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.
Cover photo by Jamie Waynick on Unsplash
Thank you, Lois. I don’t think I’m ready to have a conversation with anyone, yet, but your openness and honesty encourages me. Be blessed.
I’m glad to hear that, Debra. It helps to know we’re not alone in this, doesn’t it? 🙂
Lois, ur blog could have been written by me. The parallels are astonishing. I’m lucky to be married to a good man also!
This is one more instance of the Titus 2 older woman teaching the younger woman. Age is not necessarily chronological but experiential. So much experience and wisdom are lost because they are not shared.
Amen, Barb … I’m so thankful for those women in my life over the years who have shared freely from their hearts and lives, even when the subject was hard or awkward!
Oh Terrie … how many times did I think I was the only one in the universe who ever had these problems? 🙂 I’m sorry this has been your experience too. And yes … let’s always be grateful to be growing older with those good men God has given us!
Lois, thank you for this. I didn’t have early menopause and had very few of the usual symptoms, but I was not prepared for the painful intercourse. I never understood till i experienced it. I am using estrogen cream, but keep getting side effects.(thankfully, a compounding pharmacy supplies it more reasonably. not sure what i will do next. I also have ADHD and I have heard hormone replacement would help. (for medical reasons I cannot take the standard ADHD meds.) My niece who also has ADHD has started it and it has made a huge difference.
ADHD symptoms get much worse in menopause – it’s the tipping point for many of us. I haven’t even asked…i have been thinking about it and your message here gives me the extra nudge to call tomorrow. I have read elderly ADHD patients area more likely to be misdiagnosed with dementia, when what they need is medication for the ADHD.
I was thinking about writing an article this month for what happens when a woman has ADHD and loses her estrogen, but I am still in process on this one – as in i still haven’t followed up on it!
feels sort of like TMI but you started it! Thanks.
Carol, I don’t have ADHD but it certainly makes sense that menopause would worsen those symptoms. This whole thing is like trying to balance a temperamental chemical equation that changes from person to person and week to week! I do hope that you are able to find some relief soon. And whenever you get that article done, I would love to read it!
Thank you for “going there”!
You’re welcome. 🙂
I love your honesty here, Lois.
And I’m sharing your story over at my place.
I’m guessing this’ll hit home for many of us. For sure …
Thank you so much, LInda. You are a blessing …
Thanks for this excellent article, Lois. About eighteen months ago, I had a change of medications which resulted in vaginal dryness and resulting painful relations. I talked to my doctor and searched the internet for fixes. So true that not every cure works for everyone or works every time. My husband and I are adjusting to our new normal.
But as open as I am on most subjects in the faith community, I struggled asking other women about this. Thanks for breaking the silence. You’re my hero!
Aw, Peggi … I am pretty sure I’ve never been called a hero before, so your comment made my day! Seriously, it took me a long time to conjure up the courage to even mention the word “menopause” on my blog. This topic adds about 15 layers of uncomfortable to the discussion, though, so I know exactly what you mean about struggling to talk to others about it.
It seems to be that humor and grace and the intimacy of decades together eases our way through this. We’re tired. Our bodies are wearing out. If all the potions and creams work as they ought, we can still experience the magical moments. But not always. We’re in a different stage of life. We laugh a lot. We let go the frustrations about this. The cumulative intimacy and trust of a lifetime carry us through and bind us together.
There is so much grace in these words, Melinda … thank you for sharing this. And I love what you say about laughter and humor. So necessary and life-giving at any stage of marriage, but especially so with all of this!