Debunking misconceptions around the female body and The Change.
With hot flashes as its trigger warning and Diane Keaton (in her many roles as a 50-something) as its mascot, menopause has quite the cultural reputation. In reality, the disappearance of a monthly cycle comes an adjustment period that’s so dramatic we’ve come to refer to it simply as The Change. But menopause, which can happen anywhere in your late 40s to mid-50s (typically, at least), happens in three different stages over an average of three years: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. It’s not one singular event—during it all, sex can look and feel a lot different.
What most people think of when they think of menopause is actually the few years right before it starts (aka, the aforementioned peri part). This is when periods become irregular, hot flashes and night sweats may occur (they’re the most common physical symptom), vaginal dryness can become an issue, and mood shifts might happen: essentially, a time when you feel it all. Menopause is when periods have ended for a full year (but when these side effects can still be in effect) and post-menopause is when you’re safely on the other side: no period and no hot flashes, either.
There’s a lot of pressure around the idea of the biological clock, and of course, even the concept of menopause comes with its baggage. Studies have shown that women are likely to feel shame associated with menopause symptoms, and the stigma around it is so strong that Vogue considers it “the final frontier in women’s health.” It can be a painful process—especially if you don’t feel supported, emotionally, or medically, to combat any side effects. But there are also some myths about how it affects intimacy that simply aren’t true.
Myth: Less Sex Can Lead to Early Menopause
This recent study grabbed headlines, but it was Cosmopolitan that pointed out an important scientific acknowledgment: correlation does not equal causation. Rather, it’s possible that those who are genetically predisposed to menopause lead less active sex lives (probably because the aforementioned symptoms don’t always put you in the mood).
Myth: Menopause Results in Less Sex
It is true that libido decreases after menopause for many women, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of sex for good—or that you can’t revive your drive. According to Harvard Medical School, a 2016 study showed that when 70 women who had experienced difficulty getting aroused were able to increase vaginal lubrication, orgasm, and genital sensation after three months using a vibrator.
Myth: Menopause Makes Sex Painful
This one is another case of looking at a problem without considering the possible solutions. Vaginal dryness? Use lube. Especially bad hot flashes? Look into hormone therapy, which involves taking a low-dose estrogen, or estrogen plus progesterone pill a day (kind of like taking birth control but with no pregnancy prevention necessary). When in doubt, talk to a trusted doctor and don’t be afraid to share your concerns—being vocal about your needs, in bed, and otherwise, will usually get you the best results.