibrator is stronger than what you can achieve through manual stimulation and offers differing sexual sensations. Using a small bullet vibrator on your clitoris or getting your partner to wear a vibrating cock ring during sexual intercourse can increase your sexual pleasure, which in turn, increases the chance of having an orgasm.

Some vibrators, designed solely for external use, such as the Doxy Massager, which is also a body massager, offer extremely strong vibrations that are sure to create an orgasm in anyone!

The Satisfyer Pro 2 and LELO Sona 2 are not vibrators, they use air pulse wave technology which gently caresses and teases the clitoris. This means there is less chance of feeling desenstitised which can happen when you use a classic vibrator for long periods of time. They are also great toys for those with decreased sexual sensation post treament as they have a wide range settings so you are sure to find one that works for you.

Rabbit vibrators combine both clitoral and vaginal stimulation which can be controlled independently, offering you sexual stimulation exactly where you want it. Pulsators even offer a thrusting action, in addition to ciltoral stimulation.

Practice Safe Sex

We frequently advise people who tell us they have met someone new, many are are using websites, dating apps, and holidays to have hook up with other people to have sex and form new relationships after being divorced or if their partner has passed away. We always advise them to use condoms yet many just laugh and say “I can’t get pregnant I’m menopausal or past that” . We then discuss that they can still contract a sexual transmitted infection(STI) and many say “I hadn’t thought about that!”

As the walls of the vagina become thinner and less well lubricated due to the depleting oestrogen levels they can feel sore and dry. This can lead to tiny abrasions during any form of penetrative sex, especially when you do not use lubricant or a poor product with irritating ingredients. These tiny abrasions and inflammation can increase your risk of getting an STI.

Many people understand the importance of using a condom but worry that asking their new partner to wear a condom may lead to the relationship ending. They often view sexual health testing and services for younger people because sexual health campaigns and condom advertising rarely include older people. This is why they need to ask partners to wear a condom and recognise the symptoms of an STI because urinary tract infections, very common during menopause can be misdiagnosed and may be an STI, genital warts may be misdiagnosed as genital skin changes are common during menopause and some STIs such as chlamydia are symptomless.

With STI rates climbing in the over 50’s it is important for GPs and menopause experts to have this discussion with their patients too.

Sex toys make sex more fun!

Experiment with sex toys and bondage, explore your own and your partner’s bodies to find out what turns you on and discover different ways in which to enjoy sex.

Don’t give up on your sex life, just because you are going through the menopause as there are so many ways to enjoy sexual pleasure and intimacy, you just need to find one or more that work for you.

At Jo Divine we believe that sexual health and sexual pleasure go hand in hand and have created a health brochure with suitable products to help people with sexual issues. Working with medical professionals, we hope to encourage patients and HCPs alike in talking more freely about sexual problems, especially those that happen during the menopause.

Give us a call or email if you would like a health brochure or if you are a healthcare professional who would like to give them out to your patients.

Useful websites

Dr Louise Newson, menopause specialist : www.menopausedoctor.co.uk
Dr Hannah Short, Menopause specialist : www.drhannahshort.co.uk
The Daisy Network- www.daisynetwork.org.uk- charity for premature ovarian insufficiency
British Menopause Society- thebms.org.uk
Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology- www.rcog.org.uk
Menopause Support : menopausesupport.co.uk
Mpowered Women
Henpicked : www.henpicked.net
Womb Cancer Support: www.wombcancersupportuk.weebly.com
Eve Appeal: www.eveappeal.org.uk
Shine Cancer: www.shinecancersupport.org
Clic Sargeant: www.clicsargent.org.uk
Trekstock: www.trekstock.com
Macmillan: www.macmillan.org.uk
GRACE (Gynae-Oncology Clinical Research and Excellence): www.grace-charity.org.uk
Pelvic, Obstetric and Gynaecology Physiotherapy: https://pogp.csp.org.uk/

Cancer and Fertility : www.cancerandfertility.co.uk This has been set up by Becki McGuinness who was left infertile by aggressive cancer treatment when she was just 23-years-old. Now 30, she’s launching a national campaign to ensure women facing cancer are given all the fertility options she should have had

Lydia Brain kindly wrote her experience of being diagnosed with womb cancer at 24 and how she has got back into sex

Media work

I spoke at the Daisy Network conference about sexual intimacy and pleasure in June 2017

I joined Diane Danzebrink and Jospehine Pembroke at Radio Gorgeous to talk about Menopause, Sex and Relationships in November 2017.

Collaborating with the Latte Lounge I joined Kate Taylor, Francine Kaye and Donna Freed at Radio Gorgeous to record a podcast about midlife, sex and relationships in March 2019.

I joined Nan Akua, Diane Danzebrink, Dr Nighat Arif and Jane Lewis to speak on BBC 3 Counties Radio about Relationships, Sex and the Menopause in May 2019.

I was invited to join a panel of expert speakers including Liz Earle MBE, Dr Louise Newson, leading menopause GP, Diane Danzebrink, Menpoause counsellor and campaigner, founder of Menopause Support and #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign, Jane Lewis, author of Me& My Menopausal Vagina and founder of the Vaginal Atrophy facebook group, Athena Lamnisos, CEO of Eve Appeal and Katie Taylor, founder of Latte Lounge for a charity Spa day to celebrate the 3rd birthday of the Latte Lounge in aid of the Eve Appeal in July 2019. You can find a video of the event on the Latte Lounge FB group.

I have also done InstagramLives about sex and menopause with dianedanzebrink, my-menopausal_vagina, the merrymenopause you can find on their IG accounts in addition to practical videos on my own IG account samtalkssex which I’m adding to every week.

I record two zoom chats with Kathryn Colas about womens and mens sexual health and pleasure you can find on our press page

Also check our press page as I have written extensively about sex and the menopause/midlife and spoken on podcasts and the radio.