by Lois Flowers
I’ve contemplated writing a blog post about sex after menopause for years, and in my mind, this is always how it begins:
If nobody else will go there, I guess I will.
I realize my experience—years of infertility followed by years of perimenopause followed by being post-menopausal at age 41—probably isn’t the norm. But I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has ever struggled in this area.
If that were the case, there would be no need for all those medications advertised on TV and in popular magazines that are supposed to “help alleviate painful intercourse brought on by vaginal changes after menopause.” (Very expensive medications, I might add. Especially if your health plan doesn’t cover name-brand drugs.)
When I entered menopause, I felt like a complete oddball and very much alone. All the women in the aforementioned commercials looked like they were in their 50s or 60s—quite young to me now but practically ancient when I was barely into my 40s. As far as I knew, I had no friends my age who had reached this stage of life yet, nor had my sisters. And I certainly wasn’t prepared to talk to my mom about it.
What I really wanted was a book, written from a Christian perspective, that frankly, practically and empathetically addressed the biological realities of physical intimacy. Perhaps I was looking for help in all the wrong places, but most of the faith-based marriage material I came across gave me the impression that it was the wife’s job to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs, and if she didn’t, he would be tempted to seek satisfaction somewhere else.
The books may have touched on the importance of healing from past sexual abuse, but I don’t recall any discussion of what to do if you had actual physical issues that sometimes (or often) made intimacy uncomfortable. It’s bad enough to have this problem, but to think that your marriage might be in danger because sex hurts is unnecessarily frustrating and guilt-inducing.
Consider couples dealing with cancer, multiple sclerosis and any number of other debilitating diseases and conditions where one spouse takes his or her marriage vows seriously and cares for the other without feeling the need to have his or her needs met elsewhere. Maybe all the husbands (and wives too) that I’ve seen do this over the years were secretly harboring mistresses (or misters), but I rather think not.
When I was struggling with severe endometrosis in my 20s and 30s, there were times when sex hurt so badly it simply wasn’t worth the trouble. For me, it wasn’t about shame or childhood abuse or anything like that, although I know those can issues can pose great challenges to marital intimacy. It was physical pain, plain and simple.
What I would have loved to read or heard from someone—back then, and in recent years when encountering those lovely “changes brought on by menopause”—is that each couple has to figure out for themselves what works. That sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t and that’s OK. That menopause might bring on greater freedom because you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant (as online resources often suggest) but it might also just make everything much more difficult.
I don’t read many marriage books anymore, but I have been using hormone replacement therapy for years. It alleviates some symptoms of menopause, though not completely. Sometimes the medication works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works for several months at a time, and then sometimes it doesn’t.
First Peter 3:7 encourages husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” My husband does this well, and I am grateful.
I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that there are plenty of other Christian couples with solid marriages who have found ways to deal with this issue in ways that work for them. Counseling, over-the-counter lubricants, prescription drugs and homeopathic remedies might help.
But—especially in this season of life—it’s also important to remember that married love is far more than sex. It’s companionship and friendship and deep commitment, based on promises made long ago before God and many witnesses.
Comparisons aren’t helpful. But talking about it might be.
I’m not a marriage expert or a doctor, and I certainly don’t have any definitive answers about any of this. I try to be as real and transparent as possible when I write, but this is a stretch, even for me.
That said, if this post opens the door for even just one woman to have a possibly awkward but hopefully encouraging conversation with an older sister, friend or trusted mentor, my red face will be worth it.
Lois Flowers is mom to two lovely daughters and wife to one good man. She’s an author, former journalist and lifelong Midwesterner who values authenticity, loves gardening and always reads the end of the book first. She’s a relative latecomer to the world of social media, but you can connect with her on Twitter (@loisflowers16) or Instagram (loisflowers). She also blogs regularly at loisflowers.com.