If you feel like your sex life peaked years or even decades ago, think again – it doesn’t have to be this way. Sex educator and coach Ruth Ramsay has learned through her research and experiences that it is possible to have great sex during midlife and beyond, even if you’re struggling with menopause symptoms. She explains more…
“I used to feel confident around sex, but now I’m having a crisis.” The words tumble out of the 40-something woman in front of me. “My body is changing. I’m suddenly worried my partner is looking at younger women – though he’s not. And there are curiosities I’ve had since my teens that I never explored and now it’s too late. I’ve got a finite number of shags left in me.” She looked utterly despondent.
Do you identify with her?
As a sex coach, I hear a version of this from many midlife women. Cultural messages have led us to believe we have no sexual value after our mid-40s. No one will find us attractive again, apparently. Although that won’t matter anyway, because our libido is set to dry up as fast as our vaginas, right?
Wrong. There’s no doubt that as you move through your 40s and into your 50s and beyond, you face physical changes around sex. But you can keep on having a vibrant sexual life – if that’s what you want. In fact, you may be on the way to your best-ever intimate experiences. Here’s everything you need to know.
What physical symptoms get in the way of great sex during menopause?
Finding relief for any genital menopause symptoms is important. Sex may be the last thing on your mind if your vagina and vulva feel like a fire in a desert with some broken glass thrown in. Don’t just ignore painful sex. Unsure where to start? Here are four things you can do:
- Learn as much as you can about menopause and its symptoms. Read up about vaginal discomfort during menopause and why it happens.
- Use lots of lube. It can help if you are having penetrative intercourse. Choose a pH-balanced lube.
- Discuss medical treatments with your doctor, such as HRT. Vaginal oestrogen is low-risk and effective in treating changes in your vagina that may be causing you pain. Testosterone can help if you have low libido – talk to your doctor if you’re struggling.
- Prioritise sleep. You may be too exhausted to have sex if you’re struggling with poor sleep. Vaginal dryness, night sweats and anxiety are just some of the symptoms that can disrupt your rest. If this is you, try to find a different time to get it on.
What are the emotional barriers to satisfying sex during menopause?
Physical symptoms are only half of the story. Your mental and emotional connection to sex needs thinking about too.
Some people lose their sexual confidence during menopause. Symptoms and changes to your body may mean you do not recognise yourself anymore. So what can you do?
- Build your confidence. It can help you in the bedroom if you feel better about other parts of your life. Consider trying something new, such as outdoor swimming or joining a walking group or book club. You could even rediscover an old hobby. Whatever it is, find something that helps you feel better about yourself. Read more about sexual self-esteem.
- Think about the different ways you can enjoy sex. It doesn’t have to focus on penetration, although it may feel like that in the movies! In fact, penetration can make orgasm difficult and it can be uncomfortable. If you have a male partner they may find erections are not as firm or reliable. None of this means sex has to stop being fun – you can try non-penetrative sex options and explore each other’s bodies.
- Consider therapy. Discover more about low libido and how cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help get you in the mood.
Getting kinky during midlife
Dr Peggy Kleinplatz wrote the book ‘Magnificent Sex – Lessons From Extraordinary Lovers’. During her research she found that the vast majority of people who said they had ‘magnificent sex’ only started to have their best experiences in midlife.
The vast majority of people who said they had ‘magnificent sex’ only started to have their best experiences in midlife.”
Women felt more free and aware of their own needs. They were less likely to put up with bad sex just to be generous to their partner. Of course this isn’t the case for everyone. Some will experience guilt when putting their own needs first; but remember it’s not wrong to want and enjoy sex. Prioritising your pleasure will help you enjoy sex again. Some feel more confident doing this in midlife than in younger years, while others need to learn these skills.
Trying new things
Just like the client I quoted at the start of this article, it’s not unusual for me to speak to those in menopause who are having a sexual re-awakening and want to have sex in new ways, but aren’t sure where to start.
Here are some things you could consider:
- Tantric sex – slower more mindful sex with less focus on orgasm as its end goal
- Kink – sexual practices that are not conventional. It could mean exploring bondage, domination or submission, or going to a sex party
- Bi-curiosity – when someone is interested in having a sexual experience with someone of the same sex
Practical tips for a better sex life
You don’t have to rethink sex completely if you don’t want to. A whole new world of opportunity can open up if you:
- Believe you can have great sex
- Can find relief for your menopause symptoms
Here are some practical tips for reinvigorating your sexual world.
Masturbation is the best way to find out how your body is changing. Once you know what you like, you can do more of it or get your partner to join in!
Your clitoris can become less sensitive as you age and this can affect the sensation you experience. Take your time and experiment with different pressures or speeds of stimulation to discover what feels good now
You may find your clitoris, nipples or elsewhere become more sensitive as you get older. Try different types of touch and experiment with sex toys. Try to see this as an exciting new adventure rather than feeling you’ve lost something.
Explore different types of sex
Move the focus away from penetrative intercourse. I recommend this whether you have vaginal dryness or not, as it can make sex so much better! Male partners may feel relieved that the pressure to ‘perform’ is off. Ask them to leave the Viagra alone so you can explore other types of play together.
Take it slow
Warm your vaginal tissues up first with fingers or slim sex toys. If you haven’t experienced penetration for months, experiment alone first. When you’re with a partner, speak up if it hurts or becomes uncomfortable or it may put you off trying penetrative sex in future.
Back on the dating scene? Don’t forget you can get pregnant in perimenopause! You also need to take precautions around STIs. Getting checked for STIs these days doesn’t necessarily mean visiting a clinic. At-home tests are available for some of the most common STIs. Many are simple internal swabs you do yourself. Getting tested doesn’t have the stigma it used to – being responsible is sexy!
Why communication is important
It can feel uncomfortable talking about sex with partners if you are not used to it. An easy way to start a conversation can be by mentioning a podcast, TV show or newspaper article you’ve seen recently – or even refer to an article you were reading on Stella!
I often see midlife couples who are in love and otherwise happy, but who’ve entirely stopped having sex without even discussing it. Typically these are heterosexual couples, where she’s embarrassed about her dry vagina and he’s embarrassed about his not-so-firm penis. So, they’ve started avoiding the whole thing. Most heart-breaking is when all intimacy has stopped because they have a fear of “if I go in for a cuddle and a kiss, what if they want more?”
Likewise, if you’re in a same-sex relationship, don’t assume your partner is having the same menopause experience as you. Share your unique concerns.
It can bring such relief and incredible closeness to be honest with each other, and then start sexual discovery together in midlife.
Read more about how to talk to your partner about menopause.
So, how did my client quoted at the top of this article get on? That conversation happened a few years ago, and now she says: “I’m having sexual experiences I never dreamed possible! Creating a positive attitude around my sexual future as well as better communication have been key. I no longer fear my sex life will stop. It might look different to before but that’s proving not to be such a bad thing!”