There are quite a few myths circulating about sex after menopause - some people think sex life stops after menopause, some see it as a transition to a venerable age when sex does not matter anymore, and many women who are approaching menopause get nervous even thinking about it. How much will menopause change me? Will I become a different person? A cold fish? A liberated woman? Will my body refuse to cooperate with me when I do want sex?
There are so many questions and concerns surrounding this topic that we decided to do some investigative research - our way. We want to talk to our audience about some myths, facts, and inspirations that we have found.
And speaking truthfully, we have found a lot of inspiration - not only strong and powerful postmenopausal women, but in different cultures, new research, and the women who conduct this research.
Some say that sexual desire just runs out after menopause. We don't buy that at all. There are a lot of myths out there that need to be busted. Let us help you with that!
Let's put these myths to rest! Sex is still enjoyable, hormone therapy can save you from a world of pain, and gentle supplements that contain isoflavones can help get rid of those pesky symptoms and even improve your sex drive - you can still get pregnant when you're experiencing menopause symptoms - the list goes on.
Sometimes, mental symptoms like depression, anxiety, and mood swings are made a lot worse by physical symptoms like vaginal tissue pain, constant hot flashes, or insomnia. Let's face it - when you don't feel good in the body it's hard to feel good in the mind.
Here are some physical changes that often have an effect on how we feel and how we perceive ourselves, and in turn, affect our libido and sexual desire.
There's nothing worse than really wanting something but having your own body stop you from getting it. Maybe you want to skydive but have a paralyzing fear of heights? Or your peanut allergy was stopping you from enjoying the most delicious-looking Thai dish that you have ever seen?
Now imagine that something that you really want is sex, but your vaginal dryness and the pain caused by intercourse are literally stopping you from enjoying sex - or having sex altogether? That's right - many women stop having intercourse during menopause and postmenopause because it's simply too painful. It's even more frustrating because it involves their partner and the loss of intimacy.
For someone who has an interest in sex, this can be crushing. It can change the dynamic between you and your partner, affect intimacy and closeness. It might also spiral into depression and feelings of inadequacy.
This is just one example of how a physical change caused by estrogen loss can change a sexually active woman's life. Read on about the causes, symptoms, and help you can get when your menopausal symptoms start affecting your sex life and the relationship with your partner.
Let's stick with the facts - sex can hurt after menopause. For the majority of women, the loss of estrogen causes physical problems that can be painful and unpleasant.
Vaginal atrophy can sound pretty scary. After all, the word "atrophy" is associated with degeneration and wasting away. Who would want that to be associated with their vagina? Don't worry - it's not as devastating as it sounds. The medical profession has a long history of naming things in a terrifying way that isn’t so scary in real life. Take the condition known as Onychophagy for example. It can be quite unsightly. It's also otherwise known as "biting one's nails". A sign of degeneracy indeed - but let's go back to vaginal atrophy and make it less frightening.
Vaginal atrophy happens when the lining of the vagina gets thinner and isn't as moist anymore. It is drier, which can cause irritation, itching, and painful sex. Let's face it - if your vagina is dry, friction has to hurt. On top of this, women who experience vaginal atrophy can also experience more UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections).
As your estrogen dramatically drops, your breasts can shrink. Breasts are made up of glandular tissue as well as fat - and as the glandular tissue begins to recede and shrink, breasts become fattier. This means they are less "dense" and more jiggly, prone to sagging, and simply not as firm. A lot of women embrace this newfound softness, while others might get a bit depressed because they simply don't feel like themselves anymore.
All of these physical changes bring about some serious thoughts and feelings. Menopause isn't bad - it's just another stage in our lives. But like any other change, it brings about thoughts of passing and sometimes loss. The loss of youth, but also the kind of care-free approach to life when you know that most of it is still unwritten, mysterious, and ahead of you. This feeling of loss and passing can have a worse effect on your sex life than any hot flashes, hormones, or vaginal dryness.
