Recently I read a piece in Huff/Post50, written by a 60-year-old woman who described physical changes in her lady parts, and sexual needs, post-menopause. I'd heard stories like hers, though never so detailed. I couldn't relate to the problems she was experiencing: loss of lubrication requiring estrogen supplements in order to tolerate intercourse; and "the elasticity, welcoming moistures, sexual readiness and accommodation that for so many years were an unquestioned part of my being a woman."
At 52, I still feel that my sexual response, as well as the land down under, hasn't changed markedly since I became sexually active decades ago. I have about the same lubrication, and my vagina didn't change at all -- and I mean AT ALL -- after birthing two babies. If anything, I have a stronger libido in my 50s. It's easier for me to orgasm than it was in my teens and 20s. I have never experienced any pain during intercourse, nor has my body needed a longer time to prepare itself for sex. If my vaginal tissue has thinned, I can't tell.
And then I realized that, unlike the author of the piece, I have not gone through menopause. My body and sexuality could very well change dramatically once I'm fully on the other side. My heart sank, a bit. I don't want to lose the sexual response that has deepened since I've entered middle age. And I don't want to lose the physical signs that my body still functions like that of a much younger woman.
I got curious about the sexuality of other midlife women: how many of them had stories like mine, and how many had stories like the author of the Huff/Post piece. So I asked my Facebook middle-aged lady friends what they were experiencing. Here, some responses:
Walker Thornton, 60: "I have not experienced dryness, discomfort or pain. Age 60 and sexually active."
Beverly Diehl, 54: "Right now, at 54, two years since my last menstrual period, I am not (yet) having any problems with lubrication nor vaginal thinning."
Tina Orphanides, 56: "I'm 57 in September -- at 48 I started with hot flashes. I still get them but nowhere near as bad as what they were. From age 51 up to 54 I only needed KY lube as initial penetration hurt no matter how aroused I was. From 55/56, I had no lubrication and thinning vaginal walls but was still sexually aroused. So I went to a very good doctor who prescribed an estrogen cream as I didn't want to go down the HRT route. So far, so good. I still use some lube but within 3 months after starting the cream, I could feel by touch the difference. It's not what it was. I'm pushing 60. My husband and I slow it down. My desire and urge is still the same. I've been with my husband since 1978 and still fancy the pants off him."
Chloe Jeffreys, a 53-year-old labor and delivery RN, had this to say about midlife female changes: "Vaginal atrophy is real. And most women eventually succumb to it, especially if they don't use any estrogen replacement. Doctors don't talk about it, and women keep thinking it will get better when it will only get worse."
Then Chloe followed up her comment with an aspect that described the benefits of evolving sexuality: "It sounds like sex for this Huff/Post writer is really all about vaginal penetration. Vaginal sex is nice, but that's like saying that dessert is all about cake. Cake is great, but so is pie. In fact, some pies are better than cake. And once you get a taste for eating pie you might not be missing cake."
Liam, a 65-year-old man who has had many menopausal lovers, echoed Chloe's statement: "It's sad that 'sex' is defined...as 'sexual intercourse.' That is, or might well be about 5 percent of what we do being sexual, but it's difficult to overcome so much conditioning."
Liam went on to make so many nuanced comments about his sexual intimacy with women at midlife, and beyond, that I became intrigued with the male perspective on this issue. I asked him if he would agree to be interviewed for a piece on this topic, and he said yes.
I also asked several midlife women who had chimed in on my Facebook post if they would contribute to the piece, and I got so many responses I decided the subject merited a series exploring the sexuality of midlife women. I'll be featuring individual stories in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. And anyone (male or female) who wants to share their experiences, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.