Menopause and the many challenges of midlife can take a toll on romantic relationships. If libido is not as robust as it used to be (or is non-existent), or sex is painful due to hormonal changes, or your relationship is in choppy waters for whatever reason(s), intimacy is suddenly a whole lot less attractive.

And midlife comes with plenty of “reasons”: caring for teenage children and/or aging parents, increased responsibilities at work, concerns about financial security in retirement, health worries — who has the energy to even think about sex, much less engage in it?

Jessa ZimmermanBut if you want a more active sex life, you should have it. Sex and intimacy are actually really good for physical and mental health. So we engaged Jessa Zimmerman, licensed couples’ counselor and nationally certified sex therapist, to give us some quick tips to help re-engage your sex drive.

And it’s not just about sex. There are lots of ways to have intimate and supportive relationships, so if you’re looking for suggestions to help navigate uncertain relationship waters, we got that too.

But wait. At this point, we often lose those readers who are unpartnered and assume content about sex and love aren’t for them. This is for you, too. Masturbation and self-love “count,” — YOU count — so stick with us.

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Partnered  

It’s Valentime, which means lots and lots of articles about revving up your romance. But what if one (or both) of you is in menopause, and frankly, sex just isn’t all that appealing right now?

First, let’s all agree on one thing: this is not a “shaming” situation. No one should be shamed for wanting sex, for not wanting sex, or for being conflicted on the subject.

Generally, a woman’s sexual response is more complicated than a man’s, and penetrative sex may not be enough – and at this time of life, thanks to the vaginal dryness of estrogen loss, it may actually be quite painful.

Jessa’s advice for partners of menopausal women:

  1. Let her “warm up.” Give her time. Quite literally, you need to give her time to get the juices flowing. Extended foreplay is a great idea. Letting her set the pace and determine how far things go is awesome.
  2. Be physically affectionate, even if it doesn’t result in sex. If, for example, every backrub is just a prelude to intercourse, and intercourse is painful, suddenly backrubs aren’t all that pleasant. Be prepared to touch and cuddle without expectations.
  3. Buy lube. She may be embarrassed by the changes in her body, or she may want to have sex but fears the pain, bleeding, even infection from vaginal tearing that can result. Buy some lube, have it handy, check in regularly to see if more is needed. Make it sexy or playful so it’s part of the experience.
  4. Talk. This is a tough topic, even with someone you share a bed with. Talk about sex when you’re not having it, and talk about it when you are – what works or doesn’t, what gets her excited or doesn’t, how you can both find pleasure.
  5. Get educated about a woman’s body and sexual response. Very few women of any age experience orgasm from penetrative sex alone. Learn with the clitoris is and how it works, be open to toys or vibrators to help her along.

And remember, sex isn’t the only place where your partner needs additional support during this time, says Jessa. Now is the time to be her ally and her cheerleader. If her self-confidence has taken a hit, boost her up. Show interest in her passions. This can be a powerful time of growth in career, second career, creativity, so be supportive and join in if she makes a space for you.

Support her physical health by joining her or inviting her out for walks or runs or other physical activity. Encourage healthy eating by cooking some good Mediterranean diet recipes. Be sensitive and never downplay or joke about or call out her symptoms unless you know she’s truly OK with it. Listen. Ask her how she’d prefer you deal with her hot flashes or irritability, then try to accommodate.

This doesn’t mean you give up your life, we promise! But some flexibility and extra sensitivity could go a long way to making life easier for you both.

Jessa’s advice for menopausal women

You’re in menopause, and sometimes life is kind of … miserable. Not only that, but you fear you’re making those around you miserable too.

We get it. Chances are you’re not the ogre you think you are, but we’ve got some suggestions for you too.

  1. Talk about sex. Advocate for what you want and need, Jessa says. If you’re getting what you want, you’re likely to want it more often!
  2. Initiate sex sometimes. Drive can become more responsive over time, Jessa says, so don’t just wait until you’re in the mood.
  3. Prioritize intimacy. Make time for undistracted togetherness. Be sure your partner understands this isn’t a guarantee of intercourse (to take the pressure off) and let what happens, happen.
  4. Get professional support or treatment if you’re struggling. Guilt or worry over whether you’re “normal” aren’t helpful or sexy, so see if a professional can help you get back on track.
  5. Embrace erotica. Suggest to your partner that you watch a sexy movie or read a sexy book together. Even if this doesn’t lead to sex, it can help “keep the embers glowing,” Jessa says.

This can and should be a powerful time for you. You’re probably freer from obligation and more independent than you’ve been in a while, maybe ever. Give yourself time to enjoy that, get to know you if that feels right, take control, set goals, live the life you want. If you want, you and your partner can find new hobbies, ventures, projects to do together.

Or, perhaps this is time to branch out on your own to live new experiences, then come back together to share. Being confident and finding pleasure in life can help you find confidence and pleasure in your relationships as well.

Unpartnered

Notice we didn’t say “alone.” You’re not alone, even if you’re currently not in a romantic relationship. The longest and most important relationship you’ll have in your life is with yourself.

And you’re changing. This transitional time can change our spirits and psyches as well as our bodies, so this is a really good time to get to know yourself (again).

Jessa asks: Are you ready to pursue new things, invest in yourself, leverage your new power at work or in your life? Or maybe it’s time to take a bit of a break, rest, re-energize, focus on self-love and self-care before embarking on your Next Big Thing. Whatever’s right for your next step, this is your time to figure it out, then pursue it. Be your own cheerleader!

And while you’re moving forward, don’t neglect your sexuality, Jessa says. The more you engage your body’s sexual response, the easier it becomes, so keep the fires burning. There are lots of great toys and tools for women’s sexual pleasure that don’t require a partner. You may have a new “body map” for pleasure, so get to know your body and responsiveness. It’ll be even more fun to share when you’re able to define exactly what suits you best!

Want more tips from Jessa Zimmerman? Be sure to check out her awesome book: Sex without Stress: A couple’s guide to overcoming disappointment, avoidance, & pressure.

Got thoughts to share on relationships, intimacy, sex, and love? Join in the conversations happening on the Gennev community forums!