If you hear the words “sex and the menopause”, what’s your reaction? Is it Oprah-audience whooping? Or the Larry David wince? We’re guessing the latter. Which is such a shame because sexual pleasure in midlife is incredibly important – perhaps more important than at any other time.
Midlife for many women can mean cripplingly low self-confidence, and there is nothing quite like the boost of great sex and great orgasms. A fulfilling sex-life lifts you. And that doesn’t have to be sex with a date or your partner: the DIY orgasm is just as powerful.
What can make sex better during menopause?
Midlife women deserve to feel fulfilled and sexually-confident. Orgasms are really really good for you. As this Medical News Today piece says, orgasms can help with emotional health: Pleasurable sex may improve a person’s mood, relieve stress, boost immunity and foster better relationships.
READ MORE Does menopause affect libido? It can.
Sex can help with physical health too. It lets you connect with your body (enabling you to see if there are any changes that may need exploring); improves your sleep (post-orgasm hormones can make you sleepy, as can the muscle contraction and relaxation); maintains your pelvic floor (the contractions strengthen the pelvic floor and a strong pelvic floor improves blood-flow to the genitals and increases vaginal lubrication); and relieves pain (orgasm-induced hormones like oxytocin and endorphins appear to act as natural painkillers).
This all sounds too good to be true. Well for some midlife women it is. Because the reality of midlife sex in the menopause years can be a depressing mix of fluctuating hormones, low mood, even lower libido, poor body image and vaginal dryness.
We know a woman who can help. Tracey Cox is internationally-renowned sex and relationships expert, author of best-selling books Hot Sex and Great Sex Starts at 50, and creator of the Supersex range of sex toys and lubricants, available exclusively from sexual wellness brand Lovehoney. She’s on a mission to change sex after The Change.
We sat down with Tracey to ask her all the questions every midlife woman wants to know. Her answers are essential reading!
Tracey, can menopausal women have great sex?
They can but it takes some understanding of what’s actually happening to your body. And then you have to challenge those issues.
What mucks up your sex life after menopause is the drop in estrogen which causes vaginal dryness. That’s what’s responsible for the decrease in spontaneous desire and can cause sensitivity problems. So sex can become uncomfortable and desire can drop.
But, lucky for us, living in this day and age, there are so many solutions to all these problems. We can use estrogen pessaries, lubricants, vaginal moisturisers… There is so much we can do.
Does your sex drive come back after menopause?
The thing that most people get upset about with post-menopausal sex is we’re so used to feeling like sex just happens – what’s called ‘spontaneous desire’ – but after menopause, it switches to ‘reactive desire’.
Women panic and think ‘Oh my God! I don’t feel like sex. It’s gone!’ But it hasn’t gone; it’s just a different type of desire.
Once you start having sex, once you start becoming stimulated, that’s when desire will kick in. You just need to adjust your thinking and learn how to arouse yourself.
Another thing that works really well for some women is testosterone supplements because testosterone drops at well, post-menopause. When I took them they increased my desire – but also my irritability. So I wanted sex but I wanted to punch him, too! But they can work!
What did you learn about sex and the menopause while writing your latest book Great Sex Starts at 50?
I interviewed hundreds of women for that book and they really divided into two camps: women who were determined to say ‘This is great! I’ve now got freedom! I don’t have periods! I love sex and want to keep finding ways to keep it good!’, and women who viewed life now as ‘I’m dried up. I’m barren. This is awful.’ And, of course, those women didn’t have good sex. Any woman who loves sex and is determined to find solutions, will.
Even painful sex after menopause?
With painful sex, you can do all I mentioned earlier, but you can also change the thrusting style. Instead of him doing the normal ‘in out’ thrusting, if you keep your hips together and grind with a circular motion, that is a lot less painful. You can also use buffer rings, that you put at the base of his penis, which literally stop him thrusting too deeply.
Great sex during or post menopause is very much an attitude thing. Pre-menopause, sex, generally, is penetration-based. Post menopause, if penetration is difficult, it should become more foreplay-based. Oral sex… Touching… Which is better for women anyway because that’s how we have our orgasms.
Great sex during or post menopause is very much an attitude thing.
And of course, if you are a menopausal woman with a guy around the same age, he’s going through his stuff, too. You’ve got to talk about it. That really did strike me when writing the book: the amount of couples who talk about everything else, but the minute menopause hits, erectile dysfunction hits, they just both shut up.
