Hot Flashes & Even Hotter Sex
Sex Can Be Great...or Even Better
Menopause is often characterized in negative ways: changes in the body, irritability, sleepless nights, hot flashes and sexual challenges. Yet it can be a time of celebration in a woman’s life if we are open to new challenges with wisdom and self-knowledge built over years of experience. We need to learn to acknowledge and embrace the “change”, while also relishing the untold benefits of this stage. Learning and using strategies to make the most of our sexual health and opportunities as we age can be exciting and fulfilling.
One significant challenge women face in menopause is a result of the decrease of natural estrogen and testosterone (yes, women also create testosterone!) produced in the body. These hormones help circulate blood to the pelvic region. As a result, what most women experience is more vaginal dryness and thinner vaginal tissues resulting in less pleasure during sex. This dryness can result in general daily discomfort or even acute pain during intercourse or vaginal play.
Sex drives also shift as a result of decreased hormones, but less predictably. Many women experience a decreased libido, however some women are surprised by a higher sex drive as a result of: reduced stress associated with possible pregnancy; lack of premenstrual and menstrual symptoms; and heightened self-awareness of one’s needs and desires. As well, there can be more time to focus on self and relationship, with decreased demands of children, careers more established, and often fewer financial pressures.
Arousal and orgasms often become more difficult to achieve pre and post menopause. It can take a lot more effort and time to get aroused and the days of multiple orgasms often become less frequent. Orgasms can still happen, but they may require much more concentration, dedication, power and sometimes even accessories in order to transpire.
No need to get discouraged! There are many easy and fun ways to keep the sexual juices flowing and the passions burning. Staying sexually healthy can involve some exciting and pleasurable exploration and play!
The first recommendation for many women who find sex painful or less pleasurable- whether going through menopause or not- is to use a lubricant. Don’t be shy- layer it on! Painful intercourse or dryness during vaginal play is often easily remedied by a good quality water-based or silicone-based lubricant. Some women additionally use a lubricating product such as Replens for more daily use. Occasionally a doctor will recommend an estrogen cream as well. For many, they wish they had discovered lube years before!
“Use it or lose it” applies in the sexual arena as well. The more pleasure a woman has, generally the greater her natural drive to seek sexual pleasure again. And the more frequent sexual arousal she has, the more the blood flows to the pelvic region, hence the healthier her vaginal walls will be. Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine, recommends that some women use a vibrator. Whether partnered or not, a vibrating toy can assist with blood flow, jump-start arousal and make orgasm easier to achieve. Many of her patients who used a vibrator regularly over the course of several weeks reported that they produced more natural lubrication, hence they needed to use less commercial lubricant as a result. The stimulation of the vibrator increased the blood flow and thus improved the vitality of the vaginal tissues and more vaginal pleasure. Another good reason to use a vibrator!
Of course practicing kegel (PC muscle) exercises is an additional important and excellent way to strengthen the vaginal walls. Strengthening these muscles also prevents loss of bladder control, atrophy and painful collapses in the pelvic region. These exercises (squeezing the pelvic floor muscles that are also used to stop the flow of urine) in 5 second on/off intervals or in time with your natural breathing rhythm also will help make it easier to get aroused and achieve orgasm during erotic encounters.
As we age we often shift exercise routines, diets, priorities and lifestyles. Although we may not be able to do the sexual gymnastics we used to do, aches may appear in new places, and the ways we used to have sex may become boring or not as pleasurable as they once were, the changes around menopause offer a great opportunity to re-frame how we have sex. Some find that intercourse is not as satisfying as it once was (or perhaps never was) and others find it less comfortable for many reasons. Reevaluate the kinds of activities you are having in sexual play and open the options wide for what may be more satisfying or pleasurable for you. Build intimacy in a variety of ways and enjoy your body’s new and multiple ways of feeling pleasure. Take a risk! Explore new toys, new positions, and ways to enhance and build intimacy. Stretching our sexual repertoire can be an exciting time full of ah-ha and oh-oh moments! The adventures of your sexual evolution are far from over- create a new beginning and rediscover yourself and your pleasure all over again.