Sex and Menopause

Menopause is a double edge sword. I am still not there yet, but I always saw it as a positive milestone in a woman’s love life. My conviction was reinforced by a recent ad campaign called ‘Let’s Talk the Joy of Later Life Sex’ run by relationship charity Relate with global advertising group Ogilvy UK.

The promotion, shot by British photographer Rankin, features five older couples and one woman in their most intimate settings and explores everything from long-term love to the more risqué.

With this campaign, Relate wanted to champion sex and intimacy in later years and address a lack of older generational intimacy in advertising. 

‘Let’s Talk the Joy of Later Life Sex’ features real people (not actors or models) of different ethnicities, sizes, shapes and sexualities, with the aim of showing that we can all feel empowered to think and talk about sex and intimacy as we grow older.

It’s apparently a myth to think that sex is off the cards in later years because only 14.5% of women say menopause is getting in the way of their sex lives, according to a recent study by intimate wellbeing brand INTIMINA and sexual wellness brand LELO UK.

Gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta said that, while symptoms of the menopause vary person to person, they can affect everything from mood to the body’s physical response and even the arousal process.

Sex & Relationship expert Kate Moyle lends her top tips on how to make sex more comfortable and enjoyable both before and after menopause. Dr Shree Datta also discusses the importance of exercising the pelvic floor and the benefits of doing so, including improved bladder and bowel control, as well as sexual function.
 
Menopause affects your body in a myriad of different ways, and it can impact both your sex drive and sexual confidence. 
 
The menopause comes with a range of symptoms that can impact mood, plus the body’s physical response and arousal process. Symptoms vary person to person. 
 
Dr Shree Datta identified common signs of the menopause including night sweats, vaginal dryness, pain during sex, and joint or muscle pain. Vaginal atrophy can be caused by a drop in oestrogen levels which can result in a variety of symptoms gradually developing over time. This includes the skin around the vaginal opening becoming irritated, sore or itchy. Sex may become uncomfortable and you may notice some bleeding, motivating many women to avoid penetrative sex. 
 
It’s also a time in many women’s lives when they are experiencing related symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings, night sweats, insomnia, headaches and muscular aches and pains, all of which can detrimentally affect general well being. This in turn can have a knock-on effect on sex lives and relationships.
 
Sex and relationship expert Kate Moyle’s top tips for sex during menopause
 
According to sex and relationship expert Kate Moyle, there are always ways of adjusting your sex life to make sex more comfortable for you during and after this transitional period.
  • Communication is the best tool that you have to navigate any type of change in your sex life; and although we can feel close to and in sync with our partners, they can never know what’s going through our heads unless we tell them explicitly.
  • A good lubricant is a helping hand for any sex life, INTIMINA’s Personal Moisturiser is a dual-purpose, water-based lubricant that’s perfect to use with your partner or by yourself. Vaginal atrophy can mean a reduction in elasticity and increased vaginal dryness, so lubricant can help with that creating a glide sensation, which will reduce friction and discomfort. It’s also a great addition for mutual or solo masturbation and for clitoral stimulation.
  • Masturbation and orgasm have been recommended by some professionals as a way of increasing blood flow to the genitals, and keeping the tissue oxygenated. Sex toys can also be incorporated into this and vibrators have been shown to increase vascularity to the genitals.
  • There are erogenous zones all over the body, and we don’t have to only pay attention to the genitals to experience sexual pleasure. Use it as an opportunity for you and your partner to explore each other’s bodies head to toe, playing with touch and massage and telling each other what you like and don’t like.
  • Apps like Ferly also have audio guided exercises such as their ‘Body Scan’ which can help you to connect with your body and help you to understand your sexual self more. They also have sensual stories, which can help to ignite your imagination and create a sense of desire.
  • Acupuncture or black cohosh may help reduce hot flushes and night sweats, but you may experience side effects such as stomach upsets or rashes when taking black cohosh. You might also benefit from strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, bowel and affect sexual function, by regularly doing kegel exercises. INTIMINA has even developed the KegelSmart™ – a revolutionary new way to do your Kegels. It’s a personal pelvic floor trainer which sets a routine that is simple to follow, safe to use, and completely tailored to your individual needs. 
Dr Shree Datta for INTIMINA adds that pelvic floor exercises “not only help to strengthen the muscles around your bladder, vagina and back passage, but regular pelvic floor exercises can help bowel and urinary control, and prevent vaginal wall prolapse with some evidence to suggesting more sensitivity during sex!” 
 
