By Lybi Ma, published on February 15, 2007 - last reviewed on March 14, 2012
No one is going to pull the wool over a woman's eyes when it comes to menopause. And what about sex during "the change?" Do the words even go together? On the surface, it looks as though the odds are stacked against you. So, let's get the bad stuff out in the open. A woman going through menopause may well suffer any one of the following symptoms: fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, bone loss, weight gain, sleeplessness, dry skin, vaginal dryness, or worse, vaginal atrophy. With a list like this, menopause certainly looks like a one-way ride to end-of-life misery. But depending on your makeup and how you manage your health you may not suffer much, if at all. Taking simple steps—like changing a negative attitude, embracing your body (and all its folds), and eating soy—can change everything, even your sex life.
First things first: It all starts in your head. If women are unhappy with their changing bodies, menopause turns into a "condition" that must be managed medically. In 1966, Robert Wilson wrote the book Feminine Forever, insisting that estrogen is the key to youth, health, and attractiveness. And women who didn't replenish estrogen would become, in effect, sexless. Get a grip. In other cultures, this part of life is welcomed and honored. Not that we should all pack up and move to China, but there's something amiss in the way we approach mid-life.
While fatigue, hot flashes, weight gain, or sleeplessness can leave anyone in a bad mood, depression is not a foregone conclusion. It's been found that depression during menopause is often an extension of one's earlier frame of mind—if you were depressed in your 30s, you may well have a tendency toward depression in your 40s and 50s. And according to Jane Ussher of the University of Western Sydney, the rates of depression in women fall as they age—only 7 percent of women age 45 to 54 experience depression.
You don't have to contort your body into a Kama Sutra pretzel for sexual excitement, but a dose of novelty does a lot of good. Trying something new can renew anyone. Studies show that couples that share fresh experiences are more satisfied. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to travel to Paris every weekend to recapture romance; an adventure can mean something as simple as a change of venue. So go ahead, try the dining table for a start, not to mention the hall closet or the back bushes.
OK, so you don't have the body of Scarlett Johansson—or maybe you never did. Don't dwell on this small fact, because bad body image can spoil everything. Penn State researchers found that feeling frumpy can dramatically alter sexual responsiveness at mid-life. The more a woman perceived herself as less attractive, the more likely she was to report low sexual desire or activity. No surprise there. But not every man in mid-life is a toad looking for a twenty-something—well, maybe he's looking, but looking in and of itself is a given. Anyway, men know the plain truth: we're all getting wider and balder as time marches on. So the playing field is more level than you think.
Tossing and turning during the wee hours is a familiar pastime among women over age 45. In one survey, disturbed sleep was the most important symptom they sought to relieve. In fact, half the women surveyed would rather get more sleep than get it on. So, more than ever, it may be wise to improve your sleep habits. For starters, set a routine. Go to sleep and wake at the same time every day. Don't nap; napping will make it harder to fall asleep at night. Ban the TV, computer, and Fido from the bedroom. Distractions are tempting, but the bed is for sleeping (and sex, of course).
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times: Eat right, don't smoke, go easy on the alcohol, and exercise, exercise, exercise. These basic practices can see you through the later years. If you'd like to consider hormone replacement therapy, consult your physician. HRT has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Nowadays, doctors are prescribing low hormone doses in short intervals. If you prefer natural options, black cohosh, DHEA, and soy are just some of the many alternatives. One study found that women who ate soy had a 45 percent reduction in hot flashes. But, again, consult your doctor before embarking on a new regimen.
Equating a woman's body to a car is not exactly sexy; but, honestly, you have to fire up the engine or else the parts get rusty. Having more sex more often is a good thing. Studies reveal that women who have sex every day report far less vaginal and sexual problems. OK, so most of you aren't going to boink every day, but lots of sex (even the single-handed kind) keeps the blood flowing in the right places, which encourages optimal tissue health. Make sense? And even though your hormone levels are doing the jig, the body does enjoy a surge of testosterone that in turn increases sex drive.
Now that you're armed with this potent artillery, it's clear that there's no need to hide under the sheets. Revitalizing your sexual self, even in your golden years, isn't so far from reach. With tools like a new mindset, a desire for novel experiences, a love of your body (no matter what its shape), and a healthy sexual appetite, there are no excuses not to roll in the hay as much as you can.