If you’re over 40, menopause is probably on your mind. But when it comes to its impact on your sex life, there’s a lot more to navigating menopause than just whipping out the lube bottle and hoping for the best (really!) So, let's take a look at the impact menopause can have on our sex lives, and unlearn some the myths that may be impacting your sex life as you age.
7 Truths That Will Change the Way You See Sex During Menopause
To be real, if you aren't facing menopause yet, this change could be closer than you think. Perimenopause is a change that can begin naturally as early as 30 – and even earlier for those who undergo hysterectomy or cancer treatment. Whenever it strikes, at some point, ovarian production of estrogen and progesterone become erratic and fluctuate and then decline permanently, leading to the end of menstruation. In terms of the experience of perimenopause and menopause, it can result in a number of symptoms which relate to our sex lives. But first, let's take a look at this stage of life and how it affects the body.
Everything leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. Menopause refers to the point at which menstrual periods have ceased for 12 consecutive months. The average age for menopause in the United States is 51, but premenopausal symptoms can begin much earlier – or later. Everyone is different.
If you’ve ever experience PMS or post-partum depression, you probably already understand the power hormones have over our bodies and moods. During perimenopause, the symptoms produced by hormone fluctuations can vary greatly between people and can also shift a lot over time for one person, including hot flashes, mood swings, headaches and weight gain.
Of course, many of the major changes that occur during these life changes impact our sex lives. Reduced levels of estrogen and testosterone can mean less blood flow to the genitals, decreased genital lubrication and thinning of vaginal tissues. In fact, vaginal tissue may actually become less elastic and able to expand, which can contribute to pain pain during sex. Couple this with other symptoms like decreased sexual desire, decreased clitoral sensitivity, slower arousal and a longer arousal time required to orgasm and it’s no wonder that up to half of women report sexual problems leading up to and after menopause.
Oh, and then there’s the societal messages we tend to get all the time. You know, the ones about how older people don’t (or can’t or shouldn’t) have sex or enjoy it.
The truth is that while menopause definitely has an impact on our sex lives, it isn’t a death knell for good sex (or great orgasms!). Here are a few key truths that may go against what you've been told about sex, sexuality and aging.
Truth: A Hard Penis or a Wet Vagina Do Not Define Excitement & Performance
There's often a lot of ego tied into our body image and the way our bodies function and respond to sexual touch. But the truth is that the changes our bodies undergo throughout our lives aren't a sign that they're becoming less sexual, despite what popular culture may tell us. There's much more to sex than penetration and our pleasure zones extend far beyond our genitals. So, just because your and your partner's bodies don't react and respond in the same ways they used to doesn't mean you aren't still sexual or capable or sexual pleasure. It may just mean that the way you give, receive and enjoy the pleasure will be different.
Truth: Urinary Incompetence Doesn't Mean Genital Incompetence
One symptom of menopause may be urinary incontinence. Reduced levels of estrogen can cause thinning of the lining of the urethra, while the surrounding pelvic muscles may weaken with age. Incontinence can make people feel helpless and out of control of their bodies but it is important not to equate incontinence with sexual function. In fact, orgasm can actually help strengthen the Kegels, the muscles that help prevent and reduce issues with incontinence. Incontinence is no fun, but it doesn't mean you're broken and it doesn't have to impact your sex life. Your body is aging, but it is still capable and deserving of pleasure.
Truth: Body Changes Drive Sexual Exploration
Menopause and the aging process can make your former sexual hot-spots less responsive to stimulation than they used to be. But sex isn't just a mechanical process where we push a button or pull a lever for that big orgasm at the end. Good sex involves fully connecting with your partner and all the eroticism that kind of intimacy entails. Moving together, feeling together and pleasing each other is something you can always enjoy, no matter where you are touched or whether it results in orgasm.
Truth: The Inability to Move Does Not Mean an Inability to Please
Aging changes our bodies. It changes how they move and how we're able to move them. And this can have a real impact on how we feel about ourselves in sexual situations. Remember that great sex doesn't have to be aerobic or acrobatic. In fact, at its most basic, it involves a mutual desire to please. That could mean a look, a caress or even the sounds you make. Or, why not please yourself with an ergonomic vibrator like the Sola Sync and allow your partner to watch? What you do is up to you, but it doesn't have to be physical.
Truth: Toys Enhance Blood Flow & Expand Possibilities
Great sex doesn't always have to involve doing something. It can simply be about receiving and enjoying pleasure. You can lay back and allow your partner to explore and please your body, but you can also do your own exploring.
Menopause can reduce blood-flow to our genitals, thus reducing sensitivity and elasticity in these tissues. Stimulating them more often can really help keep this area vital and improve their health and orgasmic capabilities - it’s really use it or lose it! Sex toys can also help you explore your body - and what turns you on - on your own.
If you’ve never tried a toy before, give something simple and fun like the Sola Egg Massager Wellness Set a try. This set includes two different massaging heads that are great for all over massage and provide deep and relaxing vibrations.
Truth: Your Sexuality Is About More than Your Genitals
Whenever possible, try to embrace the changes menopause brings. Sex is about more than your genitals. You are more than your genitals. When you begin to think about sex as a whole body experience, it becomes possible to enjoy it in different ways throughout your life.
Explore your body and your sensuality (sex toys can help!), eat well, exercise and do things that make you feel beautiful. And be sure to do things that make you feel joyful too, whether that’s hoola hooping or belly dancing or yoga - or sex! The better you feel in and about your body - your whole body - the more you'll be able to open yourself up to all kinds of pleasure, including the sexual kind.
She is also the author of Sex with the Lights On: 200 Illuminating Sex Questions Answered. Ducky has been featured with Playboy, The New York Times, The History of Sex on the History Channel, NPR, HBO, MTV, Vice, ABC News, and MSNBC, to name a few.