We've come so far in sexual wellness — a concept that intertwines our relationship with sexuality, community, and emotional wellbeing. It’s the understanding that our minds connect with our bodies and influence one another. Sexual wellness is when we integrate our sexual health into our general wellbeing.
As we get older, our bodies go through various changes that affect all areas of our health: sexually, mentally, and socially. Up to 90% of women can experience the flurry of Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM), which is a mix of vaginal and urinary tract symptoms like vaginal atrophy, dryness, and incontinence. But only 30% of them feel comfortable enough to talk to a doctor about it.
It's awkward and, in some ways, foreign to think about our sexual health in relation to our daily lives. But with how intertwined our sexual health is to our general health, a sexual wellness routine is paramount to our wellbeing.
Given our mixed emotions when it comes to this personal part of our lives, we could all brush up on a few common myths around sex and menopause that we 1) believed at one time 2) have heard from friends, family, or people we don’t know or 3) may currently think to be true.
Here are several of those menopause myths and realities, provided with the help of a few experts:
Myth: You can't gift a sexual wellness product to someone else. You absolutely can and perhaps should — in the right circumstance. We often allow ourselves to sit in this “blend of being respectful, coupled with feeling quite awkward,” says Alexandra Stockwell MD, relationship and intimacy expert and author of Uncompromising Intimacy. We don't want to assume what may interest someone because we see “people as sovereign beings in their sexuality.” That's well and good (and very considerate) but it can fuel that underlying discomfort. Caring for the women around you involves making sure they feel seen and heard. And sometimes giving a sexual wellness product as a gift can unburden us from these feelings. “In the right conditions, where there is trust and respect and care, such a gift can be affirming and give permission for the recipient’s sexuality,” explains Stockwell. The holidays are upon us. If we piqued your interest enough to consider giving the gift of intuitive wellness to a wonder woman in your life, we share some suggestions for a painless gifting experience in this article
Myth: Self-pleasuring isn't okay to do in a relationship. Self-play, alone or partnered, can ease the physical symptoms of vaginal dryness. It can also reintroduce yourself to a new version of your body, one you may not recognize. “During menopause, when many women experience a lot of physical changes in their bodies, self-pleasure is a wonderful way to know what changes are taking place and how to be successful in sex,” says Stockwell. Self-play empowers your sexual being, improves your sexual health, and enhances the lines of communication with your significant other about what you’re feeling. Yes, that part is also awkward. But it’s worth it.
Myth: Menopause symptoms can only improve with hormones. Hormone therapy (HT) is the most common response to menopause but it isn’t the only way to go. “In my anecdotal experience, many women continue to have better and better sex after menopause, without the aid of hormones,” says Stockwell. Hormonal remedies have their benefits like improving vaginal lubrication and libido. They also come with a set of side effects as with anything else. Whichever path works best for you, "the key is to be sexually active, only do what feels good, and let go of prior ideas and discover the amazing sexual experiences newly available with the maturity, tenderness, and care that is available with aging.”
Myth: Sex hurts when you get older, and that's the way it is. Changes in your body’s natural lubrication can make sex painful but there are ways around that. Lube, for one. Sex, another. “Sex and, more specifically, arousal and orgasm lubricates the vaginal canal and can help keep your pelvic floor muscles in check,” explains Heather Jeffcoat, DPT and founder of Femina Physical Therapy. Sex is more than penetration so it may help to rediscover what your libido feels like and what arousal is for you. According to Jeffcoat, preserving our pelvic health is not only good for keeping our orgasms but for maintaining agency over our bodies.
Myth: Your sex life ends when you go through menopause. Not exactly. “Menopause, for many, is an invitation to change,” according to Stockwell. You don’t have to give up sex and comfort but your perception of the two may need a nudge in a different direction, a little perspective. “It is a time when new energies, new power, new sensuality, and greater impact are available. But only if one is devoted to growth and open to change.” Your body isn’t the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago but it’s beautiful and full of life still.
Myth: It's too late for me to learn how to curate a sexual wellness routine. “There seems to be an accepted loss in our society of sexual function in women as they age,” says Jeffcoat. Doctors tend to dismiss women when they share their experiences with menopause or are quick to suggest hormones. Don't let any of society's beliefs discourage you from getting in tune with your body. It’s never too late to curate a routine. “The biggest issue is our mindset,” says Stockwell. Our sexual wellness, like our skin, our hair, and our fitness, are all facets of ourselves that deserve our attention and curiosity. There’s always space for you to learn more about your body and the many ways you can take care of it.
Myth: Nobody should know I use sexual wellness products. There will forever be fear in the unknown. Fear of what people will think, fear of what comes next, fear of what we’re capable of. “As many men don’t want anyone to know they take Viagra, many women don’t want anyone to know the products they use,” explains Stockwell. “And honestly, that’s fine.” Discretion is a choice in the same way spilling the details about a new personal massager to a friend is a choice. The goal is to feel comfortable using these products and to be open to the possibility of pleasure. It can be empowering. Freeing. Dare we say it? Natural.
“It’s important for women to still feel like a woman as we age,” says Jeffcoat. “A loss of sexual function shouldn’t be an expectation of our new normal.” It’s time to take what misconceptions we have with sexual wellness and aging and toss them out the window.
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