Female Libido… As We Age

written for NDNR and published in May 2007 www.ndnr.com

An egregiously sexy woman, is, by and large, a young and healthy woman.  A woman who has matured past reproductive utility may suffer from reduced libido (as all purveyors of aphrodisiacs will accuse) or she may simply have new preoccupations.  I would like to challenge the notion that attenuated libido in the older woman is pathological.  It may not need to be fixed.  What may be required is a reassessment of the role of sexual interaction in older adults.  In our youth and sex obsessed culture, a menopausal woman might be tempted to feel completely over the hill.  Unless, of course, she could care less about staying perpetually youthful and sexy.  Sexual innuendoes are used to sell just about everything imaginable, including sex itself, which cheapens the concept into a marketing tool.  Some women buy into this; some find it objectionable.

Sexual mating is fraught with uncertainties; it remains unclear to evolutionary biologists why sexual mating persists.  Parthenogenesis could work just as well, with much less aggression and wasteful competition.  It is, however, generally agreed that sexual mating allows for spectacularly complex telomere exchange of genetic information (meiosis), wherein the resultant diversity provides for hardiness, benefiting species survival.  Today, overpopulation of the planet is a pressing concern, and species hardiness may present conflicting interests.  Men apparently need to keep mating to, at least theoretically, competitively regenerate their own genes, for 70 or more years.  Women need to stop mating to focus on current offspring, or community projects, for 40 or so years, max, because that is quite enough time to give over to others, thank you.  Further, women don’t need to be aggressive about perpetuating their own genes because they know that female mitochondrial DNA is  reliably transmitted to their offspring.  This topic is beyond the scope of the current essay, but, briefly, genes unique to the Y chromosome are much more vulnerable to rapid extinction so proliferation is key to survival, whereas mitochondrial DNA from XX germ cells can be traced back just about as far as Lucy.

A quick look through the internet uncovers reams of information on herbal tonics, melanocortin agonists, ancient potions, hormonal recipes, peripheral vasodilators and exotic exercises to help improve not only penis power, but also, hopefully, clitoral engorgement and vaginal lubrication.  A sampling of these products include, usually in some combination form, Ashwaganda, Avena sativa, Black cohosh, Catuaba, Capsicum, Cnidium, Cistanche, Damiana, Epimedium (Horny Goat Weed), Gingko, Kudzu root, Licorice, Ligusticum, Maca, Muira pauma, Passiflora, Red raspberry leaf, Sage, Tongkit ali, Tribulus terrestris, Yohimbe.  Many of these work quite well, short-term.  There are some zesty  menthol-based topical irritants.  There are books on Tantra.  There’s 2 grams a day of Arginine to increase nitric oxide levels.  Remember poppers?

I have interviewed dozens of women on the topic of ageing libido over the years and tentatively conclude that, to a great extent, a strong libido in an older woman has two main causes, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  First, some women seem more genetically hard-wired to desire, and seek, sexual engagement through their senior years.  In general, these are heterosexual women.  Which ties into my other observation which won’t necessarily be popular with the lusty ladies out there; that women for whom sexual desireability has been important as part of their self definition, their habit is to be, and remain, sexual beings with inclinations towards pursuits and activities that will likely result in more sexual mating.

While horniness at ovulation is completely understandable, from a biological standpoint, in the premenopausal woman, sexuality must, inherently, fulfill a different role in women past child-bearing years.  There should be little doubt that the most erogenous zone in humans is the brain.  For women, in particular, this kicks in after the biological urge to fornicate has been hormonally and physiologically subdued.  Women who feel remorse or regret about their waning sex drive may take comfort in improving communication with their mates.  If you are in a partnered relationship, explore new ways to express love and affection: write tender notes, buy flowers, prepare a favorite meal.  Often, one partner will desire sex more than the other; the reluctant partner should be encouraged to seize the moment when the urge to engage sexually strikes!  And the lucky mate should have the good sense to take the opportunity when it is presented, never grumbling about not enough.  Encouragement is permissible!  Regular sex dates help too, if scheduled for times when distractions are less likely.

It may be more comfortable to psych yourself up alone, through masturbation or watching a lascivious movie, although with the later it is important that your partner not feel inadequate about not mastering the task of your arousal.  Some couples enjoy titillating literature or video erotica together.  If you make the time to be playful and creative, dressing up or assuming theatrical roles, you won’t need the lotions and potions!  Imagination is key to thwarting the trap of boredom or isolation.  If you have grown too far apart from your mate to play together, sexual engagement will seem contrived, or worse, further alienating.

An often overlooked libido-killer is prescription medication.  Especially dampening for sex drive are anti-depressants (Elavil, Prozac, Zoloft, etc) and heart medications, particularly the beta-blockers like Atenolol and Timolol.  Even if you can’t muster the young part of the young and healthy formula, it’s never too late to improve one’s health.  Get enough sleep.  Stay hydrated.  Eat greens.  Vitamin E, 400 IUs or more daily, is helpful for stimulating vaginal lubrication and keeping the skin soft.  A nice fringe benefit with regular Vitamin E ingestion is reduced risk of both stroke and retinal deterioration.  While no long term safety studies exist, and therefore I prescribe cautiously, as a last resort a compounded testosterone cream (1 mg per gram, ½ gram applied topically to the genital area shortly before anticipated sexual activity) works wonders for many women.