Sex After Menopause: how to have a healthy sex life after 40
Yep. Not to give cheesy pick-up artists one more line to use in a bar, but having sex after is actually really good for you.
How sex improves your overall health
“Sex is an important part of our health and well-being,” Madeleine Castellanos, MD, physician, sex therapist, and author of Wanting to Want: What kills your sex life and how to keep it alive told us.
“Consider that we are created with all these different systems that are interrelated. Our cardiovascular system is intimately related to our immune system, which is related to our neurological system. Human beings are designed to respond to physical contact, to eye-to-eye contact; it’s what makes us thrive as babies and as adults.
“We know that people who have strong interpersonal connections live longer lives. One extension of that is sex. It helps support a healthy balance of our hormones and a healthy balance of our neurotransmitters, it helps us feel pleasure and triggers our relaxation response.
“People who have regular sexual activity have better blood pressure, they handle stress better, they have less depression, they’re protected against dementia, they have better cognitive functioning, better memory, better eyesight. Sex improves blood flow … basically, if you want to live longer and better, make sure you get enough lovey-dovey time!”
Recent research certainly supports Dr. Castellanos’ enthusiasm for regular sexual activity. Studies show orgasms help us sleep, thanks to a release of sleep-supporting (and stress-killing) hormones. If your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity, the aerobic nature of sex can actually promote heart health. Sex can relieve pain and even keep you looking younger.
That’s great, but I’m really not interested in sex after menopause anymore
Midlife can make sex seem less sexy. Reduced libido, vaginal dryness in women, erectile dysfunction in men, plus our cultural attitude that sexuality is for young people can all contribute to us turning off and tuning out when we hit a certain age.
It’s understandable to feel that way, says Dr. Castellanos, because our bodies become so unpredictable in midlife. In perimenopause, we experience estrogen dominance, she tells us. “Your brain gets the message that no egg is being produced because progesterone levels are low. So it starts pumping out estrogen, but there’s no progesterone to balance that surge of estrogen. So you get tender breasts, moodiness, irregular periods, and the up and down, up and down of emotions. In menopause, when estrogen drops off significantly, you get the hot flashes, which are caused by estrogen withdrawal, and vaginal dryness. It’s no wonder so many women get discouraged and give up.”
Brains can get a little unpredictable too. Some women blossom in midlife, embracing their freedom from periods and pregnancy scares, while other women get caught in negativity, Dr. Castellanos tells us. “They think, ‘I’m older, my skin is sagging, no one’s really going to want me.’ That affects their behavior and their response to their partners, and pretty soon all those negative thoughts start to create negativity in real life.”
How can we get our sexy back?
Celebrate! It is possible to get your sex drive back, with a little effort (fun, sexy effort!) How?
- Have sex. “Both your brain and your body operate on the principle of ‘use it or lose it.’” Dr. Castellanos told us. “The number one way to deal with lack of desire is to continue to have regular sexual activity. That regular contact with your partner reinforces psychological pathways from your brain to your genitals – by way of your heart, incidentally, which is awesome. And your body supports this, increasing the flow of blood and nutrients to the area to make sex easier and more pleasurable.”
- Vibrate. No partner? No problem! says Dr. Castellanos. “When women are on their own, I recommend they find a hard-plastic vibrator – which you can safely use with a water-based lube, which is nicer for women with dryness – insert it into the vagina and leave it there, buzzing away for 5-10 minutes. The vibration increases blood flow and creates a mild muscle-contraction response that supports healthy tissue. Masturbate, or read the newspaper, do your nails, whatever, just do it!” When your body is more able to experience sexual pleasure, your brain will be less resistant.
- Daydream. As Dr. Castellanos put it, “Practice positive neuroplasticity in favor of your sexuality.” Before you run out and get that printed on a t-shirt, it means to take advantage of your brain’s ability to grow new pathways. If sex has a negative vibe for you right now, create positive associations that will override the bad stuff. “Think about sex, in private, and concentrate on what you really like. It can be a great memory, a fantasy, simple or complex; the key is you really want to get into it. Focus on reliving the experience, asking yourself, why did I like that? How did my body respond? Why was that erotic and exciting for me? Remember the joy, the excitement, the laughter. Just soak in that feeling for two or three minutes a day, and you’ll increase your brain’s ability to think positively about sex.” Try to avoid using pornography for this purpose and use your own creative memory instead. “Pornography is too passive, and it hijacks the visual cortex of your brain,” says Dr. Castellanos. “You want to engage all your senses so the emotional part of your brain is more involved.”
- Embrace down time. “It used to be that when the theme song to Johnny Carson came on, it was a sort of Pavlovian cue to have sex. There was nothing else to watch! But now, people can watch cable TV 24/7, and sex just isn’t on their radar. Sex therapists like me are trying to give people insight and permission to see their own patterns and how they may be messing up their sex lives without even realizing it.”
Ultimately, Dr. Castellanos says, sex and sexuality are highly personal, and there’s no shame or guilt in simply being uninterested. But if not having sex or intimacy is making you unhappy, stressing your relationship, and reducing your quality of life, there are ways to improve the situation AND get all the healthy benefits of regular sexual activity.
We’d love to hear what you’re doing to revitalize your sex life. Share your tips and tricks on Gennev’s Facebook page. Want to talk to other women about what they’re experiencing? Join our closed Facebook group for frank, safe, open conversation.
Have you taken our Menopause Assessment?
Join over 100,000 women to learn more about your symptoms and where you are in the menopause journey.