In our culture, menopause is often painted as an unpleasant, even ominous stage of life that will bring nothing but trouble. And while it is true that menopause is accompanied by many uncomfortable symptoms, it is a phase that also holds some hidden potential. Menopause is a great time for a rebirth — for a relearning of what feels good to you and how you would like to experience sexuality in your later years.
It can be challenging, to be sure. Menopause comes with many symptoms that impact one’s ability to enjoy sex. A decline in hormones causes the vaginal tissues to become thinner and less elastic, and decreased blood flow causes diminished sensation and lubrication. Along with mood swings and hot flashes, this can result in difficulty with arousal, decreased pleasure with penetration, inability to climax, and an overall lack of desire for sex.
All of these issues are entirely normal. But this is where a person must become proactive. Doctors, therapists, and sex educators are in agreement on one point: the more sexually active you can stay as you go through menopause, the better. A partner is not required. Masturbation works just as well. The bottom line is that regular penetration and stimulation can improve vaginal elasticity, promote healthy blood circulation to the tissues, and heighten pleasure.
With dedication, commitment, and lots of lube, your sex life can continue to thrive throughout menopause — and beyond.
(Note: Your doctor or OBGYN will be able to give you more tailor-fit suggestions for dealing with the many symptoms of menopause, including options for hormone therapy, counseling, sex therapy, etc. It is best to check with your doctor first to make sure there are no underlying health issues.)
Lube, always lube
Lubricant is perhaps the most important thing we sell for menopausal folks. As estrogen levels fall, the cells in the vaginal lining produce less moisture when stimulated. The lining also becomes thinner, drier, and more susceptible to irritation and tearing. Even people who have never needed lube may find that their body simply does not create enough natural lubrication anymore. Lube can help immensely.
Yes water-based and Sliquid Satin are two water-based lubes that can be used both during sexual activity and as daily moisturizers. Satin contains a seaweed extract that is said to lock in moisture, while Yes contains a flax extract which bolsters mucous membranes. Both contain aloe vera and are meant to mimic the body’s natural lubrication. You can even get pre-filled Yes applicators or Lube Tubes, which are great for depositing lube where it’s needed most: internally.
Another option might be Yes oil-based. Made with cocoa and shea butter, it has a softer, silkier feel than water-based lubes, and will absorb nicely into the skin when its primary job is done. You can even layer water-based lube on top of it, which prevents the water-based lube from drying up too quickly. Oil-based lube, however, can degrade latex, so it should not be used alongside barriers such as condoms and gloves.
Silicone-based lubes are another possibility, but with a few caveats. They are not the best option for daily moisturization — and they’re not compatible with silicone sex toys. They are, however, extremely long-lasting, and can greatly reduce friction during penetration. Read more about the varieties of lube in our guide.
Dilators and how to use them
Dilators are cylindrical objects that come in varying sizes and are inserted vaginally to gently acclimate the vagina to penetration. They are extremely useful tools not just for those experiencing menopause, but also folks who have gone through chemotherapy, are on some medications, are grappling with certain types of pelvic pain (such as vaginismus), or just want to improve the ability of their vagina to accommodate certain sizes.
Painful penetration is common with menopause. The thinning of the vaginal walls causes diminished elasticity and muscle tone, tightening of the vaginal opening, dryness, and sometimes even a shortening and narrowing of the vaginal canal. These elements lead to discomfort during penetration. Thankfully, sustained use of dilators or other toys can help restore the vagina to a more elastic and robust state.
We have a couple dilator options. The first is the Berman Dilator Set, which is made of body-safe ABS plastic. It consists of a vibrating handle and three sizes of attachment ranging from .75″ in diameter to 1.5″ in diameter. It also comes with a soft nubby sleeve, in case you want to experiment with some texture. The added vibration can help the muscles relax.
If you’d prefer something squishier, there’s the Tantus Silk series. These slightly curved 100% silicone dildos come in three sizes ranging from .75″ in diameter to 1.5″ in diameter. We also have other silicone dilators in the shop we can show you. Those start at the size of a pinky and gradually get larger.
The important thing to understand is that the largest size is not always the end goal. The end goal is simply comfortable and satisfying penetration, whatever that means for you.
Some dildos, though not marketed as dilators, could serve the same purpose. The Vixen Creations Spur and Mistress, for instance, are both fairly small and made of soft silicone. The Mistress even comes with a little bullet for some added vibration.
Insertable vibrators can also help aid in the journey toward pleasurable penetration, as they can massage the delicate tissue with their vibration. The Bswish Bgee is nice and thin; the LELO Liv is rechargeable and silky smooth, with a range of vibration intensities. Ultimately, any insertable toy that is comfortable for you can be useful in expanding the vagina’s capabilities.
