When I was a teenager, I used to babysit my cousins so my aunt and uncle could go out and have sex in the back of their minivan. I remember hanging out with my aunt while she prepared for one such outing. She lined the van’s backend with blankets and spritzed it with Calvin Klein’s Obsession. She raised one eyebrow at me and said, “Don’t tell your mom this is what we do when you babysit.”
“Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me.” That old Salt-n-Pepa song is probably not the tune stuck in your head when you’re going through menopause. And for good reason. Your body is going through a lot of hormonal changes—specifically a dip in estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is the main female hormone and when it’s at a normal level, it helps to lubricate the walls of your vagina.
I have gone through several sexual dry spells in my lifetime. During these times, I was so uninterested in having sex that my partner would get worried and even slightly offended. And I was, too. Offended at my own body, that is. I mean, I love my partner and find him attractive so why did sex of any kind feel like a no-go? I didn’t even want to try to be turned on, if I’m being honest. My mind was elsewhere and my body just wanted to be left alone.
I’ve gained a reputation as a menopause expert among my friends, and I get this question more than any other. It makes sense. When you’re in the throes of a hot flash or inexplicable crying jag, who cares why this is happening—when’s it going to end? Unfortunately, as with many things pertaining to women’s bodies (hi, pregnancy), the length and symptoms of menopause vary a lot. Some aspects, such as age of onset, can even be hereditary.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m something of a black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinker—one little setback and suddenly everything’s all over. I have that dieter’s mentality where you succumb to one little cookie early in the day, and then, at that point, why not eat everything in sight and start again tomorrow?
“We have a timing problem,” my pal Suzie said to me over coffee. She was complaining about her sex life. “He gets his intimacy needs met by having sex, and I want the intimacy up-front, as a sort of bargaining chip for sex.”
Fascinated by Suzie’s problem, I wondered first if it was a heterosexual thing—men getting intimacy through sex, women getting it before they’ll have sex. I wondered if it was a timing problem, as Suzie theorized. This argument, whether you wanted your intimacy as an appetizer or as a side dish, sounded familiar to me. I wondered if some couples solved it with compromise.
“I am so irritated by Sam. When I talk to him he always interrupts and makes comments that don't connect to what I am saying. He thinks he is being helpful, but he is not! I used to feel so in love with him that my heart would skip a beat every time he came into a room. Now I seem to be finding fault with everything he does, such as the way he talks to his mom on the phone and the way he does that little snort when he laughs—things I used to find so endearing. What happened?”
Can I talk to you about something? I’m a little nervous to talk to you about this. This is hard for me.
First, I miss you and I love you. I miss our time together where we can be intimately playful and vulnerable with each other. I miss the mutual satisfaction of a connection between us that only we can have. I miss our closeness both emotionally and physically. I miss our sexual connections.