You know how they say that the two things that are certain in life are death and taxes? Yeah, well, if you're a woman, another thing that is sure to head your way is menopause. It's that time of life (on average, it happens for women once they turn 51) when we have gone a full 12 months without a menstrual cycle (so long as there may not have been underlying health issues that could play a valid role). It comes as the direct result of your body not producing enough estrogen for your ovaries to release an egg every month. As a result, with menopause comes the inability to conceive a child.
The reality is that even before menopause transpires, your body typically goes through stages of transition for somewhere between 7-10 years (although "official" perimenopause typically lasts for no more than four) beforehand. Your estrogen and progesterone levels tend to be on a serious roller coaster ride. Your menstrual cycle may be super irregular or spotty as all get out. You might experience hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, weight gain, a slower metabolism, headaches, thinning hair, dry skin, breasts that are less "perky" and a lower libido. It's a lot, I know. The reason why I'm mentioning all of this is because there is oftentimes a misconception that these things are menopause when the reality is these are what can happen as you're headed into menopause. It's oftentimes referred to as perimenopause. What happens to us after menopause happens—well, we're going to look into one thing specifically today.
If you're someone who either fears the thought of menopause or you've recently gone through it and you're freaking out a bit because your sex life doesn't seem to be quite like it used to, get yourself some bing cherries or a peach (more on why in a sec) and I'll share with you some facts that can make going through this very natural stage of life so much easier to bear.
1. A Change Is Definitely Gonna Come
Menopause is interesting in the sense that, unless you had one or both of your ovaries removed when you were very young, you will definitely experience menopause at some point in your life. That doesn't mean that you'll have to go through all of the symptoms that I shared that lead up to menopause (some women experience little to none of 'em); however, you should pretty much put yourself in the mindset that some sort of change will happen—even if it's just that fact that, eventually, your period will come to an end.
And since that is due to the fact that your body is producing less estrogen (along with less testosterone and progesterone) than it used to, it's important to prepare yourself that it could definitely affect your sex drive. This includes taking longer to be aroused; your clitoris not getting as erect (or erect as quickly) as it used to; your vagina being drier; your vaginal walls becoming thinner (we'll talk more about this in a bit) and you having a more difficult time experiencing an orgasm (if you experience one at all). This actually makes a lot of sense because most of us are our horniest during our ovulation period (when our body passes an egg and awaits a sperm to fertilize it). When eggs don't pass anymore, ovulation ceases and a spike in sexual desire can tank.
I know. What a depressing way to start off an article. Yet the reality is that when you know what could happen beforehand, you can actually prepare for it. And the less shocking things are, the less traumatized you'll be and the more you'll be able to accept all of this as a new season that requires a few adjustments. Let's keep going so that you can know what some of those adjustments entail.
2. A Dip in Estrogen Can Affect Your Libido
The reality is that estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are all natural hormones that your body produces. When there are higher levels of them in your system, that directly increases vaginal lubrication and sexual desire overall. When there is a drop in any of these hormones or there is a hormonal imbalance, all of the things that I mentioned in the intro can transpire. That's the bad news. The good news is there's estrogen therapy that is available. Your doctor may prescribe some estrogen pills, patches or even a topical cream, suppository or vaginal ring (you can read more about some of those options here).
Because I have a lot of natural health people in my space, something else that I'm aware of is wild yam extract or cream. It is an all-natural alternative to traditional estrogen therapy. Some women sing highly of its praises. If you want to avoid the potential side effects of what can sometimes come with estrogen therapy, it's at least worth looking into. Red clover and flaxseed supplements can also be helpful, considering they are phytoestrogens which is a form of estrogen. Whatever you decide to do, just remember that less estrogen tends to equal a lower desire for sex, so when menopause happens, more estrogen should be added to balance everything back out as much as possible.
