Weir: Women deserve a lifetime of healthy sex

A healthy sex life is important for stress management, self-confidence and optimism. Plus, you deserve it.

Shirley Weir 6 minute read July 23, 2020
shirley weir menopause advocate

Shirley Weir is the founder of Menopause Chicks

Dear Shirley,

I have not had sex since the beginning of the pandemic. I just don’t feel like it. It’s like my desire has just turned off. I had always hoped for a healthy sex life, no matter what my age was. But now I am not so sure about this now. I feel both discouraged and sad that such an important part of who I am and what I need as a woman feels broken. I also don’t know how to have this conversation with my partner — after all, I am not the only one affected by this issue. And now that I am learning more about the perimenopause-to-menopause journey, I’m wondering if I will ever have sex again.

Dear Sara,

Thanks for raising the sex question. You are not alone.

This is important because sexual health is health, and while sex during a pandemic has been in the news recently, it continues to be one of our society’s most under-discussed topics.

I speak with women every day who are hesitant or don’t know how to have a conversation about sex with their girlfriends, their health care provider or their partner.

Yet we know a healthy sex life — however you define it — is essential for many things including stress management, self-confidence and optimism. And who doesn’t need more those things — especially during a pandemic.

How can I talk to my partner about sex?

Discuss the potential root cause. I’m a big proponent for looking for the root cause of any health concern in question — in this case, lack of sexual activity or sexual desire.

So, what are some of the causes of low sexual desire? For women, fluctuating hormones in perimenopause are a common contributor. Vaginal dryness, or pain with sex, could lead to lack of desire. Other culprits can be stress, burnout, depression and trauma for both men and women.

It’s important to acknowledge that one-in-three women experience low desire at some point in their life, and stress from work and family pressures is frequently cited as the cause. Research shows helpful solutions include practicing mindfulness, paying close attention to your diet, move and sleep, engaging in regular conversation and laughter, and for some, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

Your brain is your biggest sex organ. Talk about what turns you on. Maybe it’s watching Outlander. Or maybe reading romance novels or erotica, is more up your alley. Masturbation is another way to stimulate desire, or foreplay that begins the day before, or via text messages throughout the day.

It can be challenging — and yes, even awkward — to discuss sexual desire, and working on good communication takes practice and courage. If you are having trouble getting the words out, write them down in a journal first. I hope it ends up being better for you than not talking about it at all.

Sort out fact from fiction. Gloria Steinem has a great quote that goes like this, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn.” Nowhere is this more poignant than in conversations about big topics like sex and menopause. It’s important for couples to check in with each other to ensure you both share the same definitions.

What is your definition of sex?

For example, what is your definition of sex? Is it with a partner? Does it involve penetration? Cultural and social perceptions influence our own thinking what sex looks like for each of us. Also, what we perceive from media to be “normal” can limit our thinking. Plus, our definitions and desires are going to change over the years and decades, so reframing our definitions of sex to include a wider context can be helpful for igniting important conversations and pleasure.

Many of us grew up with connotations of menopause as meaning hot, old, tired, grumpy and fat

The same is true when discussing your perimenopause-to-menopause journey with your partner. It’s important to first check in on what generational myths exist for both of you. Many of us grew up with connotations of menopause as meaning hot, old, tired, grumpy and fat. A Google search will serve up a plethora of images underscoring these assumptions. Yet the women I know, who are prioritizing their health, are more apt to use words like smart, confident, beautiful and wise to describe their approach to midlife and to sexual health.

Healthcare professionals also grew up with societal influences. Yesterday, I heard a story of a physician who told a member of the Menopause Chicks community that her body “was trying to wind down,” and that she shouldn’t be winding it back up. This is 100 per cent fiction. We are the first generation of women to reach 50 and we have 50 more years to plan for — and that includes a healthy sex life.

Learn together. We live in an era when graphic violence is common on television, but the words “vagina” and “clitoris” get bleeped out. Learning the right terms is essential to having informed conversations.

There’s no room for shame. It’s possible that you are learning about these important health topics at the same time as your partner. Being curious, asking questions and seeking clarification are all great ways to keep the lines of communication open. The same is true for grabbing a book from the library, watching a documentary or webinar, attending an event or finding a reputable, trustworthy site for online learning.

Women who are able to talk specifically about sex and pleasure are eight times more likely to be happier in their relationships

And although I often discourage women from trying to have conversations about their health with a search engine, there are legitimate, high-quality platforms for online learning about women’s sexual health.

OMGYES, for example, is an interactive and video portal created by sexual health researchers from Indiana University. It teaches women and men about women’s sexual pleasure by offering new, detailed language making it easier to communicate both in and out of the bedroom. According to OMGYES researchers, women who are able to talk specifically about sex and pleasure are eight times more likely to be happier in their relationships.

Looking for more information on this important women’s health topic? Join me, Dr. Lori Brotto & Rayka Kumru for OMGYES! Conversations about women’s sexual desire & pleasure in midlife! July 23

Do you have a question about perimenopause, menopause or beyond? Post it in our private online community or write to me

Shirley Weir is the founder of Menopause Chicks, an online facebook community that advocates for women in perimenopause, menopause & beyond! She is also the author of Mokita: How to Navigate Perimenopause with Confidence & Ease@MenopauseChicks