Non-penetrative Sex Options During Menopause - Stella
Sex & relationships
4 mins

Non-penetrative sex options during menopause

byZoe Sever

Penetrative sex during menopause can become more difficult as your body changes. All sorts of reasons can leave sex feeling uncomfortable –  from health conditions to menopausal symptoms such as dryness and pain. But who’s to say that means the fun in the bedroom must stop? Sexologist Zoe Sever explains how to expand your definition of sex to include non-penetrative sex and other options which can be equally (if not more) enjoyable.

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What is the official definition of sex?

Sex doesn’t mean just penetration. There is in fact no widely accepted definition – one large study of 6,000 people identified 41 varying definitions of what it means to have sex. In fact, most women don’t even orgasm from penetration alone – so it doesn’t hurt to expand our views of what constitutes “sex”.

What is penetrative sex?

Penetrative sex essentially just means the insertion of a body part of another object, like a dildo or sex toy, into a part of the body as part of sex. The reason penetrative sex is an important topic for women going through menopause is due to the changes that can occur in your vagina during menopause. 

Why does sex so often mean penetration?

Our definitions of sex are often rooted in culture, which emphasises a heteronormative view of sex that follows these conventions:

  • Foreplay
  • Intercourse – penis penetrates the vagina 
  • Orgasm – which of course everyone achieves at the exact same time!

Where did this come from? Well, if you received sex education at school, did you learn about sex outside of the stereotypical penetrative sex? Probably not. If you didn’t learn this view of sex at school, you probably learnt it from friends, family, TV, movies, porn and the internet. 

Sex is not just one behaviour or definition. It can be anything you want it to be and good sex doesn’t require penetration or an orgasm. Make sex whatever brings you pleasure and satisfaction.

The belief that sex isn’t really sex unless it involves penetration restricts your opportunities for pleasure.”

Define what sex means for you

When you hear the word ‘sex’ where does your mind go? What do you consider sex? It is highly likely that you think about sex as a penis entering a vagina. But what about anal sex? Or oral sex? Does masturbation feature? Is it only sex if you reach an orgasm? Now, you may be more confused and thinking…yes…no…maybe? Choosing your own definition can be far more fun than the narrow lens that sex only encompasses penetration.

Does sex change as you get older?

What is pleasurable for you will continually shift throughout different stages of your life. For example, some men might find it harder to get an erection with age and you might find it more difficult to build desire, to become aroused or climax. Find out what happens to your genitals during menopause and why your sex drive changes.

To keep sex enjoyable, you may need to be more creative. The earlier you move away from the stereotypical narratives of sex, the more pleasurable and satisfying your sex life is likely to become.

What if penetration isn’t possible?

For many, penetrative sex may not be possible with your partner or may not even feel good for you for many reasons.

Normalising non-penetrative sex means you can focus on stimulating other areas of your body with an emphasis on pleasure rather than penetration.

Menopause is a time where it is useful to re-evaluate and re-learn what you want during sex.”

How do you include non-penetrative sex and other activities in your sex life?

Start by focusing on different parts of your body. Find out what feels good! Maybe you would prefer more foreplay or even less focus on the genitals and more on other areas? The sooner you let go of preconceived notions about penetrative sex, the sooner you can open yourself up to more possibilities for pleasure. 

Sex is highly personal but here are some ideas to try:

  • Kissing
  • Touching
  • Massage
  • Rubbing or humping
  • Sex toys
  • Mutual masturbation, or other stimulation

You may need to experiment frequently to find what feels good for you and communicate this to your partner/s. Need inspiration? Read our blog on the best sex toys for menopause.

How do I find out more about alternatives to non-penetrative sex?

Check out the website OMGYES which is an excellent source of information, including videos of what women find pleasurable.

What if non-penetrative sex is too painful?

If this is the case, it’s worth speaking to your doctor. There are a number of different conditions which can contribute to this.

One of these is menopause itself. Reduced oestrogen levels can cause dryness, tightening and fragility to external tissues around the vulva and clitoris. This is part of the so-called genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) and can be treated effectively with topical oestrogens and other therapies if needed.

It’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you have any pain, unusual bleeding (especially after sex or in between periods), or any sores in the genital area.

Final word

The words ‘sex’ and ‘penetration’ should not be interchangeable. Pleasurable and enjoyable sex can be so much more than just penetration. Whether it is non-penetrative sex, different types of foreplay, intimate moments, erotic touching or even phone sex, remember that penile-vaginal sex needn’t be your ultimate goal. Moving away from this old-school definition helps you build more intimate and satisfying relationships.

Read more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library.

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