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 During Menopause
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 in Menopause
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 During Menopause
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 Great During Menopause
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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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Better Off Braless: The Benefits Of Not Wearing A Bra More Often
Somewhere between the start of the pandemic and entering the late stages of my 20s, bras become less and less of a priority.
Within that span of time, I, like most of the world, spent my days inhabiting my small bubble, staying in the house with loose-fitting loungewear, and being on Zoom calls that only required me to be presentable from the neck up. So as the demand to have my breasts at their perkiest form, so did my commitment to wearing bras.
The relationship that most women have with their bras is… well, complicated. While society has led us to believe that they’re required for us to be deemed as “ladylike” and “neat,” many of us find the garment to be a bothersome (and optional) accessory at best.
From underwires that poke and dig at our sides to push-ups that spill over, the argument in support of bras has begun to wane over the last few decades, with women of all cup sizes asking themselves if it’s better to just go braless.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
“Many years ago, I ditched wired bras and opted for going braless out of a desire for freedom and celebrating natural human form,” multi-hyphenate Alyson Stoner tells xoNecole. The movement activist best known for their fly dance moves with the likes of Missy Elliott and on Step Up 2: The Streets, shares that when it comes to their bra selection, comfort is key. “As someone who enjoys moving their body, I found that I do want an underlayer that provides some support without interfering with comfort and mobility.”
A source of concern when choosing to go braless is whether or not the lack of support from a bra will, in turn, affect the firmness of one’s breast, resulting in early sagging. However, Sabrina Sahni, M.D., an oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, shares that breast sagging is a result of age, not whether you’ve ditched your bras.
“Sagging breasts – also called ptosis – generally occurs due to chronic aging,” she tells xoNecole. “The breast is made up of a combination of glandular and fibrous tissue and fat tissue. Over time, the glandular tissue may become replaced with fattier tissue, and that can lead to more sagging. Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that.”
"Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that."
Women with heavier breasts may find that going braless may have its set of drawbacks, but Dr. Sahni says that you should always pay attention to your comfort levels since bras are a garment designed to support your back and correct your posture. “Those with heavier or larger breasts who choose to go braless may actually have worsening back/neck/shoulder pain,” she says. “Wearing a bra may allow them to correct their posture and help alleviate tension on those muscle groups.”
“Women with larger breasts may benefit from wearing a well-fitted, supportive bra as it may alleviate things like upper back pain or neck pain,” she shares.
Listening to your body is key when choosing whether you want to toss out your bras forever or just for a day. The beauty in a woman’s body is that it will tell us what we need to know before we even have to ask. There are common misconceptions about tighter bras being linked to causing health issues like breast cancer.
And while studies do show that Black women are “twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer early when compared with Caucasian women,” the manifestation of this disease is predetermined by other varying factors.
“There are a lot of myths out there about going braless being better for breast cancer risk. It is completely false,” Dr. Sahni explains. “Whether or not you wear a bra does not have any bearing on your overall breast cancer risk. Ultimately, your risk is dependent on a variety of factors, including family history, your breast density, your lifestyle, and your reproductive history.”
If you’re looking for classic, weightless comfort that’s close to going braless, Alyson Stoner recommends Harper Wilde, a body-inclusive intimates brand on a mission to create a more comfortable world for womankind. They currently have a capsule collection with the intimates brand in partnership with their company, Movement Genius.
“Harper Wilde has been my go-to for years now because the materials are truly soothing on my sensitive skin, the amount of support feels like you're being gently hugged (not squeezed), and the styles are flattering and beautiful enough to wear as shirts or visible layers,” they say.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
The brand offers super soft, breathable cotton fabric in their Triangle and Scoop Bralettes ($40 each) that will put the bliss and comfort back in your bosom.
Dr. Sahni says that choosing to opt out of bras or keep them close to your chest “truly depends on the individual” but it should be understood that “wearing or not wearing a bra won't significantly impact your overall health.”
“Ultimately, it comes down to comfort. There are some women with chronic breast pain where perhaps changing their bras to something more supportive and well-fitted may help,” she says. “Alternatively, some women find that going bra-less will alleviate their breast pain. I tell women that they should choose a bra that is comfortable for them, feels supportive, and one that they can wear regularly.”
So whether you choose to free the tatas or wear a bra that feels like it’s barely there, remember to listen to your body because ultimately, the choice is yours.
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