Menopause is the cessation of menstrual periods and marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life. There’s 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 eight to 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 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.

It’s understandable for women to give into stereotypical beliefs about aging, especially as youth is equated with sex while aging is equated with the end of the sexual side of life. 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
  • to use birth control
  • menstrual cramps, bloating, or other physical issues associated with periods

During the 1950s, anthropologist Margaret Mead first coined the term “postmenopausal zest,” a burst or surge of energy that women experience after going through menopause. Some women say that this is the most productive phase of their lives, as they have finished bearing and raising their children and have become involved in new interests and projects.

While many women are going through menopause, they’re also saying goodbye to their last child leaving home. Instead of feeling like empty nesters, couples feel like honeymooners again. Couples can enjoy time with each other, meaning there’s also more time for sex. Because women who are postmenopausal 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.

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, hormone replacement therapy may 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. You and your partner may need to be more patient with each other. You may also need to be willing to try new things to make sex enjoyable again.

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 postmenopausal years than reproductive years.

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.