A frequent question for women at menopause is where their libido has gone. It may not have vanished entirely, but it is certainly less present and available to many women and the impact of this on a relationship can be critical.
Unfortunately libido is a tricky one to get right as so many factors, both physical and emotional, can be involved. However, we do know that progesterone can increase sex drive in women, so if you have oestrogen dominance at menopause or have been exposed to high levels of oestrogen, such as in HRT for instance, then rebalancing hormones with progesterone would be a good place to start.
The plastic phenomenon
A study has linked low libido with the additives used to soften plastics which are found in every home. Women with the highest levels of phthalates in their bodies were more than twice as likely to feel disinterested in sex as those with the lowest amounts.
Phthalates are man-made chemicals thought to interfere with the natural hormones that are crucial to overall health. These are chemicals that we are all exposed to every day and are found in everything from PVC flooring and shower curtains to car dashboards – and may also be in our food.
Tiny particles can enter our systems either through breathing or eating. You may not be too worried but last year the World Health Organisation warned they have ‘serious implications for health’ and previous studies have linked them to diabetes and asthma.
The health risks for you
The latest research, presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference in Honolulu, suggests they are doing psychological, as well as physical, damage.
In the first study of its kind, Dr Emily Barrett, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine in the US, suspects that phthalates interfere with the production of sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone, both of which are involved in female libido.
She said that ‘For a lot of women with loss of libido there is no obvious reason and it is important to know how these chemicals might contribute.’ It seems that food is a significant source of phthalates, particularly processed and highly-packaged products. It is thought to get into into food from processing equipment and from packaging.
What can you do?
Dr Barrett said: ‘One of the recommendations to potentially lower your exposure is to eat less processed food and to pick fresh things without packaging.’ Other advice includes choosing natural wooden flooring over PVC and switching plastic shower curtains for glass screens.
Although certain phthalates are banned from use in cosmetics, toiletries and toys in the EU – and further restrictions are due next year – we can immediately change some simple things such as avoiding plastic packaging and buying loose fresh vegetables and fruit, but the reality is that there are many factors that can influence a woman’s libido. If there are already difficulties in the relationship, or either partner is going through a stressful time, then that will make a difference as can smoking, some medication, and lifestyle changes such as looking after elderly parents, changing jobs, retiring, or relocating to another house or country.
We are already aware of the effect that plastics have on our hormones, oestrogen dominance in particular, so ensuring good hormone balance is critical to stay healthy and symptom free.