Intimacy, sex and dating after early menopause: Women’s experiences

Early menopause (EM) can have significant impacts on a woman’s personal and intimate life, in particular because of symptoms of vaginal dryness and low libido. For the women we interviewed, the effects of EM on intimacy and personal life varied depending on whether women were partnered, single, and/or sexually active.

Experiences of women who were partnered when diagnosed with EM

Most women in relationships said that EM had affected their sexual life, but described having supportive partners who did not ‘pressure’ them to have sex. However, a few said it didn’t make ‘any difference,’ including Jessica, who experienced spontaneous EM at 39. She commented that with young children at the time, she had been ‘constantly exhausted anyway’ with little energy for sex. While most women said that vaginal dryness and low libido affected their sexual life, a few also shared that other EM symptoms – such as hot flushes – prevented them from being intimate with their partners.

For Jacqueline, the hot flushes that followed her surgery for endometriosis at 44 affected her sexual life with her husband. 

A couple of women noted that the loss of libido they experienced after EM meant that they had sex less frequently, or no longer ‘initiated’ it. Fiona, who experienced surgical menopause in relation to treatment for breast cancer, reflected on her sex life before and after EM: ‘it did kill my sex drive … it doesn’t stop me having sex, it just stops me wanting it … I’m not as sexually active, but I’m not missing what I don’t have either.’

Lydia had a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy at 38. She described the impact of her low libido on her relationship with her husband.

Women who were able to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) commented that the medication had helped with vaginal dryness. Anna, who experienced spontaneous EM at age 35, said, ‘now that I’ve gone through menopause I realise a lot of other positives to taking the Hormone Replacement Therapy… mainly around having pleasant sex … a dry vagina is quite painful. It really affects your sex life [and] relationship with your partner.’

Julia experienced EM after a stem cell transplant for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She said that HRT ‘definitely helped’ intimacy with her partner.

While HRT helped Theresa’s low libido after her risk-reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, she said she was ‘not prepared’ for the impact of EM on her sex life.

Some women who were unable to take HRT because of experiences of oestrogen-sensitive cancer explained that lubricants could be useful to help with painful sex.

Maree underwent treatment for oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer; she shared that her and her partner used vaginal moisturisers and lubricants to help with painful penetrative sex, and emphasised the importance of communication.

Counselling and other support services were mentioned by a few women as useful in relation to dealing with the impact of EM on their sexual and intimate life.

Joanna, who had just started a new relationship when she began experiencing EM symptoms due to treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, explained that the loss of libido prompted her to see a counsellor.

Some women who had experienced EM following surgeries such as a mastectomy felt that their low libido was connected to how their physical appearance had changed.

Linda, who underwent a hysterectomy and oophorectomy at 33 for endometriosis, followed by a mastectomy at 39 for breast cancer, shared her thoughts on how these surgeries had affected her ‘sexual identity’.

Experiences of women who were single when diagnosed with EM

Several women we spoke with described being single when they were diagnosed with EM. A few were also dating, or had stopped dating but were interested in starting again. Some described feeling less attractive or as having less to ‘offer’ a prospective partner, either because they were infertile, or because of surgeries such as hysterectomy or mastectomy, which had affected their body image (see Emotional impact of early menopause and fertility loss (women’s experiences) and Early menopause and identity, social connection and future plans (women’s experiences)).

Ella’s diagnosis of spontaneous EM at 30 meant that, ‘in the back of my mind is I guess there are many reasons to be rejected, and one of them is because you can’t have kids … it’s that society thing, you meet someone and the next step is you have kids.’ Alex, who experienced ovarian cancer and underwent a radical hysterectomy, commented: ‘I feel less of a woman … You feel less attractive because you’re not offering the possibility of life.’ She added that she wished ‘there was a dating site for people … who have had cancer … It would just be nice to date people that you don’t have to explain cancer to and chemo and side effects.’

After experiencing several recurrences of ovarian cancer, Naomi described being hesitant to date.

Lorena, who experienced spontaneous EM at 25, described telling boyfriends about her diagnosis and loss of fertility.

One single woman who already had children and did not want more, Mary, described wanting to increase her libido and enjoy having sex.

Mary began experiencing low libido due to spontaneous EM when she was still married; she described her husband as ‘not very supportive’. Now divorced and dating, Mary took HRT and used a testosterone cream, which she thought was ‘wonderful’ for her libido.

Further information:

Talking Points (Women)

Talking Points (Health Practitioners)

Other resources