This is when the mental effect of menopause can have an effect on our sex life. Let's forget about menopause per se - in order to have a successful, fulfilling, and truly satisfying sex life, a few things need to be in place. According to studies, the characteristics of sexually healthy adults :
Even if you have answered "yes!" to all of those before, know that menopause can do quite a number on how you experience yourself.
A strong sense of identity and constantly renewed acceptance of yourself is a huge part of satisfying sex life. After all, your mental state can affect how you experience interest in sex, desire, and how you see yourself as a vibrant sexual being who needs physical intimacy and can feel burning desire - no matter how old you are.
Depression - Women who go through high peaks and valleys of often painful symptoms associated with the loss of estrogens - such as hot flashes, vaginal changes, mood swings, and inflammation can be at a high risk of depression. In fact, this isn't the cause of menopause per se but is related to sudden hormonal changes. Women who go through puberty, pregnancy, or even their menstrual cycle are prone to depression too. If you have a history of depression, you may be at a higher risk of depression as you approach menopause.
Self-Esteem - Let's face it - the face on the most popular clothing, perfume or fitness device ads doesn't look like yours anymore.
Sex and stress - Menopause may come in our 40s or it might come in our 50s. This is an especially stressful time for women because they experience shifts in their careers, aging parents, and often, this correlates with the empty nest syndrome. Are you feeling sexy yet? We didn't think so. Women are busy and more stressed than ever. This is why sexual health and satisfying sexual activity does take more work than usual.
THERE. We said it. We're not here to tell you that you just have to change your attitude and your whole life will go "back to normal". Menopause is hard stuff. But what IS your choice is how you tackle this challenge.
There are a lot of things you can try if sex after menopause becomes painful. Some of them work, some of them don't - while it's important to talk to your doctor, dietitian, or coach about lifestyle changes or hormone therapy, sometimes people will self-medicate with alcohol or other recreational drugs. This isn't a good idea and should be avoided. There are plenty of natural solutions out there that work and are good for you.
Medication - according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, many women in perimenopause respond well to hormonal medication and will experience alleviation of their depression symptoms. Hormonal medication today is the most effective way of treating night sweats, hot flashes, and discomfort during intercourse. Talk to your doctor about the kind of therapy that's right for you. The inability to have sex is often attributed to these symptoms. Types of medication can include:
Supplements- supplements, especially ones that contain isoflavones have proven to be effective against symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness as well. Like any natural herbal remedy, they have to be taken regularly for a period of time in order to work. Get medical advice on using them, especially if you are taking other medication or are receiving any other treatment.
are often used to relieve menopause symptoms and can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Vibrators etc. - vibrators and sex toys meant for therapy for menopausal women really do the trick! Tools like specialized sex toys make arousal easier, and some of them actually combines gentle suction with vibration, so blood flow is increased to your genitals. This may help with blood circulation, arousal, and moisture. Practice makes perfect, and it's actually true when helping things along with some extra stimulation, because it may help you keep the natural blood circulation around your genital area longer. There are also toys that are meant for a workout - building vaginal muscle strength will help you keep elasticity. There is a number of kegel balls out there that are built especially for this purpose - if you're a gadget geek, some of them even come with apps that help you monitor your strength, and can get your partner involved. Having more sex with your partner also helps - some therapists call this the "use it or lose it" factor.
Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants - There is a difference between the two - lubricants are used when you are ready to have sex, and moisturizers help to condition your vaginal tissue and keep it moist all the time. This may help with any painful inflammation and keep everything well lubricated during intercourse. Moisturizers on the other hand are meant as an everyday therapy - it's a bit like keeping damaged hands moisturized. You have to do it regularly in order to help.
Communication with your partner- This is one of the forgotten and least mentioned helpful tips. You can talk to your doctor about painful sex, but you should talk to your partner first. Communication is key because it lets your partner know about the pain you're experiencing and starting a conversation about solutions will get them on the wagon of longer foreplay, more oral stimulation, or other methods that will make sex more enjoyable. Sometimes, spouses or companions may become self-conscious and worried that it's their fault that their partner doesn't seem to be enjoying sex as much. It's important to keep them in the loop about what's going on, and any possible therapy or treatment that they can be a part of and help you with.
