As most menopausal women could probably tell you, “the change” is about much more than just what is going on physically. For many, it’s a time of significant life change – a time to decide between what was “good enough” before and what is absolutely necessary for the second half of life. And this goes for sex, too. While earlier in a woman’s life, sex may have been about attracting or pleasing a partner, without much focus on herself, her attitudes about sex may be very different after menopause.
Here are some of the things I hear from my menopausal clients about sex at midlife:
“It hurts.” Menopause means a reduction of hormones that keep the vagina supple and moist. This drop in hormones also means that the body isn’t prompting for sex like it used to. But a woman still needs to have regular sexual intercourse to help keep the vulva fit. Sex shouldn’t hurt and getting help early will prevent complications. Women should consult their gynecologist about their unique risks and benefits for hormone replacement that can ease. Desire is a complex function of what’s happening in the body, mind, and relationship, so physical therapists, sex therapists, and marriage counselors can also help. With a little support, couples can resolve painful sex and relational problems to have joyful intimacy for the rest of their lives.
“For me to want sex, my partner has to respect me outside the bedroom.” For most women, the quality of a committed relationship has to be good in order to feel sexual desire. Earlier bargains for a provider-protector or handsome-charming partner may not be relevant after the wear and tear of twenty or so years. Philosopher Koestenbaum says “Expect two marriages in every lifetime, sometimes to the same person.” Couples often have to do quite a bit of renegotiation to go forward at her menopause.
“After 50, interest is sexy.” Certainly someone who listens well, remembers what we’ve asked for, and tunes into nuance in a sexual moment makes an exciting lover. But curiosity about who we are at this age, even if they’ve known us half our lives, is also a powerful aphrodisiac. It’s a turn-on to be asked about our thoughts, opinions, history and passions. For instance, menopausal, divorced or widowed women report a resurgence of desire as their new partners find them sexy and fascinating.
“I want mine, too.” Fortunately, for many women orgasm is still a powerful experience at midlife. And beyond that, they may relish the pleasure of arousal even as a stand-alone – sensual pleasure like hair-brushing, stroking, holding hands, and lying together. More importantly, at midlife women are often unapologetic for insisting on that sexual satisfaction is mutual.
“I’m done worrying about what I look like.” Menopause gives women an opportunity to leave their inhibitions and self-criticism behind. A very young 70-year-old female client of mine said, “I’ve always loved sex; it’s where I feel the most at home.” Her partner was giddy about how beautiful she had been and still was. Any physical imperfection was overshadowed by her amazing joy in the experience.
You can find Laurie Watson at AwakeningsCenter.org.