I’ve just read yet another article (this one from Menopause Relief) about how you can ‘cure’ low libido during and after the menopause.
Why, when evolution at this time of life naturally lowers libido for many of us, is there this fixation and expectation that older women should automatically need and want sex?
Yes. Having thoroughly researched the subject of sex and the menopause for my book, Sex, Meaning and the Menopause, there are plenty of post menopausal women who want an active sex life. And it’s quite right they should be helped if it becomes difficult. But there are plenty who would be quite happy never to think about it again.
Yet, dare to mention that and hands fly up in horror. ‘What? Don’t want sex? There must be something wrong with you. Here’s some HRT to fix it.’
In case anyone hadn’t noticed, especially those who generate these menopause articles, there is a lot more to life than sex – especially medicated sex – as you grow older.
Okay, if a woman goes off sex, it can certainly affect her relationship. But most men I interviewed for the book were coping admirably with the sexual changes their wives and partners were experiencing, because they loved them, and valued what they had built up together.
In other words, if it’s a good relationship and sexual desire tails off, the two of you will sort it out together, and find different ways of being intimate. This is particularly important if sex becomes painful.
Painful sex or vaginal atrophy is a very common experience in older women. In fact one in two of us going through the menopause suffer from it from one degree to another. That’s right, every second woman in the country is liable to suffer from painful sex during the menopause. Something to think about when you’re in a room full of menopausal women.
Without wishing to give too much away about the book before it’s published, I empathise with those who do suffer from painful sex. It’s not much fun. But many women who I interviewed felt pressurised by society’s interpretation of sex, which is all about intercourse. Most men are even more caught up in this, and believe that sex can’t be enjoyed without it.
But, there are many ways to enjoy sexual intimacy without penetration. A sex therapist I interviewed explained how gentle caressing of the skin can produce just as many endorphins that full sexual intercourse can. ‘It’s the loving connection that matters,’ she told me, ‘much more than the sex act.’
Some women don’t even want that. Health issues aside, this doesn’t mean there’s something ‘wrong with them.’ I spoke to many women who were perfectly at peace with the fact they no longer wanted sexual intimacy, and were enjoying a different kind of relationship which had more to do with a deepening companionship.
As I argue in the book, many older women, whether sexually active or not, go through a profound emotional and spiritual transition at this time of life, which changes their perception of what really matters, and has little to do with their sexuality. For example, they become grandmothers, or decide to do a university degree, or to travel. Some start businesses. Others are drawn to exploring their faith in greater depth, or to just take the time to read and think.
One woman I interviewed summed up the changes she had been going through by saying,’When a woman reaches the menopause, she’s usually done with family and she’s facing a choice. Either she will become a granny and carry on her role of carer, or she’ll find something new to make of her life. Whatever she does, sex will not be a focus.’