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Hypnotic Relaxation Therapy Improves Sexual Health for Postmenopausal Women

A new study has found that hypnotic relaxation therapy can improve sexual health in postmenopausal women who have moderate to severe hot flashes.

The Baylor University study, presented at the American Psychological Association’s recent annual meeting, is the first step toward an alternative to hormone replacement therapy, according to Gary Elkins, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience.

For many women, hormone replacement therapy is not an option for menopause-related symptoms due to increased risks of cancer and heart disease, he noted.

For the study, 187 women were randomly assigned to receive either five weekly sessions of hypnotic relaxation therapy or supportive counseling. The study sessions were led by researchers at Baylor’s Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory. All of the researchers had been trained in clinical hypnosis.

The women in the hypnotic relaxation therapy group received a hypnotic induction followed by suggestions for relaxation, coolness and mental imagery. The other women discussed their symptoms with a trained therapist but did not receive any hypnosis.

Women completed questionnaires at the beginning of the study, at the end of treatment, and at a 12-week follow-up. They also were asked to complete a questionnaire assessing the extent to which hot flashes interfered with sexual intimacy.

“The most common complaints are being too tired, anxiety, depression, hot flashes, and the fear of close contact,” Elkins said.

Because warmth that comes from closeness can trigger a hot flash, some women grow to fear intimacy, he added.

At treatment’s end, women who had received hypnotic relaxation therapy reported significantly higher sexual satisfaction and pleasure, as well as less discomfort, the researchers found. This improvement also was seen at the 12-week follow-up assessment.

“Women’s sexual health improved, whether because of sleeping better, less stress or fewer hot flashes, or perhaps other unknown mechanisms,” Elkins said.

Researchers noted that postmenopausal sexual health can be affected by factors other than hot flashes, including fatigue, self-esteem, a partner’s health, relationship quality, and a lack of interest by either or both partners.

Previous research by Elkins has shown that clinical hypnosis can reduce hot flashes and associated symptoms among postmenopausal women, including a lessening of anxiety and depression.