We all know midlife can be a health and wellbeing minefield at times. From challenges around menopause, libido and sex drive, to hot flushes and anxiety, this chapter in our lives can have very many ‘moments’. If you’re also embarking on a new sexual relationship in midlife, it can feel daunting.
If you’re asking yourself, ‘How do I find love in my 40s?’, you’ve come to the right place. Is dating harder in your 40s? We think it can be a challenge at any age. Anyone who thinks online dating is a breeze has never done it, as far as we’re concerned!
For midlife women, dating confidence starts with self confidence. So, we’ve spoken to some of our most trusted health and wellbeing experts, for their tips on menopause, self esteem and sex drive for midlife women looking for a new partner. Or even if you’re not. There is some brilliant advice here for all of us, whatever our situation. We all deserve to feel our confident and sexy best.
The midlife dating game
First things first… Starting again. With someone new. Between the sheets. How do we do it? Rosie Green, journalist and author of the brilliant How to Heal a Broken Heart: From Rock Bottom to Reinvention, knows how.
“The last time I had sex with someone new was in my teens and I’m now in my mid-40s,” she says, of her first post-divorce sexual relationship. “I was nervous about it, but I took the ‘One, two, three, fuck it’ approach. It’s hard to resist over-thinking and procrastinating, but if you tell yourself it’s going to be okay – more than okay, good – there’s a better chance it will be.
“To minimise the anxiety, I would suggest taking time over getting ready. Feel good in your underwear. Feel good in your skin. And be open from the off. This person doesn’t know you so well, so you can use that to your advantage. Get it all out there. Tell them what you like, tell them what feels good, and what doesn’t.
“It’s been said a thousand times, but sex is about communication. And about re-thinking what great sex is. We’ve been conditioned to think great sex is about orgasming every time. About penetrative sex. But those are very narrow definitions. We may have grown up with shame around sex so I think it’s about reading more about it, about educating yourself (follow some sexperts), and rejecting the idea that sex is embarrassing and secret.”
Better body image
Feeling good about getting back in the dating game starts with feeling good in your own midlife skin. Yes, that’s the same advice that the Agony Aunts were giving us back in our Just Seventeen reading days. It was true then, and it’s true now.
Leah Hardy, health and wellbeing journalist and co-author of Your Hormone Doctor, has interviewed many midlife women over the course of her long career. It’s given her plenty of useful insights in our psyche at this time of life. So why can our midlife body image be poor, and the idea of getting naked with a new partner quite so scary?
“For many women, changes to your body over time can contribute to some rather unsexy self-consciousness,” says Leah. “You might have accumulated scars, gained a few pounds or stones, and your skin may not be as taut as it was when you last threw both your clothes and inhibitions to the wind.
“As we go through menopause and beyond, there are specific physical changes that are affected by our hormones. A thickening waistline is the scourge of midlife womanhood. Several studies have shown that low oestrogen levels at menopause are associated with increased fat in the abdomen as well as decreased muscle mass. Some researchers suspect the drop in oestrogen levels is also linked to increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat.”
READ MORE Does HRT cause weight gain?
There is some good news. “We can tame the menopausal middle!” says Leah. “HRT helps prevent the build-up of belly fat as well as reduce the impact of cortisol. But you might also have to eat less than you did before to maintain the same weight. Avoid white carbs and sugar as these cause insulin peaks which drive fat storage. And studies show smoking can lead to a more masculine pattern of fat distribution.”
And this is something most of us already know: Exercise is vital. “Less can be more,” says Leah. “Try planking rather than crunches to strengthen your core and hold in your belly as this is more effective and less likely to cause injuries. Even moderate exercise – a gentle jog or fast walk – dramatically reduces belly fat.”
READ MORE HRT, is it safe? Everything you need to know.
And of course weight-training is highly recommended. “It doesn’t just increase vital muscle mass, it boosts levels of testosterone, a hormone that makes women feel sexier,” says Leah. “That’s perhaps the most important factor: exercise is proven to help women like their bodies more because it helps you focus on what your body can do rather than what it looks like. Feeling sexy is better than looking sexy.”
Menopause and sex drive
It’s important to know that you’re not alone if you’re not raring to get naked. Many menopausal women experience a loss of libido and sex drive. “Lack of libido is often due to testosterone deficiency,” says our medical expert Dr Stephanie Goodwin. “Testosterone replacement therapy can be very helpful for women who have lack of libido as part of their menopausal symptoms.”
Loss is libido is one of the most common menopause symptoms – adding to the long list of challenges that our hormones are lobbing our way!
READ MORE What are the 34 menopause symptoms?
How to boost your menopause libido
We want to feel sexy, but what if we don’t want sex(y)? Dr Steph has a few suggestions to boost our libido. “Desire can change,” she says. “But there are various things you can do to boost it. Make sure you physically feel okay. If you have severe vaginal dryness and soreness, it doesn’t matter how much libido you have — if it’s painful, it’s not something you’re going to want to do.
“When we talk about libido,” Dr Steph adds, “it should be for everybody. It’s not just for people who have a partner. If you don’t have a partner, don’t just park your libido. Celebrate it! Go and buy yourself a vibrator, ladies. Everyone should have one.”
We couldn’t agree more. This vibrator, £49.99, will make your clitoris/orgasms/libido/back and shoulders very happy. Add a water-based lubricant to really get you in the mood for new sexual adventures.
READ MORE These are the best sex toys for women over 40. (You’re welcome!)
Hot flushes, night sweats and soreness might not seem like the sexual holy trinity. Think again. According to Mirelle Harris, sexual health nurse and host of the Broader View podcast on women’s sexual health and lifestyle, you can still really enjoy midlife sex and sex after menopause: As long as you look after your sexual health.
“If you are entering into a new sexual relationship, it is important to use condoms even if you are peri-/post-menopausal,” says Mirelle. “They will protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancy and some types of cancer.”
This may be tricky if you haven’t navigated condoms in a while. It’s important to know your way around a condom and the condom packet. How to open one… Is it in date? Intact? The right size…? And an STI screen is recommended should you both decide condoms are not for you. The STI aspect is understandable, but can you get pregnant after menopause?
“As women age there is a natural decline in fertility and spontaneous pregnancy is rare after 50 years old,” says Mirelle. “However, contraception is recommended up to 55 years old – or confirmed menopause – to prevent unintended pregnancy. Discuss your options with a Health Care Professional. Once menopause has been confirmed, a woman cannot become pregnant, so any vaginal bleeding must be investigated by a Health Care Professional.”
As for the issue vaginal atrophy and dryness, “menopause is a freeing time for women but it can bring its own intimate challenges such as vaginal dryness,” says Mirelle. “Explore the many options for lubrication and HRT which, alone and in combination, can plump up the vaginal tissue, rebalance moisture, and add lubrication.”
READ MORE The facts on vaginal dryness from our sexual health expert.
Whether your issue is menopause and sex drive, dating again or wanting to boost your body image, always remember that midlife is a time of adventure and opportunity. Yes there are some challenges, but with the right help and advice, you can feel the very best version of yourself in your menopause years. You’ve got this – we all have.