May 5, 2008

Q&A: Menopause And Having Unprotected Sex

Dr. Debby Herbenick answers a question from a reader about when (or if) it becomes safe to stop using condoms when a female partner is going through menopause

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Question: My wife is 51. Her periods are almost gone. How do you know when it’s safe to have unprotected sex again?

Thanks for your question. Though Kinsey Confidential started out as a service for college students, we do often get questions from women and men who are out of the typical college age range. And we welcome them! (submit yours here)


Menopause is a gradual process for women, and as such many women and their partners wonder when a woman can no longer be expected to have periods and is thus no longer able to become pregnant.

Generally speaking, a woman is considered to have reached menopause when she has gone for a full year without having any periods at all. Women may go for years having periods only now or then, but that is a time that we call perimenopause – or the time that is around and leading up to menopause.

Even if a woman goes for a full year without having a period, she should check in with her healthcare provider who can perform tests to look at her hormone levels.

All that said, this only addresses the issue of when a woman is likely done with periods, and thus not likely to become pregnant. That is not necessarily the same as when it is safe to have unprotected sex again.

Having Unprotected Sex

The decision to have unprotected sex – by which I assume you mean, to stop using condoms or other forms of birth control – depends on each of your comfort level, as well as whether you or she have other health considerations.

For example, some women use hormonal contraception for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. And if either of you have other sexual partners, then that is an important consideration too.

Talk To Your Wife

As such, how will you know when it’s safe to have unprotected sex again? By talking with your wife about not only her periods, but about your and her feelings related to your experience of sexuality, and your individual concerns and expectations for sex.

For some women, menopause brings a range of symptoms that may be best addressed with one’s healthcare provider. Sexual desire may decline with menopause for some women, whereas others find that their desire increases as they no longer worry about becoming pregnant when they don’t want to become pregnant.

Learn More

To learn more about sex and aging, you might find the book Better Than I Ever Expected by Joan Price to be of interest.

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