Having sex is hot. Having sex after 50-when you’re likely to be in the thick of menopause-is also hot, but maybe not in the steamy way you’d prefer it to be. It's true that sex after menopause can be different physically, mentally, and even emotionally. But it can also lead to a better sex life than you ever knew. Seriously!
“Women do not have to give up their sexual lives just because they’re headed toward or are already in menopause,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, a New York-based gynecologist and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V. “It does take a little bit of work, but it’s worth it.”
So without further ado, here's the most common issues you may face in your sex life after 50-and how to breeze right past 'em:
The problem: vaginal dryness
It’s a little ironic that between hot flashes and night sweats, it seems like all of your pores are sweating except for the ones down there. A classic symptom of menopause, vaginal dryness occurs in part because your body is stopping its production of estrogen.
“Once ovulation ceases, the amount of estrogen in your system really plummets because your ovaries are not making estrogen anymore, or they’re making little of it,” says Dr. Dweck. And it’s estrogen that keeps vaginal tissue lubricated, hence the sudden desert-like feeling you’re now experiencing.
The difference between hot flashes and vaginal dryness, though? Hot flashes and night sweats tend to go away as you move past menopause. On the other hand, “vaginal dryness gets worse and becomes chronic and progressive if not dealt with,” says Dr. Dweck.
The solution: have sex anyway
It's one of the best things you can do to combat vaginal dryness. That’s because lack of estrogen also affects pelvic blood flow, but having sex stimulates it, leading to more moisture in your vagina by rejuvenating cells in the region, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine.
If you’re having regular sex and it’s still painful, don’t worry just yet. You can try over-the-counter treatments, like personal lubricant or vaginal moisturizers. When it comes to lubricants, you'll have to experiment to learn which one works best for you, says Dr. Minkin. “Figure out which texture, smell, and feel you like and then buy in bulk,” she adds.
Another option: Vaginal moisturizers, which you insert into your vagina every two to three days. Try a brand like Replens, says Dr. Minkin, and use lubricant at the time of intercourse. “They tend to work better together,” she adds. If the OTC route doesn’t do the trick, make an appointment with your doctor who may prescribe a vaginal estrogen prescription (which typically come as creams or suppositories).
The problem: low libido
Surprisingly, a lot of women have a higher sex drive in their 50s. “Sometimes in that perimenopausal time when you’re approaching menopause but you haven’t lost your period for a full year (and this can sometimes take upwards of 10 years), women will have a high testosterone level, which translates into a high libido,” says Dr. Dweck.
If you’re experiencing the opposite and find yourself with no desire to have sex, that’s extremely common, too. That lack of desire can stem from other vaginal-related problems, like dryness, so treating that symptom can have a domino effect on improving your libido. If vaginal dryness is not an issue, you might just need a little help getting your engine revved.
The solution: up your testosterone levels
The natural ebb and flow of your hormones after 50 can mess with your libido, Dr. Minkin says, and to combat this, she occasionally prescribes testosterone. There isn’t an FDA-approved testosterone treatment for women yet, but your doctor can order testosterone through a compounding pharmacy (a pharmacy that makes drugs prescribed by doctors with patients that have specific needs not being met by commercial products), says Dr. Minkin.
And if your doc determines that a prescription isn’t right for you, you have other options to boost your libido naturally. Dr. Minkin says one of the best ways to liven up your libido is to switch things up under the sheets. “Doing the same things for 30 or 40 years can get boring,” she says. More ideas on that below.
The problem: body confidence
Yes, your body is changing and sometimes that can affect body image. “Our society tends to revere youth as opposed to somebody who’s older,” says Dr. Minkin. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t feel sexy and be having sex.”
Just as you’re aging, your partner is aging with you. And even if you’re still madly in love after decades together, you might find yourself less attracted to them than you were at age 25.
“Your partner may not be, unfortunately, paying much attention to himself or herself, and they may not be overwhelmingly attractive to you because they may not be taking care of themselves as well as they should be,” says Dr. Minkin.
The solution: ease into a fitness routine
The key here-for both you and your partner-is to do things that make you feel healthiest and best in your own skin.
One big component of this is staying fit. “If you have a lot of aching in your hips and back it’s going to be hard to have sex,” says Dr. Minkin. “If you go to the gym regularly and keep yourself fit, you’ll be a lot fitter for sex, too.”
In fact, a past study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that men and women between the ages of 57 to 85 who were considered in excellent or very good health were twice as likely to be sexually active than those in fair or poor health.
Bonus: You'll have fewer "distractions"
Remember all the things that used to interfere with sex, like getting your period, fear of getting pregnant, just finding time to get naked with each other?
While life is still busy after 50-and not everyone will be done with the hassle of getting a monthly period-the majority of women will be, says Dr. Dweck. “It’s the freedom from cramps, it’s the freedom from bloating with ovulation, it’s the freedom from having to take a week out of sexual life because you’re having your period and some women don’t like to have sex on their period,” she says. “All those things that go along with menstruation are feelings of liberation that women after menstruation have.”
And with your kids out of the house you can count on more alone time for you and your partner-a blissful new sense of privacy to enjoy, adds Dr. Minkin.
...and you might be more inspired to experiment!
“When people know each other so well, there can be a boredom factor," says Dr. Minkin. "But you also may know what that person would (or would not) like better than they know themselves."
That communication can lead to trying new things and bringing new experiences into the relationship. “Consider having sex in an alternate location or using a sex toy,” suggests Dr. Dweck.
This new phase of life may also create an opportunity to experiment with yourself. Dr. Dweck says to masturbate more frequently and try a vibrator. Aside from feeling good, vibrators have benefits that can improve your sex life in other ways, too.
“Medically speaking, they are known to enhance the blood supply and blood flow to the genital region,” says Dr. Dweck. Not sure where to start? We love these expert-approved sex toys for couples.
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