Is It Hot in Here Or Is It Just Menopause?
I am...gettin' so hot...
Have you (or has your partner) been ’ a tropical heat wave--even though you haven’t traveled anywhere lately? Do you find mood, libido, and concentration have gotten a little unstable? You or your sweetheart might be sliding into perimenopause--or may be already well into “the change of life.” Yes, life has many changes, but none quite like this. Let’s explore some midlife ---changes with an eye to helping you navigate them. From the beginnings of perimenopause ' you get to the other side, menopause can definitely alter what to expect sexually, so let’s talk about rolling with it and how sometimes, "the change" changes your sex life for the better!
Menopause refers specifically to the (usually) gradual cessation of menstrual periods, so anyone with a uterus and who has experienced periods will experience it. We often think of menopause as a midlife event that happens around or a little after 50 years of age—but the hormonal changes that finally end menstrual periods can take several years, and that’s the part called perimenopause. Periods continue during this time (though they may become more infrequent), but for many, this is the part of menopause when they begin to notice the hot flashes, libido changes, and other shifts that tell them menopause is on the horizon.
For many, this time of life opens up new opportunities and may even come as a relief. Plenty of people who have struggled with birth control side effects or worries about unwanted pregnancy can breathe a sigh of relief when menopause takes that option off their plates. Generally, it’s recommended that contraception continue for a year after the last period, so don’t ditch the condoms when you get a hot flash for the first time. In fact, maybe don’t ditch them at all, since STI risk will still be something to think about.
For some, libido fluctuates, genital sensation changes, orgasm may be harder to achieve. This is a time of life when many people get even friendlier with strong vibrators! It might also be a time when bodily changes make it more advisable than ever to be frank about what you need to get in the mood, and in bed. More sensuous arousal play, slower sex in general, a vibrator on the clitoris? Sounds like a terrific way to spend the afternoon to us! And if lubricant hasn’t already been part of your life, we bet you will discover its charms once you hit menopause, or if you have a hot-’ partner in your bed.
Some menopause-surfers will find they have a lot to deal with as far as these mid-life changes are concerned; for others, the many potential effects of menopause will be mild. This is a very good time to up your game when it comes to exercise—especially moving in ways that are good for your core. Walk, take the stairs, dance—all of these are wise moves to make, since a sedentary life might make these libido and other changes hit harder. And talk to your doc about all this! If they dismiss your experience and concerns, start looking for another doctor who’s sex-positive and menopause-savvy.
After that last period is in the rear-view mirror, hormones are likely to stabilize some, and these effects may not continue. After you’ve had a few years of power surges (er, hot flashes), this post-menopausal time may see you really feeling in your power. Without much estrogen, though, genital changes can continue, including a vagina that does not lubricate as much and whose inner mucosal skin may be more sensitive and in need of moisture to prevent friction and damage. Grab the lube, take it slow, learn to enjoy sex with your new body, enjoy the ride—and explore yourself with or without a partner, since staying erotically active helps with these effects. Read all of the wonderful Joan Price’s inspirational books, and again, make sure you can communicate about your needs and experience to any partners you may have. And your doctor too!
Some menopausal folks will choose hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can minimize the effects of many of these changes. Speak to your doctor about whether hormones are the right choice for you. Some will avoid them for health reasons, others prefer to age “au naturel,” and still others swear by them. Hormones are not only available as a pill to swallow—you can also find intravaginal HRT methods, including rings and creams.
Menopause—and its lead-up and aftermath—can shift how you experience your body and sex. But for many, this is a gift. Needing to slow down, be more clear about needs and wants, and respect your body’s messages can literally lead to better sex! As our recent Conversations with Carol guest Tracey Cox puts it (this is the title of her terrific new book), “great sex starts at 50”—or whenever midlife changes open the door to new awareness of your intimate and sexual needs.
Join us on Wednesday, June 2 at 6pm PT (9ET) for Hot Flashes & Heat Waves: Sex & Menopause (FREE, via Zoom)! Educator Andy and Staff Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen will talk about this midlife shift in hormones and its effect on sex drive, arousal, orgasm, and our physical experience of having sex. It isn't the same for everyone, and anyone nearing or in menopause (and those who love them, or who hope to get old enough to experience it!) will get a wealth of information about changes that can be associated with “the Change.”