Alcohol and self-medication with recreational drugs, or tampering with prescription drugs -some symptoms you experience while going through menopause or when you're already postmenopausal can be an effect of the medication you're taking. If you think your medication is causing your mood swings or affecting your sex drive, talk to your doctor first, before taking any action or stopping your medication.
A glass of wine might get you in the mood, but remember - it can interfere with other drugs you're taking and it won't actually help you with any of the symptoms that are caused by plummeting estrogen levels. Having more than two drinks a day is likely to cause heart problems and is associated with an increased risk of cancer. Mixed with hormone therapy or other medication, it's just not a good combination.
Here is a visual aid that shows where to start!
40 - when you hit your 40s, some say that "you only just got started" and this is very true. This is the time when you know exactly what you want, and you're willing to take your time to get it. But hormone changes in both men and women at this age may require more stimulation, more attention, and more work. There is a definite upside to this - men in this stage of their lives are able to delay orgasm longer, which means that taking your time gets easier. The 40s is when most people start to experiment more, and their sex lives become more adventurous. This is when some women might start experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause.
50 - Some great news for the 50-year-olds out there - 31% of couples have sex several times a week, and 28 % have sex several times a month. Couples who are married in their 50s tend to be more intimate and 78% of them say they hold hands at least sometimes. This is where physical activity comes in handy - in order to continue having a great sex life, it's important to exercise regularly and take care of your heart. This will help with blood pressure, circulation and be a great indirect help during intercourse. Women are encouraged to do kegel exercises to strengthen their pelvic floor.
60 - This is a great time to explore other ways of staying intimate with your partner - some men develop erectile dysfunction, and menopausal women might experience pain during intercourse. Get tips from your doctor about what may help with vaginal entropy if you haven't yet- and explore other intimate acts, like oral sex, sex toys, or massage and touching. Trying out different positions can help too.
70/infinity - people can have sex well into advanced old age. The key is to be loving towards yourself and your partner, treat vaginal dryness and other physical symptoms of menopause. Did you know that sex after 70 is actually increasing? This could also be an example of a skewed study - perhaps more people are getting comfortable talking about intercourse now than they were, let's say, 30 years ago? In a Swedish study, 38 percent of married women over 70 reported being sexually active in 1971, while in 2001 that number jumped to 56%.
What did this older group of septuagenarians do right that we can all take into account, even if we're in our 30s? According to the study, the key to being sexually active was:
A final word on sexual desire, intimacy, and libido: we live longer and sexual dysfunction is treatable, whether it's vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction. It's up to us to lead a healthy life, exercise, eat well, and take the right supplements so we can take advantage of this, and continue having fulfilling sex lives.
Women who live healthily into their 80s are going to have longer post-menopausal sex lives than pre-menopausal sex lives.
Let's get back to the topic we have previously touched on - but we believe it takes more than a mention to address it properly. How society perceives women over 50 has a very real and very direct effect on our self-esteem - and in turn, on our sex lives. Ads that we see every day have an effect on us whether we like it or not. In a culture obsessed with youth and perfection, women who pass 30 or 40 are starting to feel like no one is "talking to them" in popular media.
The fact is, women over 50 are constantly misrepresented, trivialized, or simply ignored by advertisers, although they hold major spending power. This is a shock - and may seem against any marketing good sense. In a study done in the UK, it was found that although women over 50 make up about 2/5 of the population (this is a HUGE number!) 68% of these women believe they are not being accurately reflected in advertising.
The 50-and-over crowd is more adventurous than ever, and advertisers are accused of not doing their homework when it comes to portraying them correctly. How can we compare ourselves to a stale stock photo of a 50+ lady without feeling totally disconnected from what we "should" look like, and what society expects us to be?
As women, we are used to being shown some pretty unrealistic things - how is it possible that things just get worse with age?
When you were a little girl, you probably had a list of beautiful, successful, powerful, and inspiring women who you wanted to be like when you grew up, when you graduated when you moved on to another stage in your life.