3. You May Experience Some Discomfort (or Pain)
Something that a dip in estrogen can do is actually cause your vaginal tissues to become thinner and sometimes inflamed. The cause of this is the result of something known as vaginal atrophy (which can happen during menopause, breastfeeding, a partial hysterectomy or if you're undergoing cancer treatments). Along with it, other symptoms include vaginal dryness, vaginal burning, frequent urination, an uptick in UTIs (urinary tract infections), shortening and tightening of your vaginal canal, and discomfort or even pain during intercourse. If any of this becomes an issue for you, make an appointment to see your doctor so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Sometimes estrogen treatments or bringing lubrication into the bedroom can nip a lot of this right in the bud. And speaking of lube, the next point.
4. Getting Wet Can Be More of a Challenge
Remember how I just stated that vaginal atrophy can lead to vaginal dryness? Sex when you're not wet (enough) definitely doesn't feel good which is why, when you're going through the transition of menopause, lubrication should become one of your best friends. Also, make sure that you're getting plenty of water (being dehydrated can affect things down below too) and that you eat foods that are known to keep your body moisturized (check out "These Foods Will Give Your Skin & Hair The Moisture They Crave"). Oh, and you might want to keep some Vitamin E oil close by. Not only can breaking open a capsule help to lubricate your vulva but it can also soothe your vaginal lining without irritating it as well. There's another thing that can help you to get wetter. It's the best thing you've probably read thus far.
5. Foreplay Will Probably Need to Be Extended
I've shared in other sex-related articles on this platform before that while it takes men somewhere around five minutes to climax, it typically takes us more like 25. Foreplay is what helps us to become sexually aroused and, once menopause happens, you'll probably need extended sessions of it. Kissing. Fondling. Some of us actually consider oral sex to be foreplay (kinda like the appetizer before the full course meal). Bringing in exercises such as orgasmic meditation as a build up to mindful orgasms can be super helpful too.
Really, when you stop to think about it, needing more time for foreplay in order to get aroused isn't just about menopause. When you were in your 20s, the "jackrabbit sex" that a lot of us engaged in isn't appealing after 35 or so anyway. You want more time to enjoy your partner, to get all five of your senses (touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing) involved in the experience as much as possible and to simply relax and go with the flow (pun intended and not intended at the same time). Hmph. I once had a wife tell me that she needed to use her own spit to make herself wet before sex (what in the world?!) and it had nothing to do with menopause or an underlying health issue. Her husband was just selfish AF in bed. They're divorced now.
Hopefully, as we mature, we become better lovers because we know that it's about more than just "getting to the end". If anything, menopause is a glaring reminder of this very fact. More foreplay is a good—and beneficial—thing. Get into it.
6. You’ll Need to Make Some Minor Bedroom Adjustments
Probably one of the most common symptoms that you hear about when the topic of menopause comes up is hot flashes (for the record, other things that lead to them like diabetes, birth control, an underactive thyroid, radiation therapy, pregnancy and stress). The reason behind it is, when estrogen tanks, it makes your body become way more sensitive to the shifts in body temperature (our hypothalamus) than it used to be. And here's the thing—while hot flashes are the most common (and intense) as you head into menopause, they can sometimes last well into your 80s (crazy, right?).
I don't know about y'all, but I hate a hot bedroom and shoot, while you're having sex (if it's good sex), there's a pretty good chance that it's gonna get you all hot 'n bothered, literally, on its own. You can't really control when a hot flash comes along, which is why I recommend making some bedroom adjustments once menopause happens. Turn down your thermostat to around 65 degrees. Install a ceiling fan, if you don't have one. Keep some cool water nearby. Limit how much alcohol you drink if sex is in the plans that day (because alcohol is something else that can bring along a hot flash; caffeine can too). Go with some organic cotton bedding (it's a "breathable" fabric) and sleep naked as much as you can. Sometimes the urge is there but things like a hot flash can still make you take a hard pass. Being ready for when one comes along could be another "hack" that can make sex way more pleasant for you.
