Menopause is the cessation of menstrual periods and it marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life. There is no specific age when this happens, but one correlating factor seems to be the age at which a woman’s mother went through menopause. Current research indicates that your body starts preparing for menopause about 10 years prior to the actual end of the menstrual cycle. Once you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a period, you’re said to be through menopause.
Changes can be gradual at first. Some may be hardly noticeable. Changes in the length or heaviness of your periods, sweating, hot flashes, and mood swings may come on slowly at first and increase with time. Hormonal changes may cause vaginal dryness, thinning of the vaginal walls, and decreased vaginal wall elasticity. Some women make it through menopause with little or no discomfort, while others experience severe symptoms and mood swings.
Menopause can bring up fear, sadness, and feelings of loss. Those who aren’t ready to give up their ability to bear children struggle with the end of that phase of their lives. In our culture—where youth is equated with sex and aging is equated with the end of the sexual side of life—it’s understandable for women to give into stereotypical beliefs about aging. However, this is simply not true. You can continue to have a healthy and satisfying sex life long after menopause. In fact, many women report positive changes in their lives and relationships and an increase in sexual satisfaction after menopause. Some of the positive aspects include:
- No longer having to worry about pregnancy
- No longer having to use birth control
- No longer having menstrual cramps or other physical issues associated with periods
For some couples, menopause occurs around the time their last child leaves home. Instead of feeling like empty nesters, they feel like honeymooners again. There’s more time for sex, sex can be more spontaneous, and you can enjoy time with each other. Because women who are post-menopausal often need more stimulation to have an orgasm, sex is no longer a race and it provides an opportunity to relax and explore each other’s bodies.
Many women report feeling what is known as “menopausal zest,” which is a burst of energy that occurs in this stage of life. Some say that this is the most productive phase of their lives, as they have finished bearing and raising children and become involved in new interests and projects.
The physical changes that can accompany menopause can affect your sex life as well. Vaginal dryness is the most common complaint among menopausal women. Fear of pain with intercourse often causes women to shy away from intimacy with their partners. However, you can undergo hormone replacement therapy to help with these issues. A water-based lubricant also can help with vaginal dryness and make sex more pleasurable.
The most important aspect of sexuality and menopause is communication. It’s important to remember that one of the two biggest sex organs in the body is the brain (the other is the skin). This may be a time of life where you and your partner need to be patient with each other and willing to try new things to make sex enjoyable.
Communication is crucial. Talking to your partner about how you feel about what’s happening can go a long way towards keeping your relationship healthy, especially when symptoms flare and mood swings become intense. You may feel unattractive and undesirable at this stage of life, but getting reassurance from your partner and making time for romance can be just the confidence boost you need.
Today, both men and women are living longer with a better quality of life. For women, this often means that you’ll have more post-menopausal years than reproductive years. The picture of the old woman in a rocking chair is obsolete as women continue to prove that life isn’t over after menopause. Instead, women in this phase of life are showing that they have much to offer to society and romantic relationships.
Embrace this part of life and reclaim your sexual self instead of giving into society’s view that sex is just for the young. By being educated and prepared about what to expect with menopause, you can continue to be sexual throughout your lifetime, which is how nature intended it.