Sex and the Menopause - Sexologist Emily Power Smith answers your questions.
The renowned sexologist, Emily Power Smith is that rare thing - a completely uninhibited Irish woman. She has generously answered all your most pressing questions - many thanks for submitting them. I hope you will find her advice wise, practical and resourceful. There's lots to consider here - maybe take some time to explore some of her suggestions over the Christmas holidays? Have a look at some of her alternative uses for vegetables...
Your Questions answered by Emily Power Smith, sexologist.
Q 1. To what extent do you think hormones are at work versus desire? For example, if a woman were to start a new relationship at menopause do you think she would be less likely to experience low libido than a woman in a long-term relationship?
This is a great question because is highlights the complexity of us as human beings. While hormones are a vital part of our sexual and general lives, they are not the Be-all and End-all! This is exemplified by how our desire levels fluctuate throughout life depending on how our relationship and/or quality of life are. We can have fantastic hormone levels but if we don’t like our partner we may not want to have sex with them. For menopausal women feeling attractive, exciting, loved and connected is just as important as for any woman. But without a reasonable level of testosterone for example they may be more inclined towards a DVD and cuddles on the couch with their loved one rather than swinging from the rafters each night. Some women go through life believing that they have low desire when in actual fact they may just have low desire for the kind of sex they are used to. Again this may not be a hormonal thing. We do need to be careful not to reduce everything to hormone levels. However, there is fantastic new research emerging that shows a significant increase in sexual desire as well as general quality of life for menopausal women who engage in a healthy lifestyle and also undergo appropriate hormone therapy.
Q 2. What solutions do you suggest for vaginal dryness? Lubricants seem to by-pass the root of the problem.
Lubricants can by-pass the problem if the problem is that a woman needs more time and stimulation to become aroused, but is expecting herself to perform as she did in her twenties. It is something to use with sex-play that is tweaked and tuned to suit our changing needs. It is also useful for those times when you just want a “quickie” but it is impossible to have one naturally any more. We must remember that women can be really turned on without lubricating and are ready and wanting sex but don’t feel wet enough. Not lubricating naturally can often lead to couples not having sex as they both understand this to mean that she is not in the mood. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. But it’s wise to have a great lube close-by for the times when she is!
Q 3. What can help with painful intercourse at menopause? Has something physically changed that I get a jabbing sensation during penetrative sex?
It is always worth getting yourself checked out if you are getting a stabbing pain. But menopause does not in itself cause a physical change that would lead you to expect pain. Where is the pain? Is it at the entrance to your vagina? Is it nearer the cervix? Are you well lubricated? Are you spending enough time at sex-play? Is there pressure to have penetrative sex? Do you feel close to your partner? These are all questions I would need the answers to before I could offer advice.
Q 4. How do you suggest that a couple can reinvent their sex life at mid-life?
Talk talk talk! Get close and comfortable and get talking. It can be with a bottle of wine, out for a walk, doing the dishes…but preferably NOT while being intimate, as you don’t know what is going to be shared or how it might be taken. So best not to introduce it at a time when it might negatively affect the intimacy you do share. What are your fantasies? Do you share these? Do you watch sexy movies together? It doesn’t have to be porn. But a great sex scene can be a useful tool for getting a conversation going about what you would like to try or what excites you.
Expectations can be killers. So if your partner is not used to you talking about sex you may need to warn them that this conversation is imminent so that you get the reaction you’re hoping for. Plan a time and place and maybe give a “heads-up” about what you hope to discuss based on both of you having thought about it.
If this is very vulnerable you can try writing a note expressing your wish to try new things and to learn what they would like to try. Make it clear that this is important to you.
Once you get that going, it is about listening with an open mind and heart, and being really honest in a respectful way. Don’t laugh at each other, and be clear about what is okay for you.
Once you get THAT sorted you can get down to trying out new positions, new manual skills, new oral techniques, dressing up, a bit of 50 shades, new places, role-play etc… It is NEVER too late!
Q 5. Is it normal/acceptable for a couple not to have sex at mid-life?
