Embrace Your Changing Body
When you hit menopause, it can seem like you're living in a stranger's body. New sensations, new challenges, new feelings and new realities can take hold. Because of this, many women view menopause as a frightening experience.
Our culture is one of the main culprits in this negativity, often touting menopause as the end of a woman's “enjoyable” life as she’s known it—the point when her sex drive, beauty, capability and health all take a nose dive. When messages like this are so pervasive in popular culture and media, it's not surprising that many women who are nearing or experiencing menopause feel bad about their bodies and their relationships.
Fortunately, menopause doesn't have to be a negative transition. In fact, many post-menopausal women live happy, full lives with more time, energy and resources to dedicate to their careers, children, partners and passions. So what can you do to take control of your transition through menopause? The first step is knowing exactly what's happening to your body.
Let's start by dispelling some common menopause myths.
Menopause Myths vs. Facts
Myth: Menopause causes depression.
Fact: According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, major depression isn't a symptom of menopause, although there are some links between major hormonal changes and depressive feelings. Part of this might be purely gender based—women generally are two times as likely as men to experience depression. The truth is that while hormone changes can cause mood swings and physical changes, menopause alone does not cause depression. For women who do find themselves feeling down, simple actions like exercising and maintaining an active, fulfilling life through volunteer work and being social can help mitigate hormone-related "blue" spells.
Myth: Menopause makes you a crazy lady. Oh, and your vagina will shrivel like a raisin, too.
Fact: Although symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, decreased sex drive and mood swings are common, they don't by any means affect all women. For some women, in fact, the only symptom of menopause is missed periods. And no, your vagina will not shrivel up and die. Although vaginal dryness is one of the inherent truths of menopause that affects over half of all postmenopausal women, there are several helpful over-the-counter and prescription solutions. There is one truth that exists for all postmenopausal women over time which is that if vaginal dryness is not addressed and vaginal penetration of any kind does not occur, the vaginal canal can narrow, which can lead to painful intercourse.
Myth: Post-menopausal women stop having sex entirely.
Fact: No! Although menopause can bring about a series of physical changes like vaginal dryness and decreased libido, women who take charge of their post-menopausal intimate health can continue to have a fulfilling sex life after menopause. As a bonus, being post-menopausal means you no longer have to worry about becoming pregnant, so sex with your sweetie can be a little extra carefree.
The Mechanics of Menopause
Menopause is a condition that affects every woman. The process generally begins in our 40s, when hormone production changes. As your 50's draw closer, you may notice shorter or irregular periods along with symptoms like heavier menstrual bleeding and decreased sex drive. These changes can last for a few years before actual menopause begins. A woman has experienced menopause once 12 months have elapsed since her last period.
Although menopause is often thought of as a challenging time in a woman's life, there are some definite perks: menopausal women are less vulnerable to certain cancers, are generally established and confident in their lives, and are no longer at risk of unwanted pregnancies. The fact remains, however, that decreasing estrogen levels do come with side effects like slight weight gain, especially in the abdominal region, bone loss and tooth and gum changes. Menopause is also associated with sexual changes in women, including low libido, vaginal dryness and decreased sexual sensation and difficulty achieving orgasm..
Menopause and Sex
One of the most predominant myths about menopause is that it spells certain death for your sex life. What an unfortunate world that would be to live in! While menopause does have the capacity to bring about changes in your body, it certainly doesn't have the power to guillotine your sex life unless you let it.
The reason that menopause changes sex for women is due to lowered estrogen and testosterone levels. Since both hormones play a large part in controlling sex drive and feelings of sexual satisfaction in women, the sudden drop can often result in changes in sex drive and sexual function.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reclaim intimacy during menopause. Let's start with lubricants.
One of the most common side-effects of menopause is vaginal dryness. Before menopause, estrogen levels maintain vaginal secretions, keeping the vagina lubricated and moist at all times. When menopause hits, estrogen levels decrease, leading to diminished vaginal secretions and troublesome vaginal dryness. Vaginal dryness can lead to painful penetration and discomfort during deep or prolonged sex. Additionally, vaginal dryness can make it difficult to become aroused, resulting in a loss of sexual satisfaction. Fortunately, simple over-the-counter lubricants are here to help .
Lubricants come in gel, liquid, or oil forms and are applied directly to the vagina to decrease unpleasant friction during sex. There are literally dozens of different lubricants available on the market, and choosing the one that is right for you and your partner comes down to preference and some hands-on testing. Stay in the know by being familiar with these common types of lubricants:
- Water-based lubricants: These are the most common lubricants on the market. They are popular because they can be easily reapplied as needed and are water-soluble, which makes for easy, non-sticky cleanup with soap and water.
- Silicone-based lubricants: Silicone-based lubricants are long lasting and not absorbed to the skin. These lubricants don't dissolve in water, which means that they're perfect for sex in watery environments, such as the shower or bathtub — something you'll be able to do during menopause because you probably won't have a five-year old banging down the door, wondering why you want to shower uninterrupted!
- Oil-based lubricants: Ideal for women who find over-the-counter lubricants irritating to the vagina, oil-based lubricants are long-lasting and effective. Keep in mind, though, that oil-based lubricants can cause latex condoms to break, so they're not ideal for women who are not in a monogamous relationship or who are at risk for an STD.
Lubricants are an inexpensive, simple way to make post-menopausal sex more enjoyable for women who want to have sex but find it uncomfortable.
Moisturizers serve a dual purpose: like lubricants, they serve to reduce uncomfortable vaginal friction during sex, but they also create a moisture barrier in the vagina to provide relief from daily dryness. Unlike lubricants, though, they are applied at regular intervals rather than just before sex. Moisturizers are available over-the-counter and typically include an applicator that allows you to apply the product inside the vagina. Once applied, the effects of the moisturizer can last for about 2-3 days, creating a space for easier, freer and more enjoyable sex. If you find that a moisturizer doesn't quite provide all of the lubrication needed, you can also use an OTC lubricant just before sex to provide additional friction relief.
One of the most important aspects of enjoying sex during and after menopause is to communicate with your partner. It's unfair for either of you to expect sex at 50 to be the same as it was at 20, so it's imperative to keep an open dialogue, as your needs may have changed.
One of things many post-menopausal women report is an increased need for intimacy during sex. This means finding positions that make you feel close to one another and scheduling time for sex so that you have ample room for uninterrupted, anticipation-building foreplay. Simple things like holding hands, snuggling in bed and making space for quality time can help increase feelings of intimacy and sexuality. When both partners participate actively in building a satisfying sex life during and after menopause, you're likely to find that menopause didn't decrease your sexual enjoyment, it only changed and enhanced it.
Owning Your Menopause
When you look at it as a period of change, growth and maturity, menopause doesn't have to feel like the end of the world. While the changes of menopause may feel disconcerting, being informed about what is happening in your body, taking charge of your sexual health and embracing change is the key to successfully getting through menopause and joining the legions of women who are living vibrant, exciting, happy, sexy lives menopause or no menopause.