Here are some tips for using dilators/toys to ease into comfortable penetration. Of course, the experience will differ greatly from person to person.
- Find a comfortable and private location in which you can breathe easy and take your time.
- Aim for arousal, either by touching your clitoris/labia, and/or fantasizing, watching a DVD, or reading erotica, whatever works for you. Arousal will relax the muscles and elongate the vagina.
- Apply a liberal amount of lube to both the dilator/toy and the opening of the vagina.
- Focus on relaxing all parts of your body, especially your pelvic floor muscles. Breathe deeply and, if it helps, visualize your vagina in a state of softness, opening to accept the toy.
- Angle the tip of the toy downward a bit, as this will help steer it under your pubic bone. Then slowly insert it vaginally as far as you’re able without experiencing pain.
- If you feel a stretching sort of pain, pull the toy out slightly and focus on the area that is comfortable. When that area is relaxed, you can push the toy in more.
- Once the toy has become comfortable for you (which may not be for several sessions), experiment with different movements. Increase the depth of penetration, or rotate the handle. Move the toy back and forth. Turn on the vibration.
- After one size of toy has become quite comfortable on several separate occasions, feel free to size up. If the next size hurts, return to the previous size for a bit. Don’t rush it.
- Always listen to your body. If at any point you experience serious pain, slowly pull the toy out and take a rest. You can always try again tomorrow.
- Settle into a routine with your dilators/toys. The more regularly you can do these exercises, the easier it will become, and the more benefits you can reap.
While kegel exercises can be beneficial to folks of all ages, they can especially assist those going through menopause. The drop in estrogen levels that accompanies menopause can cause a decrease in muscle tone and pelvic floor relaxation. This effect can be reversed with kegel exercise.
Kegel exercise consists of voluntarily and repetitively contracting and relaxing the PC muscles. Regular kegel exercise increases blood flow to the vagina and can have a variety of worthwhile effects, such as heightened sensitivity, stronger orgasms, and greater response to G-spot stimulation. The more the PC muscles are toned, the more they can relax, thus improving your chances of pain-free penetration. Strong PC muscles also help with urinary incontinence.
Kegel exercises can be done without the aid of a toy (read our guide for techniques), or with a toy in place to provide resistance and added stimulation. We carry several sets of kegel balls, but our top choice for older folks would be the Je Joue Ami set. These balls are covered in squishy, seamless silicone, which is important when sensitive, thin vaginal tissue is involved. With the set, you can start with the lightweight ball and work toward the heaviest.
Books and DVDs
There are many literary and visual resources to help you through menopause, such as Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause.
The fabulous senior sex educator Joan Price has two books — Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex and Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty — which feature personal stories as well as advice from sex therapists, health professionals, counselors, and more. We also carry Sex Over 50, which debunks myths about sexuality and aging. In the same vein, there’s Still Doing It: The Intimate Lives of Women Over 60.
The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability is an invaluable resource to anyone with pain, illness, disability, or a chronic condition. If you suspect that your sexual pain is due to something other than just menopause, pick up When Sex Hurts and tell your doctor.
That’s not all!
Let’s not forget the important role that vibrators can play in this process. To combat a decrease in sensitivity, you can try a strong wand-style vibe such as the Hitachi, Bodywand, MagiC wand, or Mystic Wand. Some folks have found that the deep, penetrating oscillations of the Eroscillator are very effective. Or, an ergonomic and versatile rechargeable vibe might be better: perhaps the LELO Mona 2 or Jimmyjane Form 4.
Your experience of sensation may change during and after menopause, which can open up new doors. Experiment with a stimulating gel or a clitoral pump to increase blood flow to the clitoris and enhance sensitivity. Or check out sensation toys such as feather ticklers and the Wartenberg Pinwheel. Use a blindfold to add an element of surprise and heighten the sensation even further.
With a partner, there are countless ways you can keep things interesting (and thus help your body follow along): spend more time on foreplay, initiate sex at a different time of day than usual, watch a DVD together, experiment with a new position, engage in roleplay, introduce sensual massage, try cock rings, or even sign up for one of our many workshops to learn something new together.
The usual stay-healthy tips also apply to those going through menopause: eating well, drinking enough water, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising can always improve your (sex) life. Exercise especially has the potential to increase your energy, enhance your mood, improve your self-esteem, and yes, even boost your libido. It’s the endorphins!
Above all, aim for variety and nurture a sense of adventure and positivity. Make a commitment to yourself to maintain an active sex life as you age, and follow through on that promise. Although menopause can be difficult, it can also be an opportunity to explore your sexuality in a whole new way.