7. There Are Natural Ways to Balance Your Hormones Out
Menopause will definitely have your hormones going all over the place. Again, since your ovaries produce less estrogen (and progesterone), it not only takes a toll on your sex drive, it can cause you not to feel as great as you normally do. For instance, it's not uncommon for low estrogen levels to lead to depression-related symptoms and for low progesterone to lead to anxiety and migraines. Who wants to have sex when any of this is going on? That's why it's also a good idea to put your body on a regimen that can help to balance your hormone levels out naturally.
Things like reducing your sugar intake; exercises 2-3 times (for 30-45 minutes) a week; reducing your stress levels; consuming more protein; eating natural estrogen-boosting foods like bing cherries, peaches, sesame seeds, garlic, wholegrain bread, alfalfa sprouts, carrots, apples and coffee; taking an evening primrose oil supplement; taking a Vitamin B and C supplement and eating foods that are high in Vitamin E such as sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, collard greens, red bell peppers and wheat germ oil—all of this will help to balance your hormones so that you'll feel more like your "old" self and more in the mood for sex.
8. Pay Close Attention to Your Mental and Emotional Well-Being
As a doula, something that I recommend my clients do is see a therapist/counselor/life coach at some point during their first year of being a new mom. The main reason why is because, no matter how awesome the season of being a new mommy can be, there is still some grieving that must happen and some processing that needs to work out as you release a lot of "what was" for "what is". Because the reality is, a baby changes a lot of things; sometimes you need help knowing how to work through your emotions about that.
In many ways, the same point applies to menopause. As a woman in my 40s who still has a period like clockwork (chile) and has made peace about not conceiving children, there is a part of me that absolutely cannot wait to retire this menstrual cup of mine. At the same time, I know it's also one thing to choose to not have kids; it's another to not be able to anymore.
Menopause is a common thing that is nothing to be embarrassed about, ashamed of or even uncomfortable with. Still, it's a big enough life shift that I suggest paying very close attention to how you are feeling mentally and emotionally too. See a professional. Talk to your girlfriends who may have already experienced this life phase. Be open with your partner about your feelings and concerns. While a lot of physical things can alter sex after menopause, the reality is that a lot of psychological stuff tends to go far too overlooked too.
9. Men Go Through Something Known As Andropause
Don't let the media (or the men in your life) fool you. While we're over here going through menopause, men have their own shift that's going on. It's called andropause. It's the time in a man's life (usually around 50) when their testosterone levels significantly drop. As a result, it can lead to fatigue, sadness, insomnia, increased body fat, decreased bone density, less muscle mass, less body hair, hot flashes (yes, chile)—and erectile dysfunction and a low(er) libido. If you suspect that the man in your life may be going through "the change", the best way to confirm it is for him to have a blood test in order to check his testosterone levels. Sometimes, simple things like altering his diet, getting more exercise, getting more sleep and eating testosterone-boosting foods such as tuna, beef, egg yolks, beans and fortified cereals are all that he will need. Other times, testosterone therapy may literally be just what the doctor orders.
10. Your Sex Life Can Still Be on Fire
Yeah, this was a lot to take in. Believe me, I know. Yet let's make sure to end this on a really positive note. Fairly recently, I laughed as I read some social media comments (a lot of folks were haters, to be honest) about actor Suzanne Somers talking about how much she and her hubby get it in, to this day. At 74, she said it's "three times before noon" (good for you, girl!).
Now before you think she's embellishing or that's close to being ridiculous, it's been reported that two-thirds of people over 65 are still extremely interested in sex; 40 percent of people between 65-80 are still sexually active; half between 57-75 still give and/or receive oral sex (one-third between 75-85 do), and 25 percent over the age of 70 are having sex at least once a week.
Moral of the story: Aging is a part of life and, for women, menopause is sure. Neither has to be a death sentence for your libido or your sex life, though. 50s ain't old and, as you can see, folks close to their 90s are still thriving in the bedroom. At the end of the day, there's nothing to fear about menopause. Just learn more about what comes with it, factor in what you personally need to do and you should be all good. Literally. #wink
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