What about now? Have you thought about who you admire over the age of 50? Or maybe over the age of 60 or 70? Here are some of our favorites:
Judith Boyd: She is the founder of Style Crone, a fashion blogger with many faces. She is 76 years old and spent her career as a psychiatric nurse. She co-owned a hat shop and used her love of clothes and hats to express herself creatively. Why do we like her? Judith is able to follow her passion outside of her chosen profession - she made the leap from her career to what she loves most seamlessly and inspires us to look within ourselves so that we can express what gives us joy and power. She launched her blog when her husband was fighting terminal cancer - the blog began as their joint project but after his passing, she continues to share her passion. Postmenopausal women can't be made invisible - they are wise, powerful, and can uplift others.
Quote: "Let’s take back the word crone, to its original meaning, signifying a woman of a “certain age’ who embodies all her life’s wisdom, knowledge, experience, and love." - Judith Boyd
Ida Keeling:Ida's is a journey worth talking about and looking up to. She went through devastating events in her life, which left her reeling from depression. She started running at age 67 and became hooked. She worked herself out of her darkness and broke some world records while running and running races well past the age of 100.
Maybe Ida's story is extreme - but she reminds us that it takes slow, steady action to lift ourselves up. After all, she lived to be a hundred one day at a time.
Quote: “It's better for me to exercise three times in a day, sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes, than to try to do it all at once." - Ida Keeling
Most menopausal women aren'tanywhere near this age - but isn't it nice to have something to aspire to? To know that women way past menopausal age can be loud, positive, active, inspiring, and be of consequence in society? So instead of slipping into a tame middle age, let's embrace our cronehood - the healthy, knowledgeable wise woman who is ready to embrace herself - and embrace others even tighter and with more understanding than ever before.
Our self-image has a real effect on how we go on with our sexual relationships, fantasies, and sex drive - let's take care of the way we treat ourselves, see ourselves, and portray ourselves.
Speaking of mentors, media, and society, did you know that society can actually influence menopause and the sexual activity that comes with it?
It's true that hormonal changes influence every woman in a similar way, no matter what race she is or where in the world she lives: blood pressure issues, dry vaginal tissues, hot flashes, and sleeplessness - they are familiar the world over.
BUT - when researchers saw the outcome of a study done on North American and European women, they found that the impact of menopause varied from country to country. So, in other words, while every woman experiences the same symptoms - these symptoms have a different effect on women in different countries. What?
This study was meant to give insight into how women aged 55-65 deal with vaginal atrophy - or rather, how their relationships are affected by it.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, says that women who live in societies that value older women, have better attitudes towards aging in general and relaxed expectations about menopause usually fare better than those who are stressed out and scared about the process of aging.
Quote: "In societies where age is more revered and the older woman is the wiser and better woman, menopausal symptoms are significantly less bothersome. Where older is not better, many women equate menopause with old age, and symptoms can be much more devastating." Dr. Mary Jane Minkin
Our society often portrays menopause in the media as something women dread - it's a time of upheaval and degeneration. Women who are going through menopause are portrayed as unstable, emotional, and irrational. People shrug - "hormones are to blame,". But in reality, most of the mood swings that come with menopause can be attributed not to hormones but to stress. Stress about life (most menopausal women are at the height of careers and family crossroads, often dealing with grown-up children, grandchildren, or aging parents - sometimes all at the same time!) or even stress about menopause itself can cause us to become moody and irrational. Society still treats menopause like a weakness - a sign that something is wrong.
We could take some lessons from nature. There is a mammal out there whose members live in matriarchal pods, and the females live long past menopause, into old age. They are Orcas or Killer Whales. Their roles seem quite simple. The older matriarchs are in charge of the survival of the pod - they use their hard-earned knowledge to hunt and to help in times of scarcity. Without this knowledge and skills, whole generations of killer whales wouldn't make it into adulthood.
We are in the stage of sharing our knowledge and making the world around us better. What better way of empowerment is there?
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