Despite my preoccupation with my own reproduction and hormones and human sexuality in general, I have not given enough thought to menopause and that is a problem. Luckily, September is Menopause Awareness Month. And, in true Sex Educator fashion, we have decided to learn as much as we can about this life transition that impacts so many people and share the knowledge. During my research for this post, I was glad to have many of my misunderstandings about menopause clarified. I’ll try to tackle some of them but first let’s discuss what menopause is.
Menopause or Nah?
So, many people use the word menopause to mean different things. I have heard people say they were menopausal to mean that their periods are “slowing down” or becoming more irregular because of age. I have also heard people use the term to explain why they are experiencing night sweats or hot flashes. Some define menopause as a lowered amount of reproductive hormones like estrogen in the body and others use it to say that they are done forever with periods. This can get pretty confusing. So I visited the International Menopause Society’s (IMS) website to clear this up.
According to the IMS, menopause is the permanent cessation of menstrual cycles caused by inactivity of the ovarian follicles (we’ll have more on this below). This leads to physical and hormonal changes in the body and marks the end of the childbearing years. Menopause is confirmed after twelve consecutive months without a single menstrual cycle (not seven or nine but twelve). So the folks experiencing night sweats and increasingly irregular periods, are in fact not menopausal but most likely perimenopausal or close to menopause. Keep in mind that the transition to menopause can be a one-to-ten-year process and also includes the year immediately following one’s last menstrual cycle.
There are two types of menopause: “natural” and induced. If the body spontaneously transitions into menopause it is natural. If menopause is triggered by medical interventions like removal of both ovaries (with or without a hysterectomy) or cancer treatments, it’s induced.
Alright so now that we have a working idea of what menopause is, we can delve deeper by answering some questions while unraveling some common misunderstandings about this life event that impacts so many.
Menopause is a women’s “issue.”
Two big misconceptions around menopause are 1. Menopause only impacts women and 2. All women experience menopause. This erases the experiences of intersex, trans, genderqueer and gender variant people. Everyone born with ovaries and an uterus doesn't identify as a woman. Additionally, some women aren't born with ovaries or an uterus either.
Unfortunately, most of the resources for menopause are not gender neutral or trans-inclusive. This makes it difficult for some people to find helpful, affirming support and appropriate information that speaks to their experience, which is a problem. (If gender neutrality is a new concept for you, please check out our blog post on the topic.)
Another reason why menopause is not strictly a woman’s issue is because of its effect on others; it's this normal biological process that causes many emotional, physical and social changes. People should not have to experience it in isolation. Partners, friends, family, health care providers of all genders should support their loved ones/clients during this shift.
Does a hysterectomy automatically mean I'm in menopause?
So of course removing the uterus means an end to menstrual bleeding and childbearing. However, if the ovaries are left in place they can still function producing hormones and eggs. That said, hysterectomy can cause menopause to occur more than three and half years earlier than otherwise expected.
I should only be concerned with menopause when I am older.
While most people experience menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, for many menopause is not a midlife transition. Premature menopause occurs when someone under the age of 40 permanently stops getting periods. There are several possible causes of sudden or early menopause. Surgeries like oophorectomies and hysterectomies can cause premature menopause. It can be treatment induced as in the case of some who’ve undergone chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Other causes include: autoimmune disorders, smoking, genetics, chromosomal variations, viral infections, environmental toxins and stress. In some cases, periods can stop gradually but earlier for no known reason.
The chapter on sudden and early menopause in
Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause gives more information about these causes.
No matter the cause, it is important in these instances to find and give support. Acknowledging and affirming the feelings that may come up is key to successfully navigating what can be an unexpected change.
Can I get pregnant after menopause?
You can not get pregnant after menopause. However, there is a chance that you can during perimenopause despite the possible presence of irregular menstrual cycles.
Menopause means my sex life is over.
Here at Secret Pleasures, we wholeheartedly disagree. Sexual desires and comfort levels are by no means universal during peri- and postmenopause. Some people experience decreased sex drive while others desires become heightened. Some discomforts associated with menopause such as the thinning of delicate tissues like the vaginal wall and anus can make insertive sex uncomfortable. Sometimes more stimulation (physical or otherwise) is needed to become mentally or physically aroused or to orgasm. Changes in weight, skin and hair may impact body image. Chronic pain, disability and depression may also add another layer in navigating sex. For these reasons, menopause often requires people to relearn how to relate to their bodies and develop new approaches to sex.
So if you are sexing while menopausal, it’s good to remember two fundamental things: 1. There are so many options and 2. the most reliable and versatile sex organ we all have is our brain. Below, I list a few things for your consideration.
Redefine sex. - Sex does not have to strictly mean insertive sex nor does it have to be centered around giving or receiving orgasm. What arouses you? Is it a certain scent or sensation? This is an opportunity to create new erotic pathways.
Lube it up! - Lubricants can make playing with yourself, your partners and your toys more pleasurable. They are especially helpful in treating vaginal dryness. Just be sure your lubricant is body safe and does not contain ingredients that increase your chances of dryness and irritation. Some quality lubricants include Sliquid’s Satin and Good Clean Love’s Restore. Both can be used as a daily personal lubricant and for sex.
Take your time. Go slow.
Upgrade your mental wank bank. - For example, you can read erotica or romance novels. Watch porn or that very exciting scene in your favorite romantic comedy. You can try some dirty talk or even sexting.
Focus on intensifying intimacy with partners.
Masturbate. - Try it with your hands or with toys.
Try new positions. - This is especially important when managing chronic pain or fatigue. Liberator Bedroom Adventure Gear offers sex furniture to help make sex more comfy.
Experiment with news sensations or kinds of play
Talk to a sex educator.
Talk about sex with your partners. (communication)- Interested in trying something new? Share it. Something feels uncomfortable/painful? Say it. You are an expert on your body and desires.
So what happens after menopause?
The time following menopause is postmenopause. It dates from the time of last menstrual period. Like menopause, the postmenopausal experience differs person to person. For some, postmenopause is less of a roller coaster ride than perimenopause. Sometimes uterine problems like fibroids and heavy bleeding clear up. Despite the possible continuation of some discomforts such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, postmenopause offers yet another opportunity to seek pleasure and fulfillment in a way that's most fitting for us.
Welp! That’s all. Go forth and commemorate Menopause Awareness Month with more knowledge and (self) care. Below are few websites that may make the journey helpful.
Other Blog Posts To Checkout
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