Women Over 50 Reveal What Sex Is Actually Like For Them After Menopause
Menopause can bring about a number of mental, physical and emotional changes — including some shifts in your sex life.
Clinically speaking, menopause is reached when you’ve gone 12 straight months without a period, marking the end of one’s reproductive years. The average age of the last menstrual period is 51, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
But the transitional phase leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, typically lasts about four years — though it can be as short as a few months or as long as 10 years. Colloquially, however, many use the word “menopause” as an umbrella term to encompass the whole process.
During perimenopause, which often begins in your mid 40s, levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone fluctuate. This can lead to irregular periods, hot flashes, insomnia, brain fog, mood swings, vaginal dryness and low libido — all of which can impact one’s sex life directly or indirectly. It’s worth noting that, for some individuals, symptoms may be intense and last a while, and for others they may be more mild and fleeting.
The loss of estrogen during menopause can cause the vaginal and vulvar tissue to become thinner, dryer and less stretchy, which can lead to pain during sexual activity, Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health and medical director of The Menopause Society, told HuffPost.
And while there is a lot of discussion about the challenges of sex after menopause, it may be comforting to know that it’s definitely not all doom and gloom.
“The good news is that most women who had a good sex life before menopause can continue to enjoy a good sex life after menopause,” Faubion said.
In fact, it’s a myth that women stop being sexual once menopause hits, midlife sex coach Sonia Wright told HuffPost.
Menopause “can actually be the beginning of something amazing; even better than sex in your 20s and 30s,” she said. “You get to be a sexual being until the day you leave this world. Postmenopausal sex can be even more intimate, connective, pleasurable and very satisfying.”
If you are struggling with your sexual well-being around menopause, reach out to your health care provider to discuss causes and potential treatment options tailored to your needs. Vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, sex therapy, hormone therapy, and lifestyle changes like incorporating yoga may help.
Below, women share their personal experiences with sex after menopause. Note: Some last names have been omitted to protect their privacy. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
‘The only thing that changed was knowing what I want from a sexual relationship, and what I will and won’t tolerate.’
“I was around 52 when menopause symptoms started, and it’s now been close to two years postmenopause. When my monthly cycle started to become irregular, I realized menopause was beginning. I did a bit of reading on what to expect, and two of the possible issues I came across were lack or loss of sex drive and vaginal dryness. The worst symptom for me was hot flashes, and I was fortunate that I didn’t need any hormone replacement therapy.
I have always had a relatively high sex drive and sex is important to me, whether in a relationship or not. My sex drive has remained high, and I enjoy a healthy and safe sex life even though I am single. Even though pregnancy is no longer an issue, I always use condoms and get tested for STIs yearly. I have had no issues regarding vaginal dryness and do not need any lubricant for vaginal sex.
For me, the only thing that changed was knowing what I want from a sexual relationship, and what I will and won’t tolerate. Life is too short for bad sex!
What has surprised me is that I find myself attracted to men who are younger than me. I had always dated older. All of my sexual encounters since menopause and becoming single are with younger men ranging in age from 39-50 years of age.” — Kim P., 56, Queensland, Australia
‘I dated a gentleman who made me realize I was still a sexy, vital, vibrant woman.’
“I think I was around 55 when I started going through menopause. I noticed I wasn’t really interested in sex, but I wasn’t sure if it was my circumstances — I was in the middle of a divorce — or ‘The Pause.’ After my yearly gynecologist visit, where my doctor told me about vaginal atrophy and a few other midlife issues that might arise, I just gave up on sex.
But at age 65, I briefly dated a gentleman who made me realize I was still a sexy, vital, vibrant woman. Sex was fun again! So I’m not sure if it was menopause that made me ‘think’ I no longer was interested in sex/intimacy, or if it was my mind and society. Whatever the case, I’m ready for dating and this next new chapter. Bring it on!” — Brenda B., 67, New York City
‘Now I’m having the best sex of my life.’
“I’ve been postmenopausal for a couple of years at least. Now I’m having the best sex of my life. It’s largely due to the fact that I know exactly what I want. And I feel entitled to say, ‘This is what I want. And this is how I want it.’ And to also say, ‘No, that’s not what I want’ — even if it’s pretty minor. I just know what I want, and I know how to ask for it and to be demanding in a good way.
I had actually very few menopausal challenges, although I started acupuncture early. I’ve done regular acupuncture for probably 20 years now. And my acupuncturist’s goal from the beginning was like, ‘Let’s keep your cycle as regular as we possibly can for as long as we possibly can.’ And I think that was hugely helpful to me: having her support and having her focus on my hormones, to keep them going in the right way. So that’s what I recommend — not necessarily acupuncture — but don’t try to go through menopause solo. Get support, whatever support you can find, that will work for you.
As a sex coach, I’m a huge proponent of masturbation. Because that way, you know your whole body and that really empowers you then to say, ‘This is what really works for me.’ There’s a quality of ‘use it or lose it.’ So if you’re not in a partnership, and you’re not having regular sex and you’re not masturbating, you’re just not ‘juicing your flow,’ basically.
Find the vibrators that work for you. There are so many available right now: vibrators, dildos, combos. I encourage my clients to do “The O 30”: Masturbate 30 days straight, and see what you learn and see what changes in your life.” — Dori Melton, 58, Oakland, California
‘My libido actually surged at menopause.’
“I didn’t have expectations about how sex would be after menopause. I had never heard that it might change due to menopause. I think that was positive in that I didn’t internalize stereotypes about inevitable libido changes. My libido actually surged at menopause. But it was also negative in that I had not heard about common postmenopausal physical symptoms such as thinning of vulvar and vaginal tissues, often referred to as a sensation of dryness.
So when I began to experience pain with penetration after menopause, my ignorance resulted in a longer-than-necessary time to diagnosis and treatment after trying various types of lube that did not address the underlying issue. I came to learn that this condition (urogenital atrophy) is very common postmenopause and usually easily treated, but it is under-diagnosed and under-treated. Sometimes considerable self-advocacy is required. In my case, insertable vaginal estrogen effectively resolved my symptoms and has prevented recurrence of symptoms with ongoing use.
Aside from the temporary physical symptoms I experienced, sex after menopause has mostly been as good and often better than sex prior to menopause. Reasons for this likely include increased sexual confidence; greater experience with sex, relationships and communication; a consistent standard of mutual desire and enthusiasm; some exploration with a variety of interesting partners; and increased privacy as my children have become adults.
In my experience, generally speaking, choice in sex partner(s) can make a tremendous difference in how a woman might experience sex. This is true in any stage of life, though there are some stages and circumstances I believe are particularly fragile, such as early sexual experiences, sex post-childbirth, sex approaching menopause when hormones are erratic, sex postmenopause, and sex during ill health or while processing grief.
I was partnered as I was approaching menopause, and the sexual dynamic became all about my then-partner’s needs and fears. Had we still been together and focused on his needs postmenopause when I experienced pain with penetrative sex, I think I might’ve really struggled with the amount of self-advocacy required to get a diagnosis and treatment. Instead of having to focus on advocating to fulfill someone else’s needs, I was motivated to maintain the pleasurable sex life I’d cultivated for myself.” — Jackie, 54, California
A No-B.S. Guide To Life