It is common and therefore acceptable to those couples I guess. I don’t know what “normal” is so that is hard to say. If two people are happy – not just accepting, but happy with this arrangement then there is no problem. If one of them isn’t then it is not acceptable and it is a problem for both of them. It is not okay to steal your partner’s choices. If you don’t want to have sex that is your choice. If they want to, but it can’t be with you, then you need to talk about what that means. Equally if you want to have sex with your partner but they don’t want to it is not okay to force or coerce them. That is taking away their choice.
However the important question here is WHY are you not having sex? If it is because the sex you have is not appealing to you then there is a lot you can do about that. If it is a hormonal thing there is a lot you can do about that. If it is a relational issue and you don’t feel close there is a lot that can be done there too. The first thing is to find out how you both really feel about sex and not having it, and then get help if you feel you need it.
Q 6. How can I interest my partner in sex, if their libido seems to have dropped?
Talk to them and find out what has changed for them. This conversation needs to be done very carefully so that they don’t feel judged or pressured, as this will affect their answer. If they are also worried about it there is plenty you can do regarding counseling, hormone therapy, and remembering how to have fun together. Often romance dies and we take each other for granted. This is a desire killer! Check how you treat your partner. Do they know you desire and fancy and love and value them? How often do you show/tell them? Do you show/tell them the way the want to be shown/told? This is vital! If your partner feels loved by being given compliments and other words of affirmation and you are spending your time doing the ironing or shopping, you may be speaking different love languages. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a great little book to help with this (warning: there are many references to God in this book but don’t let that put you off the overall message of the book).
Q 7. Recently I am feeling attracted to other women despite a 20-year heterosexual marriage and 2 teenage children? Is this normal? Do you think it’s just a phase?
This is common enough. There are many reasons why middle-aged women discover their attraction to the same sex. There is nothing wrong with being attracted to the same sex. Sexology sees sexual attraction as a continuum rather than two poles of heterosexual and gay. Throughout our lives we may find ourselves attracted to someone anywhere along that continuum as we are constantly evolving and growing and changing. Some people feel they are very much at one end of the spectrum: Straight for example, and others are more in the middle and are comfortable with finding themselves attracted to the person in front of them rather than the gender of that person.
Whomever you are attracted to, the rules are the same: You need to take your current partner’s feelings into account and you need to behave in a way that you are proud of. Therefore it is always my recommendation that if you are ready to act on an attraction outside your relationship, you need to be talking to your partner first. Maybe you just want to know what it would be like to be with a woman and are otherwise really happy where you are. Maybe your partner would be open to this. But if you don’t tell them, you are taking away their choices.
Q 8. Can I have a fulfilling sex life after mid-life if I’m feeling lifeless now – can my libido recover without a whole lot of hard work?
Yes you can and No – not without a whole lot of hard work.
Q 9. I hear people recommending sex toys and other stimulants – I’d be too embarrassed to go there, where would I start?
Go online to lovehoney.com. There you can find little videos about lots of their toys. They show you how they work and what to expect. Order online and they deliver very discreetly. Nobody will know! Get yourself some lovely lube while you’re there. You may not be satisfied with your first purchase so don’t spend a fortune until you’ve tried a few to get an idea for yourself. But here are a few tips:
Do you masturbate? If you do, can you reach orgasm? If you can what kind of pressure and speed do you need and how long does it take?
If you do masturbate do you have orgasms from stimulating your clitoris? (This is how the majority of women orgasm). If so, you may not want something to penetrate yourself with but might prefer a bullet, or small hand held toy that is not for insertion.
If you like penetration but are not sure what size you would like (most men and women buy toys that are too big at first) here is a GREAT tip:
Get yourself a nice carrot or cucumber or courgette and carve it to the size you think you might like. Pop a condom over it, get warmed up and lubed up and see if it’s a good fit. This way you won’t waist money on dildos that are too big.
Dildos are generally for inserting and don’t vibrate and vibrators can be either for both inserting and external use.
Have some fun! Lelo is my favorite brand. Their toys are beautifully made and nice to use. But they are expensive so try out a few cheaper ones first, if you like. The cheaper ones are made from materials that are not always good quality. But you can pop a condom over anything to help with that.
Q 10. Is it wrong to fantasise about others (men and women) while having sex with my partner?
Fantasies are what keep us excited and vibrant and alive. There is no problem with fantasies. Enjoy!