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What is a 'couplepause' and why does it happen to middle-aged couples?

Upset mature woman lying in bed near her sleeping husband at home. Relationship problems
Upset mature woman lying in bed near her sleeping husband at home. Relationship problems

By the time we reach middle-age, most of us are grateful for things to slow down ever so slightly - work, family, the relentlessness of life in general. But when it comes to a slowdown in the bedroom, scientists believe there’s more to blame than just age.

Middle-aged couples might find themselves in a dry spell when it comes to sex. While it might be easy to blame external factors, the problem might be coming from inside of us - namely, our hormones might be the culprit.

The average age at which UK women begin the menopause is 46, and it usually affects women between the ages of 45 and 55. This natural process marks a big transition in life for women, after which her periods stop.

During this time, women often report symptoms like loss of libido and vaginal dryness, which can make sex unpleasant, and may put them off intimacy for a time.

But many men undergo a similar process around the same age, which is lesser known. The ‘male menopause’, also known as ‘andropause’, tends to affect some men in their late 40s to early 50s.

Dr Naveed Younis, consultant endocrinologist at Spire Regency Hospital, previously told Yahoo UK that testosterone levels “gradually decrease” during andropause. Symptoms can include loss of sex drive and erectile dysfunction.

Senior man is wake up his wife.
Couples who previously had a healthy sex life, but have found it declining in mid-life, may become anxious and frustrated. (Getty Images)

In a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, scientists claim that millions of middle-aged couples face sexual problems because of the effects of these hormone changes, which “pass” from one partner to the other.

The researchers said that hormone changes that occur in midlife have a “profound impact on several aspects of health and wellbeing”.

Living with a partner going through either menopause or andropause can “affect the general and sexual health of both members of the couple”, they wrote, adding that the symptoms can lead to anxiety and frustration.

The scientists pointed out that many men “are not aware” that andropause can occur and bring about changes, which leaves them frustrated at the loss of their sexual function.

On the other hand, menopause is seen as a natural process and many women don’t seek professional help despite having symptoms.

“Consequently, many women may continue to have sexual intercourse with pain and without desire; in other instances, sexual relations are ceased, with the associated loss of intimacy,” the scientists wrote.

They dubbed this period a “couplepause”, which refers to “consequences of the hormonal and age-related changes that can lead to an alteration of sexual functionality in the couple”.

During a “couplepause”, couples may find their problems run deeper than changing hormones, as the loss of their sex lives can affect many other aspects of their relationship.

Dr Emmanuele Janini, professor of endocrinology and medical sexology at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and one of the authors of the study, told The Times: “Sexual problems in one partner may in turn worsen the other’s sexual health.

“Addressing sexual health needs during midlife must have the aim of not only improving survival but also pursuing healthy ageing.”

In order to treat “couplepause”, a shared diagnosis and treatment is recommended to help both parties come up with solutions. The scientists also called for medical experts to focus less on blaming menopause and andropause, and to focus on defining this period as a “new beginning, promoting a healthy sex life and overall wellbeing” for the couple.

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