Older women and sexual health

Good health means you may never say, ‘Not tonight.’

Story: Hannah Braye

Many people believe older women stop wanting sex because they lose interest. However, a study done by the North American Menopause Society revealed that the problem most often is fear of pain. Menopause often causes a number of problems for women, including lower urinary tract problems.

Vaginal dryness, infections, painful sex, and decreased libido are common (but often little spoken of) experiences of many women as they approach menopause and beyond. Interestingly, women in many other cultures don’t seem to suffer to the extent that women in the West do, indicating diet and lifestyle factors may play an important role. A growing body of research indicates having a healthy microbial balance in the gut and vagina may help prevent uncomfortable symptoms. 

A common issue associated with aging is vaginal atrophy and dryness, which in turn can lead to less pleasurable or painful intercourse. This is caused by a reduction in circulating estrogen levels, approaching menopause and beyond. Estrogen is required to stimulate the proliferation of lactobacillus bacteria in the vagina, and studies highlighted a variation in the composition of vaginal bacteria, with lower levels of beneficial lactobacilli, in menopausal women with signs of vaginal atrophy and dryness. Having adequate levels of lactobacilli also creates an acidic environment that protects women from infection. Low levels caused by declining estrogen may lead to conditions such as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections.

While probiotics are well known to help restore gut lactobacilli levels, studies indicate they also help restore the urogenital microflora, replenishing lactobacilli levels. 

Vaginal dryness, infections, and pain during sex can hamper arousal. Coupled with changes in hormone levels as women get older, it’s not surprising that many women report reduced feelings of sexual desire. Recent research is finally exploring the relationship between gut bacteria and hormone balance. Modulating the gut microbiome through probiotic supplementation is a novel way to support healthy hormone balance and potentially rekindle your sex life. 

Many symptoms experienced by women relate to the natural reduction in estrogen levels as they age, so taking steps to support estrogen production may help alleviate symptoms. Stress reduction is important, too. The amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries declines during menopause and instead, adrenal glands, which sit on top of our kidneys and produce stress hormones such as cortisol, must pick up the slack. Estrogen production continues at a lower level through menopause into post-menopause. Relaxing allows the adrenal glands to focus on producing estrogen instead of stress hormones. It may be the time to take up yoga, meditation, spending time outdoors, and being sure to take time for yourself.

Eating a balanced diet of whole foods with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins, and foods containing phytoestrogens may also help. They are found in flaxseeds and organic whole soybean products such as fermented tofu, sesame seeds, fenugreek, beans, and lentils. 

Taking a daily multi-strain probiotic supplement, such as Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula, containing 14 different strains (including eight lactobacilli), is also recommended to help support a healthy microflora in the gut and vagina.


Hannah Braye

Hannah Braye is a technical advisor at Protexin, manufacturer of Bio-Kult. A qualified nutritional therapist, she studied for three years at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in Bristol, United Kingdom, is a member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and is listed on the Complementary and Natural Health Care Council’s approved accredited register.