That brings us to the second question. What do you do when you’re no longer interested in sex? First, know you’re not alone. You’re in good company—and lots of it. The Dutch broadcasting company Max polled 1,100 people over 50 regarding their sex lives. One in six said he or she no longer had sex. Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported making love just once every month or two months. Those with active sex lives gave them a measly 6.7 out of 10 in quality. And, when asked how they dealt with their greatly diminished libido, no less than 70 percent of participants said this: You just have to accept it; it’s part of getting old.
They’ve got a point. It used to be par for the course when a woman resolutely banned her husband from her bedroom after menopause. The idea that you can have a sex life in your 50s, and thus should have one, complete with the vigor and frequency of your youth, is characteristic of our modern times. But is it realistic? Viagra users are predominantly men between 50 and 60 with erection issues. Vaginal dryness is the most common complaint among post-menopausal women.
More important is the question of whether you even want to maintain your prior habits. For many women, it’s precisely the usual sexual routine that’s no longer appealing enough after menopause. A normal sex life generally means several short lovemaking sessions a week, each lasting five or six minutes and ending in the man’s orgasm. Often this kind of routine acts as a smokescreen, hiding the lack of true intimacy between partners. As long as the sex is “as it should be,” you don’t have to work on your relationship.
That may have been okay with you for years—until you reach menopause and your trusted hormonal availability vanishes. According to Rik van Lunsen, head of the sexology department at Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center, there’s one thing women can no longer do after menopause, and that’s have sex when they don’t really want to. The vagina of the postmenopausal woman can become just as engorged with blood and thus well-lubricated as that of a younger woman, but only if she’s truly aroused. The permanent moisture is gone.
In addition, the most important factor in achieving erection for a man over 50 is not attractiveness but the receptivity of his female partner, according to urologist Erik Meuleman. In other words, if she wants him, he’ll get it up. That means an older couple’s sex life depends completely on whether the woman is open to contact and truly enjoys their lovemaking.
That turns sex after menopause into a kind of hypersensitive barometer for the quality of your relationship, because that is linked to sexual arousal in women. All the day’s tensions translate into distance and impotence in bed. There’s no way to plow ahead with sex or to make things better through sex; it simply no longer works physically. On the other hand, the greater the sense of intimacy, familiarity, safety and mutual affection, the better things will go.
It seems to me the most important thing is that partners experience a shared sense of responsibility. Know that it isn’t the fault of one partner or the other if things are physically iffy; it’s the result of aging and increasing sensitivity. Talking and looking for solutions together will deepen your relationship.
Spirituality works. There’s a reason why the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) recommends yoga for every menopause symptom. Not just for insomnia and heart palpitations but for vaginal dryness, pain during sex and low libido. Everything you do to stay healthy—exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep, not smoking and maintaining a positive attitude—also helps your sex life, says the NAMS. Above all, you’ve got to love yourself enough to give your health priority.
Meditating, doing yoga, loving yourself, taking your relationship deeper into intimacy and authenticity—that’s a pretty tall order. It’s good to know that the “gift” of menopause isn’t immediately greeted with cheers by every woman. It’s more like a hero’s journey. But apparently it’s what life is asking of us at this age. And if you respond to the question, you’ll ultimately reap a hero’s rewards.
Read more of Ode’s stories on menopause at OdeWire. Discover the meaning of menopause for yourself in OdeNow’s menopause course. For a free digital copy of Ode’s entire Menopause Series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Meaning of Menopause