A few weeks ago, my girlfriends and I went to see the off-Broadway show “Is There Still Sex in the City?” written and performed by Candace Bushnell herself. Years ago, as single hot babes on the town (one B’way dancer, one Rockette, one model and one art dealer) we formed our own “Sex and the City” girl group.
Now, in our 50s and 60s, cosmos flowing, we were psyched to hear all the juicy details — specifically about the “still sex” part. But instead, it was completely glossed over, save for a couple throwaway lines. Then, I kid you not, she brought her dogs out onstage, as if to say: Forget about sex after 50 ― maybe get a dog instead?
After the show, all the girls and I could talk about was the one thing Bushnell didn’t — what sex after menopause looks like. If the queen of the genre won’t talk about it, is there any hope for “And Just Like That,” the new “Sex and the City” reboot?
And that’s just what women my age are desperate to see a show talk about.
As a woman in her 60s, I can assure you, our sex lives don’t end at 50, and TV desperately needs to start reflecting that. Why will no one tell women what’s about to go down and how all-encompassing it is?
The only thing I knew about menopause was hot flashes. And I thought, “So you get a little warm now and then. Big deal.” Cut to: me 54, freshly divorced, on a first date with a really cute, fun guy. Anyone over 50 knows that’s a rarity in and of itself.
Anyway, it’s January, I’m wearing a turtleneck, and just as I take my first sip of a dirty martini, a major wave of anxiety washes over me. “First date jitters?” I think as I nonchalantly rummage through my purse, hoping to find a loose Xanax somewhere in a fabric fold. But then, I start to feel this prickly sensation tear across my scalp. Oh, oh, ohhh… Duh, I’m having a hot flash.
I’m partially relieved, but now I’m sweating. So much so, I want to tear my clothes off. I run to the restroom to find my hair’s gone limp, my makeup has run, and I have giant red splotches all over my face. I try to repair the damage but I’m like a wet cat meme as I head back to our table. Buzzkill No. 1.
I wish someone would have told me about the emotional swings of a hot flash. That they are really like 60-second nervous breakdowns followed by a steam bath. Just like those few days before your period comes, where you feel absolutely crazy and every single thing about your life is completely wrong and then you get your period and you’re like, “Oh, that’s what that was. Duh.” Imagine a bite-size version of that 20-30 times a day. And night!
Because that’s another fun buzzkill ― night sweats. Plan on staying at your place, because it is no fun at all to wake up in the middle of night in a pool of your own sweat, worried that you’re ruining his 600-count Egyptian-cotton sheets (OK, I can dream, can’t I?). And forget about spooning, unless your guy is into cuddling up to a clammy furnace. (I’m sure they’re out there ladies, but I digress.) And that is, of course, if you can sleep at all.
Buzzkill No. 3: sleep. OK, I’ve never been the greatest sleeper, especially with a new man in my bed. But now? It’s downright MIA. So another reason to be at your place is so you can get up, go into another room and organize a junk drawer or doomsday scroll to your heart’s content.
But I’m skipping over maybe the most impactful symptom of menopause. I was totally unprepared for how much sex in my 50s would hurt! Thinking there’s something wrong with me, I ran to my gynecologist, who explained that my vaginal walls were thinning and something about blood flow and estrogen, and then the word “atrophy” came up and I practically passed out. WTF?
“There is medication,” she said. Premarin, for example, an estrogen-replacement drug made from horse urine. (Seriously, the name comes from “PREgnant MARes’ urINe.”)
Well, that was a big neigh for me, so I turned to Google and found myself an integrative holistic gynecologist in midtown Manhattan. It did cross my mind that this might be a money trap, considering the location and how the office looked like a high-end spa with product placement everywhere. And of course, they didn’t take any insurance. But hey, I was on a mission to save my lady parts! Could I really put a price on that?
I sat across from Dr. G, a lovely woman who smiled all-knowingly. “We are nothing but chemicals,” she said as she handed me my free copy of Suzanne Somers’ book “Ageless: The Naked Truth About Bioidentical Hormones.” There were many tests (cha-ching!) but soon enough I walked out with a prescription to be sent to a compounding pharmacy in New Jersey. I’m about $1,800 in, but bioidentical hormone replacement therapy was, for me, a godsend.
I had never had any kind of sexual dysfunction, but after menopause, no amount of lube would help. But with HRT my body was doing its thing again. Of course it’s different for everyone, and it can be tricky to get the right balance. (One of my gal pals told me her prescription “overcorrected” and she experienced, well... Slip ’N Slide, anyone?)
Anyway, my hot flashes eased up, the night sweats too, and it helped stave off osteoporosis. But the best part, I was 90% back to myself in the bedroom. Not only was sex less painful, but I also got my mojo back!
Too good to be true, right? Right. I found another gynecologist because the prices at that integrative place were so crazy high and the upsell for every possible anti-aging treatment was through the roof. (Once, on a facility tour, I was taken to the “infusion lounge,” where about 20 or so middle-age women were seated in plush, white leather chairs, hooked up to various nutrient IV drips.)
Once you hit menopause, it’s a whack-a-mole game of physical ailments with an overwhelming number of symptoms. So, you’d better believe there’s a whole industry out there looking to profit off of women who are desperate to maintain their “inner” youth. Looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow and your Jade Egg.
But I always knew, at some point, the risks of HRT would begin to outweigh the benefits. When it all became too scary (and too expensive), I just let go.
Now Dr. G’s words, “We are nothing but chemicals,” take on a whole new meaning. It strikes me that there are two times in a woman’s life when chemicals, specifically estrogen, wreak havoc in her body: when she’s 15 and when she’s 50. And that havoc can lead to relationships based on “chemistry” and not much more. That whole sexual dance can be such a distraction, in fact, that it’s no wonder women are thrilled to be done with it.
I couldn’t agree more with this exchange from Season 2 of “Fleabag.” When 33-year-old Phoebe Waller-Bridge says she’s heard menopause is horrendous, 58-year-old Kristin Scott Thomas quips back, “It is horrendous, but then it’s magnificent.”
It is magnificent to be released from that particular hormonal pull. I feel freer than ever since I’ve stopped chasing estrogen. I’m finally becoming who I’m meant to be. I’m also happily remarried. I met my now-husband when I was 62, and we absolutely have chemistry, but we also have so much more.
Candace Bushnell might not be willing to talk about sex after 50, and we’ll just have to see if “And Just Like That” ever broaches the topic. In the meantime, I’ll start. We need to talk about sex, we need to share our stories, and then we need to see those stories reflected back to us. Because we are beautiful and vital and sexy, waaay past the expiration dates imposed on us by popular culture.
And to you lovelies stepping up to the edge, I am here to say, sex after 50 (and beyond) can be fabulous! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.