Menopause can be a transformative time in a woman’s life that need not be colored with negative bias before it even begins. In particular, if we change the narrative around sex and the menopause, we can reframe it as an opportunity for women to dive deeper into their own experience of womanhood.
Menopause generally begins between the ages of 45 and 55, bringing common symptoms that include night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and anxiety. It is, however, a complex transition as unique to every woman as her sexuality.
It’s possible that many of us take aspects of our sexual experience such as vaginal elasticity and lubrication for granted during the pre-menopausal years. On the flip side, as we get older, we grow less inhibited, and the more comfortable we are in our skin, the easier it is to become aroused. Until our body changes, that is, and we have to get to know it all over again.
Hormone Depletion and the Vagina
As the number of ovarian follicles declines and the ovaries release fewer eggs, the luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones that maintain the menstrual cycle can no longer regulate estrogen levels. As they fall, vaginal lubrication also decreases, which can cause the vaginal lining to thin and lose its elasticity. This increases the risk of tearing and bleeding during intercourse. Reduced levels of estrogen also lower vaginal pH, rendering the vagina less acidic, and weakening the barrier against infection.
This seems like bad news, but if a woman doesn’t have regular intercourse following menopause, her vagina can then become shorter and narrower. Regular sexual activity actually keeps tissues thick and moist, helping the vagina to maintain its length and width so that sex becomes enjoyable once again.
Yet if sex is too painful to begin with, what’s the solution? Vaginal estrogen is an option, but it does have side effects. Plus, as long as vaginal penetration is considered the main event, this limits the possibilities for sexual pleasure. Instead, as you reassess your relationship with your body, you can also reassess the way you think about sex. The male perspective, which perpetuates the importance of penetration, can dominate. If we take the female perspective, however, we find alternative ways to become aroused.
Arousal During Menopause
If the vagina is off limits due to dryness and pain, the clitoris can help, especially as a healthy clit needs to be stimulated regularly in order to stay that way—left untouched for too long during menopause and it could atrophy. Yet the clitoris doesn’t have to be the starting point for sexual activity.
We have erogenous zones all over our bodies that warrant stroking, kissing, and tender exploration. The breasts, the lips, the nape of the neck, the inner thighs, the ear lobes, and even the bottoms of the feet are all pressure points that can trigger arousal, whether you’re playing by yourself or with a partner.
Menopause and Relationships
Loss of sex drive can lead to feelings of guilt, but counseling and sex therapy can help to challenge the cultural conditioning that tells us to give more than we receive. Therapists recommend using menopause to renew a sense of intimacy, and to rethink what constitutes good sex with your partner.
Since the brain is also a major erogenous zone, open and authentic communication can increase the likelihood of sexual arousal. Menopause then becomes an invitation to spend more time on foreplay, fostering emotional and mental excitement, as well as physical.
Have Sex With Yourself
The most important relationship to consider during this time is the one you have with yourself. Menopause may threaten our identity as a woman—especially in a world that bombards us with images of nubile, fecund females—and yet it’s as much a part of the female experience as menstruation.
In China, the menopause is considered a second springtime when women are revered for their wisdom. It’s also in China that the use of yoni eggs originated. The “vaginal fitness” practice is said to reinvigorate natural lubrication and strengthen internal muscles. Moreover, it encourages self-exploration and provides a way to reconnect with your sense of womanhood.
Increased self-pleasure and self-care rituals also help with mind-body connection, while practices like yoga and meditation help to address the psychological impact of menopause. Invest time in responding to your different physical, mental, and emotional needs on different days, be that a massage, a nourishing meal, or an hour with a yoni wand.
What’s more, talking to someone other than your partner or a therapist is also essential. Reaching out to women experiencing the same, sharing stories, cultivating empathy, and finding ways to laugh together can overshadow feelings of shame. A woman’s life doesn’t end with the menopause. In fact, it might even be the beginning of a whole new sex life.