For women of a certain age, menopause looms large as the absolute end of sex, but according to rapper Princess Superstar, it doesn’t have to be. Known for her 2001 hit “Bad Babysitter,” the artist recently revealed that she turned 50 this year. Instead of accepting the fate handed out by Hollywood and perpetuated by the mainstream media, she celebrated with the release of a new track announcing to the world that her “pussy still pop.”
If only we all could have Princess Superstar’s unabashed confidence as we approach maturity. In the last couple of years, I personally have developed a significant amount of fear and dread when pondering menopause’s inevitable arrival. Now that my thirties are well behind me, my youth seems to be slipping away at lightning speed, and along with it, any shred of beauty, vitality, and, let’s be honest, fuckability that remained. In addition to my plummeting self-esteem, I worry that I will no longer desire or enjoy that part of life and be sentenced to two or three decades of a sexless (and therefore loveless) existence until death puts me out of my misery. Dramatic, I know, but I’ve always operated under the philosophy that you’re only as old as you feel. However, now that I’m actually starting to feel old, I wonder if this mindset is actually pathetic and delusional rather than the positive thinking I thought it was.
Fortunately we have experts like Babeland sex educator Lisa Finn and Good Vibes staff sexologist Carol Queen to put our anxieties at ease. I recently attended a Babeland webinar hosted by these two specialists titled “Hot Flashes and Hotter Sex,” a discussion of physical changes, lower libido levels, and other issues that people can face post-menopause and in the years leading up to it (aka perimenopause). The first order of business was defining the term. Menopause marks the cessation of menstruation and is diagnosed when periods have stopped for 12 months, and you’re not pregnant or ill. While her mother called it “The Curse,” Queen prefers to focus on the positive aspects of menopause, viewing it as a “good and necessary” process that can lead to a stronger sense of self and purpose, an increased emotional steadfastness, and an improved ability to communicate.
These qualities will come in handy when attempting to relearn what works and doesn’t work in the bedroom. Queen emphasizes the need to be more inclusive and open-minded about what we think constitutes sex and to not limit physical intimacy to intercourse or penetrative sex. In addition, we can make it our new goal to experience pleasure rather than to achieve orgasm. If we start thinking of the whole body as a sexual organ, then we can try to make new pleasure connections with different body parts.
Vaginal dryness is one of the most common problems for perimenopausal and post-menopausal women. While estrogen supplements and hormone replacement therapy may help, the solution can be as simple as finding the right lubricant or combination of lubricants. Queen recommends applying a water-based lube directly to the vaginal tissue and then layering a silicone lube on top to seal in the moisture. Different types of oils, such as coconut or olive oil, can also work.
In addition to producing a lower level of mucosal moisture, the vaginal tissue structure can also change, resulting in a tighter or “closed up” vaginal canal. Regularly using a vibrator on the vulva or clitoris brings blood flow to the area and increases sensation to aid arousal and orgasm. Finn recommends trying different sizes of vibrators or a dilator set to gradually open the vagina. Babeland offers several types of dilator sets and vibrating dilators, as well as super slim vibrators, such as the Je Joue Classic Bullet or G-spot Bullet and the Electra. Other options include dildos made of glass or hard plastic, which can reduce friction and feel smoother than silicone vibrators.
Going hand in hand with vibrators (pun intended!), masturbation can be a great way to get to know one’s vagina and figure out the exact source of the pain or discomfort. Queen views masturbation as a form of education, exercise, and self-care. “It’s a lab and a playground,” she says, calling it a place where you can experiment and explore. The more you get to know yourself, the better you will be able to communicate your needs to your partner. Changing up the routine can also lead to stronger orgasms.
Speaking of orgasms, Queen did mention that they could become less powerful, due in part to leading a more sedentary lifestyle as we age, which can result in a weak core and pelvic floor. Increased exercise is an obvious remedy, but Queen recommends seeing a doctor who specializes in pelvic floor problems for more severe cases.
And let’s not forget about hot flashes. One audience member asked about tips for minimizing hot flashes during sex, since physical contact can often trigger them. Queen recommended using fans, cooling pads, and ice cubes to lower the temperature of your body, as well as being sexual in the presence of your partner without actually touching each other or at least without full-body contact. Other factors that may contribute to decreased sexual pleasure and desire are medications for various health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Definitely speak to your (hopefully sex-positive) doctor about the possible side effects of any medications you’re taking.
Along with physical adjustments to facilitate sexual pleasure, menopausal women may need to make mental changes as well. Overcoming body issues is easier said than done, but learning to love your shape and size will do wonders for boosting your sexual self-esteem. Wearing lingerie that accentuates your best attributes can make you feel sexy and in turn rev up your libido. Shops like Thistle & Spire offer a variety of pieces that work on all body types, and the website is filled with inclusive images to help destigmatize the idea that only skinny is sexy.
Porn is another helpful tool, as cultivating a vibrant sexual imagination can increase physical desire. There is a wide range of formats and styles of porn available, from erotic books and pornographic videos to audio erotica and sex-focused podcasts. If you don’t know where to start, try listening to the Girls on Porn podcast or peruse the inclusive and female-centered films curated and produced by Swedish director Erika Lust. Some people even find their own memories to be a huge source of creative erotic inspiration, and writing about one’s most unforgettable sexual experiences can help invigorate a renewed sense of excitement.
One of the things I’ve learned with age is to slow down, and Queen reinforced that idea by mentioning the phrase, “You’re going faster than my turn on,” calling “foreplay” a misnomer since any sexual contact is part of the overall act of sex. If you need more oral or manual stimulation before penetrative sex, then communicate that need to your partner. Take all the time necessary to prepare mentally and physically rather than rushing straight to intercourse. Remember the old adage, “quality not quantity”? That idea can also be applied to sex in the sense that blocking out an hour for a leisurely bedroom session once a week may be more pleasurable to everyone involved than multiple quickies where having an orgasm as fast as possible is the sole priority.
Not only was the Babeland webinar extremely informative, but it helped me feel less alone in my fears and anxieties about the effects that menopause and aging will have on my sexual health and libido. I now have a broad overview of the different challenges that may come up and a better sense of where I can go to find answers. I also gained an increased understanding of what I can do before entering perimenopause to get a head start on the changes that may occur.
If you’re interested in learning more about sex and aging, Babeland has another webinar coming up on Thursday, October 7 at 8pm EDT called “Perimenopause and Sex” with Heather Corinna, the author of What Fresh Hell Is This? Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You. In addition, both Queen and Finn recommended checking out books by Joan Price, who advocates for sexuality at any age, as well as the website for Madison, Wisconsin-based sexuality resource center A Woman’s Touch. The organization offers a free PDF pamphlet about its Vaginal Renewal program, which includes a step-by-step guide to recovering vaginal health without the use of hormones.
In the meantime, I’ll be pumping “Gettin’ Older (Pussy Still Pop)” as the new anthem for my midlife crisis.
Curious about pelvic health, pelvic floor pain and dysfunction, and finding help for common pelvic symptoms? Check out our complete guide to your pelvic floor.
Portraits of Princess Superstar by Anastasia Antonova.
Amber Drea is a writer, editor, storyteller and record collector. She writes about the beverage alcohol and cannabis industries for Shanken News Daily and Market Watch magazine and has contributed to the public transit advocacy site Streetsblog.org. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and son.
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