While the idea of never having another period sounds pretty sweet, no one looks forward to menopause—and for good reason. We’ve all heard about the mood swings, the insomnia, the night sweats, and those infamous hot flashes. Oh, and we can’t forget the supposed non-existent sex drive. None of it sounds particularly fun.
“During menopause, many women feel like they’re at war with their bodies and are destined to lose,” says Elona Landau, a certified sexuality educator based in Portland, Oregon.
The good news? That doesn’t have to be the case—and going through menopause isn’t all bad news. For instance, menopause brings an end to fears about unintended pregnancies, Landau notes. “That, and the cessation of irritating and irregular periods, can be liberating. Plus, getting to move past the child-rearing stage, leads to more opportunities to engage in sexual play.”
While all of this sounds encouraging, it’s far different to hear how sex evolves after menopause from women of all different walks of life. Which is why we asked six women to tell us how “the big change” has affected their sex life. Here, their very honest—and very different—responses:
You may discover new, unexpected ways to improve your sex life.
- “I’ve always struggled with depression, but it ramped up during menopause. As a result, my sex drive basically disappeared,” says Ella, 49. “That combination forced me to finally confront what was going on in my head. Counseling helped, as did antidepressants, and taking more time for myself. Pulling myself out of that brought my husband and me closer, and today our sex life has never been better.”
- Here’s why: “If you’re feeling sad or anxious in one part of your life, it’s likely to creep into other parts as well,” says Landau. “Engaging in self-care to make sure you’re strong and stable emotionally will pay dividends both in daily life and your sex life.”
You may become less inhibited.
- “My sex life’s still great because I learned early on that my pleasure is my responsibility,” says Samantha, 46. “My advice is to get to know yourself and your body. More importantly, accept your body and the changes you’re experiencing.”
- Here’s why: “Make time to get to know your body now and honor how pleasure and sex can change for you over time,” agrees Kenna Cook, sex educator and pleasure professional at O.school. “You can explore sides of your sexuality that you may have felt inhibited to when you were younger.”
Or, nothing may change at all.
- “I’m not sure if menopause has caused any difference to my sex life, to tell you the truth,” says Nancy, 55. “For me, it has to do with where I am in my own head and with my partner. Sex is a state of mind. I have a very active imagination and an amazing man for a partner. That makes all the difference.”
- Here’s why: “The brain is your largest sexual organ,” Landau says. And things you find alluring won’t just stop turning you on the second you start going through menopause. To get into the mind over body mentality, consider what fantasies you find alluring, and what types of things you may be curious about, Landau suggests. “Take advantage of this shift in your life to consider what would make you feel satisfied and whole as a wise, confident and erotic woman.”
It’s true; you really might need to use lube.
- “At first I lost the desire to have sex. It was painful, and I didn’t want to partake,” says Bonnie, 53. “When I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with vaginal atrophy, which is what was causing the raw, searing pain. I was told to use lube and have sex more often. It took a few months, but I was able to get my libido back and enjoy sex again.”
- Here’s why: During menopause, your body slows down its production of estrogen, the female hormone. That means the walls of your vagina can become uncomfortably dry and inflamed.
- In addition to lubricant, intimate internal toys can be helpful, says Sunny Rodgers, a clinical sexologist, certified sex coach and ambassador for the American Sex Health Association. “They allow you to create your own lubrication without sex.” (Also worth considering: these 9 new sex toys experts love.)
You may need an estrogen cream.
- “I always had a heavy flow and bad cramps, so I don’t miss my period at all,” says Kelly, 54. “But for me, the biggest downside to going through menopause was painful sex. I discussed the issue with my gynecologist and now use an estrogen cream, which helps a lot.”
- Here’s why: Hormonal shifts can make sex painful for post-menopausal women. “Estrogen cream can help by reducing symptoms like vaginal dryness, burning sensations, and itching,” says Rodgers. Ask your OBGYN if a cream like Estriol may be right for you.
And may no longer stress about not “being in the mood.”
- “When I started going through menopause, I told myself I wasn’t going to worry about it. I made a point to not ask my friends about their sex lives and if they were changing,” said Estelle, 46. “Instead, I trusted my instincts. If I’m in the mood, great. If not, that’s okay, too, and my husband understands. Taking off that pressure to act like I’m 25 again actually puts me in the mood more often.”
- Here’s why: Stressing about how your sex life stacks up to other couples isn’t productive. “If you’re happy with the amount of sex you are having, you don’t need to judge yourself for having a lower than ‘normal’ sex drive,” Cook says.