The Phoenix Years: Sex, Menopause, and You
on 12 Oct 2021
Many women think that the menopause means the end of an exciting sex life. We’d like to disagree. Thanks to good hormone management, self-awareness, and some helpful advice, many menopausal women are having better sex than ever.
Things that make for a great sex life? Confidence, experience, and assertiveness. Which also just happen to be qualities that many of us develop with age. We want to dispel the menopause myth - the belief many women have that menopause sounds the death knell for great sex.
This is not to say we should pretend menopause is ‘the best thing ever’. A lot of women struggle with symptoms, and no-one likes going through puberty the first time, let alone having a so-called ‘second puberty’.
However, we don’t want women to be afraid for their sex lives. This is a journey into an exciting, brand new stage of your life. A re-birth, that for a lot of women also coincides with fewer care-giving responsibilities such as child-rearing. A time of freedom, and a time to focus on yourself and your needs. There’s no need to settle for a so-so sex life.
What is menopause?
The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51, but it usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. As we reach middle adulthood, our bodies slow down the production of estrogen - one of the main sex hormones in female bodies - often causing symptoms such as erratic periods, hot flashes, and sleep disturbances.
This process is called perimenopause, and is the transition into menopause itself. It can begin when you’re in your 30s, but it most commonly starts for women in their 40s. With this slowing of estrogen production your periods will become more irregular, and you are considered to have reached menopause once you haven’t had a period for 12 months - although other symptoms such as those pesky hot flashes are likely to last a while longer.
"Menopause is a great time to reassess your sex life and focus on pleasure, not performance. Being able to have sexual play without worrying about pregnancy is a blessing, and you can also expand on your sexual repertoire… and making a new ‘sexual menu’."
"Many vulva owners who go through menopause decide that they want to have sex for fun, pleasure and connection. I think we should all adopt this attitude!"
Chantelle Otton, Lovehoney Australia's resident sexologist
The mental side of menopause
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: so much of great sex is mental. And that doesn’t change with menopause! In fact, several recent studies tell us that menopause itself doesn’t affect sexual functioning or satisfaction.
Instead, our attitude does. Good communication in our relationships, intimacy that is playful and novel, and positive self-talk about our bodies and sex lives all outweigh the negative effects of hormonal changes.
Many well-renowned sex therapists tell us that as we get older, sex gets better - thanks to self-acceptence, maturity, and experience. We stop worrying so much about how ‘adventurous’ we are and how many positions we can try in one go, and instead begin to focus on the quality of our experiences, the connection sex gives us. We care more about emotionally rewarding and meaningful interactions.
If you’re struggling with your libido, there are lots of science-based tips you can try to increase your levels of desire. Making sex a priority, scheduling in both solo pleasure and time for intimacy with your partner, spending time working through your attitudes towards sex, your relationship, and your body.
It also helps to consider menopause from the viewpoint of freedom. Freedom from pregnancy risks, periods, and often those care-giving responsibilities that can distract us from focusing on our sexuality and our own pleasure. It’s the perfect time to stop compromising on who you are, what you want, and what you deserve.
There are some physical changes that affect menopausal and post-menopausal women, thanks to the slowing production of estrogen.
Some women may find themselves less sensitive to touch, which can make it harder to receive enough stimulation for physical arousal or orgasm. If you don’t already have one, it may be time to upgrade your toy drawer with a (deservedly famous) magic wand - these mains-powered external vibrators pack powerful vibrations, leading to powerful orgasms. There are also many types of orgasm gels and balms, which help increase blood flow to your clitoris and make you tingle. You may need to try a couple of products to find which ones works best for your body - our guide to female orgasm boosters may help.
Another common side effect is dryness, which can make penetrative sex uncomfortable. We always recommend using a good lubricant with toys and during penetrative sex - regardless of age - so if you’re yet to add lube to your drawer now is the time. If you’re new to lube you may be surprised by how many different types there are, so be sure to check our beginner’s guide to lube to get all the information you need.
If you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, mentally or physically, please consult your doctor. They will be more than happy to help in any way they can, and there is likely to be a treatment option perfect for you.
“I believe our experience is as much about attitude as it is hormones - and (thankfully) there are so many solutions available now to treat most of the symptoms [...] Women who have a healthy libido, are interested in keeping their sex life going, and actively seek help for any problems can continue to have strong, healthy orgasms and a happy sex life well into their 70s, 80s (and longer).”
Tracey Cox, international sex & relationship expert
You’re not alone!
Don’t let old-fashioned and outdated beliefs on what a woman should be like, or how she should behave negatively impact your sexuality. Menopause is not a time to “mourn your youth”, or is it the end of great sex.
It is, in fact, only the beginning.