Sex and Menopause, According to a Neuroscientist – Glamour

Posted: October 7, 2020 at 11:52 pm

As a certified sex therapist and neuroscientist, I get asked tons of questions about sex and menopause. For some, even having a conversation about menopause is associated with dread and distress. This makes sense given that one of the most toxic narratives we have as a culture is equating youth with beauty, with value, and with sexiness, especially when it comes to women. But good sex matters for older adults too.

Before you sink into despair, lets take a look at the good news about menopause. Every single day, women successfully navigate the transition, embrace the changes, manage the symptoms, and see it as an opportunity for a breakthrough to the next leg of their erotic adventures: the fabulous 50a, sizzling 60s, sexy 70s, and beyond. As detailed in my book Why Good Sex Matters, our capacity for sexual potential is a lifelong journey.

Heres what you need to know about menopause and sex.

Menopauseand the transition period perimenopause, which precedes itis accompanied by a lot of physical changes triggered by hormonal changes, which occur when the ovaries experience follicular exhaustion. In laymans terms that simply means that the ovaries begin to poop out as they run out of follicles or eggs. Periods start to become irregular as ovulation becomes less frequent, and then the fun begins.

The most common symptom is hot flashes, which occur in up to 80% of women. These last 2 to 4 minutes and can be accompanied by palpitations, anxiety, shivering, and chills. Other symptoms include irregular menstrual bleeding, insomnia, mood changes such as anxiety and depression, breast tenderness, headaches, and vaginal dryness, which is caused by a drop in your bodys natural levels of estrogen and can make sex painful.

It doesnt sound very sexy.

Its true the symptoms of perimenopause can create discomfort that puts a damper on your libido. And when you dont feel well, youre not likely to feel frisky. Thats a big reason for the drop-off of sexual desire many women report during this transition period.

This is a great time to remember that theres a big difference between active sexual desire, when we feel horny, and the responsive desire that can get jump-started by physical stimulation orby being turned on by a partner. In other words, if your active desire gets lost in the wake of perimenopausal symptoms, dont panic. Learning how to stoke responsive desire can help you find your way back to pleasure.

For some, menopause symbolizes the end of their sex lives as they know it. It feels like a looming, dooming, inevitable slide into sexual retirement as their libido crashes and burns. But that doesnt have to be your menopausal destiny. For others, the transition to menopause is an opportunity for a sexual renaissance with their libido actually ramping up in spite of hot flashes and other symptoms.

One of my research participants, a 74-year-old grandmother who donated two orgasms to science (no easy feat considering that the cold, noisy, and cramped environment of the functional MRI brain scanner in which we record orgasms, is just about the least sexy place on earth) said that her sex life only truly began after menopause. Thats when she revamped her life and made sexual pleasure a big priority.

How you think about menopause matters, in other words. For many years, the typical approach to menopause in our country was to medicalize it. Doctors would prescribe hormone replacement therapy as a rite of passage, attempting to reverse the changes that would occur as hormone levels dropped. (When a link between HRT and an increased risk of breast cancer was discovered, the number of women undergoing the treatment dropped dramatically.)

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Sex and Menopause, According to a Neuroscientist - Glamour

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