According to my trusty dictionary, the word menopause derives from the medical Latin term menopausis, from the Greek words for “month” and “a cessation or pause.” As we bid farewell to Aunt Flo’s monthly visits, more attention falls on the potential downsides: hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain and a plummeting sex drive. While the challenges definitely deserve attention and support, there’s plenty of hope to be had—or so I’m learning!
The other week, I interviewed Dr. Megan Fleming, Girl Boner®’s sex and relationships expert, and Dr. Barb DePree, a gynecologist and women’s healthcare provider, about these very things. Inspired by our chats, here are five things worth knowing about menopause and the bedroom. To hear the episode, listen on iTunes or below.
1 – Your mindset matters.
Think Field of Dreams, spicy style. Seriously, what we believe about sex after menopause will more than likely influence our experience.
“Our biggest sex organ is our brain, and the idea, ‘I can’t do something’ is paramount,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest blocks.”
In other words, if you believe it, you will come! Or at least have better chances.
Recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed the sex lives and beliefs of 605 women age 40 to 65. Women who considered sex important were three times as likely to stay sexually active than women who did not–even into older age, regardless of physiological factors, such as menopause.
2 – Your vagina won’t “shrivel up and die.”
Who hasn’t heard some rendition of this? Our genital tissues do change with menopause, but they definitely don’t all disappear or stop functioning. They may, however, require some added TLC.
Estrogen decline at this stage of life can lead to vaginal dryness and pain during penetration. To prevent and manage these symptoms, make sure you’re “incredibly aroused” before penetration, said Dr. Megan, and use both a vaginal moisturizer and a lubricant. You can also go with positions that allow you to control depth of penetration, such as you on top. Meanwhile, keep sexy play a priority.
“It’s like any muscle,” she added. “If you don’t use it you lose it, so maintaining an active sex life is important.”
So keep sex toys on-hand, or begin experimenting with them. Make sure you can experience penetration comfortably on your own, with a toy, finger or dilator, before attempting intercourse with a partner. And remember, there are plenty of ways to make love that don’t involve intercourse, so…extra points for variety!
3 – Lifestyle steps can go far.
As Dr. DePree explained in our chat, taking care of yourself can help hugely in managing menopause symptoms.
“One of the things I reinforce to women at this age and stage is that lifestyle matters more,” she said, adding that physical activity is particularly important. “We know exercise reduces anxiety, improves depression [and] improves sleep.”
Considering how deeply low moods, stress and insomnia can influence sexual desire and function, all of this is extremely helpful Girl Boner-wise.
To counteract reduced blood flow to your genitals associated with menopause, eat a diet that emphasizes heart-healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and fish. (Learn more about the sexy perk of plant-based eating here.) Dark chocolate, also groovy!
4 – There’s no such thing as “normal” sex frequency.
Just because you can have and enjoy sex from midlife and beyond doesn’t mean you have to aim for more than you desire, or feel pressured to have sex X-number of times per month. People of all genders tend to crave more emotional intimacy as they age, with or without as much sexy play.
If you and your partner(s) are pleased with less sex than you once enjoyed, that’s not a sign of weakness. As the North American Menopause Society points out, “If there’s no conflict around sex in your relationship and the relationship is loving and intimate in other ways, there is nothing to be concerned about.” Find what works best for you and your partner(s), and embrace that.
5 – Sometimes sex is better after menopause.
That’s right! Some women have hotter, more pleasurable sex post-menopause, because there’s no longer a risk of pregnancy.
“For some women, that’s been something deep-rooted,” said Dr. Megan. “They don’t relax and let go, because they’re afraid they’re going to get pregnant.”
Relaxation fuels Girl Boners—and so does another perk of menopause: a greater likelihood of self-confidence.
“For many women, it is a great time,” said Dr. DePree. “It’s often a time when women find their stride.”
It seems to me these benefits can arouse our whole darn lives, in the bedroom and beyond.
For more on this topic, listen to my chats with Dr. Megan and Dr. DePree on iTunes or here:
What did you think of the episode? How has menopause affected your sex life? If you haven’t reached it yet, what are you most concerned about or looking forward to? I love hearing from you!