You need to be able to talk to your partner, to reassure each other, and just let them know what’s going on – so they know that old position you loved doesn’t work for you now.
What else have you learnt about making sex easier during menopause? For instance, how do we tackle female arousal after menopause?
Start sex warm instead of cold. By that I mean: learn how to arouse yourself if you know you’re having sex later on. Read something erotic… Take your vibrator into the bathroom a few minutes beforehand…
Also, boredom is a huge issue for older women. Because if you’re not gagging to have sex – which you’re not if you’re post-menopausal – you’ve got to make sure the sex you have is interesting and exciting. Or you just won’t bother. This could be the time to step out of your comfort zone…
And use sex toys? Why should menopausal women especially use them?
All women should use toys because they’re basically how we get most of our orgasms. They’re especially good for menopausal women, though, because they can warm you up for sex beforehand and, if you’re not as sensitive as you were, the vibrator can be turned up or down to match your sensitivity levels.
All women should use sex toys because they’re basically how we get most of our orgasms.
If you can’t reach orgasm during sex, you can use them to finish yourself off; if you’re on your own or don’t have a partner you can have sex with yourself; and they just give that much-needed variety.
You have a fabulous Supersex range of sex toys and lubricants available from Lovehoney. Why did you create the range?
I created it about 15 years ago because, at that point, there were no women designing sex toys, everything was phallic-shaped, and nothing was packaged nicely. They also didn’t have instructions with them!
I wanted the toys to be stylish, have science behind them, and have not just instructions, but also hints on what to do. For my bondage kit, for instance, it’s not just ‘Use this to tie someone up’ but ‘and this is what you can do when you’ve got each other tied up’. I’ve got about 50 products now: everything from economy to high-end.
So great sex after menopause is about understanding body, and knowing what it might need to give it a little boost?
Yes, there’s so much to help. But we also need to move past that whole ‘comparing your young self with your now self’ thing. We get old. It’s pointless and silly to keep saying ‘I don’t look as sexy’. We know now that what constantly tops the list of ‘what’s sexy’ is not what somebody looks like, it’s enthusiasm and it’s confidence. And you can have that at any age.
What’s your final piece of advice for menopausal women?
Sort out any physical issues – go to your GP or a menopause clinic – and then when you know what’s going on with your body, there’s usually a solution. Then move on and focus on what is good about getting old. People have better sex when they’re older, by the way. Particularly women. They become less people-pleasing and go ‘Right, this is my time now. I’m going to say what I want’.
Sex becomes more clitoral-based and less penetration-based. The confidence that comes with age and the focus on clitoral-based sex makes sex much better!
What are you waiting for? These are Tracey’s Top 5 Supersex products – she explains why…
Tracey Cox Supersex Powerful Rechargeable Wand Vibrator, £64.99
If you’re only going to buy one, I’d buy the Tracey Cox Supersex Powerful Rechargeable Wand Vibrator. Wand vibrators are really strong, they cover the whole vulva, and don’t look like a sex toy if you’re worried about that. They have a unique style of vibration that is great if you have problems with insensitivity.
The Tracey Cox Supersex Powerful Rechargeable Bullet Vibrator, £44.99
This one is inexpensive and doesn’t look like a sex toy. It’s great to take travelling, and, because it’s the size of a tampon, is discreet if you want to pop to the bathroom pre-sex… It’s also very powerful so is perfect for targeted arousal.
Tracey Cox Supersex Powerful Rechargeable Clitoral Vibrator, £49.99
For people who haven’t used sex toys before, I’d recommend this one. It’s elegant, doesn’t look phallic, and doesn’t look like a vibe; it covers the whole vulva, is quite sensitive, but can be strong if you need it to be.
Tracey Cox Supersex Kegel Training Set, £59.99
Most women have heard about Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor – but if you’ve got nothing to squeeze around, you sometimes do it incorrectly.
This Kegel Training Set consists of six different-sized silicone balls that you insert inside yourself and you squeeze around them. They really are effective. When your pelvic floor is toned and everything is tighter, sex feels better, and lubrication is increased as well. It’s a gym workout for the genitals!
Tracey Cox Supersex Orgasm Gel, £9.99
Finally I’d recommend the Tracey Cox Supersex Orgasm Gel that you apply to intimate areas. It makes things feel more intense, so if you have sensitivity issues, it’s a really good product to use. It encourages blood-flow, too, and that’s another thing that can go wrong post-menopause.