If you’re not sure how to start exercising your kegels, you’re not alone. In fact, six in ten (59%) women surveyed by INTIMINA UK said they don’t know what kegel exercises are.
 
 
Dr Shree Datta shares insight on the kegel technique
  1. Firstly, empty your bladder and make sure you are comfortable, whether that’s sitting, standing or lying down. 
  2. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles by imagining that you are trying to stop yourself from urinating.
  3. Hold the contraction for 3-4 seconds and up to 10 seconds if possible.
  4. Release the contraction.
  5. Rest and relax, and then repeat for 10 to 15 times a day. 
If you can’t feel anything, change position and try again – for example, take a seat if you’ve been standing up. Don’t hold your breath or squeeze your stomach, buttock or thigh muscles as you want to focus on clenching the pelvic floor muscles only. 
 
Gynae tip: Imagine your vagina as an elevator shaft, with the opening as the ground floor. Slowly contract your pelvic muscles, lifting the elevator up towards your belly button. Pause at the top. Then slowly lower the elevator back down. Repeat 5 times. 
 
 
For women looking to further strengthen their pelvic floor, INTIMINA’s KegelSmart provides better guidance on how to optimise your routine. After inserting the KegelSmart, just wait for its directions – squeeze your pelvic floor muscles when it vibrates and relax when it stops.
The KegelSmart has the benefit of a sensor to help guide your progress by moving you up a level as your muscle strength improves. At the end of the training session, the device automatically switches off. It can also move you up levels to build strength and help you track your progress as a result. After using it, simply remove it and wash it with soap and water. 
 
Menopause like any stage of our sex lives requires looking at the different components of what’s going on: the psychological, medical and physical factors that may be impacting where a person is in their sex life right now.
 

The foods and drinks that help manage the symptoms of the menopause

If you are beginning to experience symptoms of the menopause, adopting these foods and drinks into your diet may help ease the most common symptoms.  

Herbal Tea 

HotTea Mama’s ‘Tea Nerd’ Bethan Thomas has created two blends – named ‘Take a Pause’ and ‘Over the Moon’ dedicated to customers who continuously asked for products for PMS and PCOS, endometriosis, fertility and menopause. The teas have been blended to support the body in some of the most important – and challenging times – for those that menstruate and those that are pre and perimenopausal. 

Take A Pause menopause tea is specially blended to support the body through the tough menopause transition, through from perimenopause to post menopause. 

Over the Moon Tea has been blended for those women for whom premenstrual stress and tension, irregular periods and conditions linked to fertility, like endometriosis and PCOS, can be a monthly challenge. Over The Moon aims to naturally help and support your body with these challenges posed by menstruation. Best served hot.

Fish

Oily fish such as, trout or salmon., is one of the best foods incorporate into your diet. These types of fish are a great source of healthy fat, which is essential for looking after your brain, joints, and heart, and they aid in hormone production.

If you wish avoid fish, you can also consume healthy fats in the form of avocado or olive oil, which are easy to add to salads each day. Try to ensure you are eating at least one serving of healthy fat each day, as it will leave you feeling much fuller than usual and minimise sugar cravings. For anyone who is navigating unpredictable hot flushes or night sweats, healthy fats can work to ease symptoms.

Turkey

 Turkey offers more protein per serving than chicken. Protein is essential, as it helps to combat the decrease in muscle mass and the strength of our bones which comes about because of a reduction of oestrogen.

While turkey and chicken are two of the best sources of protein, you can also obtain protein from eggs, nuts, legumes, or seeds. Bone strength is often priority during menopause, adding vitamin D into your diet with a supplement can help your bones with calcium absorption, which is essential for your bone density.

Broccoli

Broccoli is one of the best vegetables you could add to your diet and is the perfect side dish to enjoy regularly with your lunch or dinner. Broccoli is full of essential minerals, fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants. Moving forward, try to fill half of your dinner plate each day with nutritious vegetables, which will help to combat night sweats and hot flushes that are the most common symptoms of menopause.

If broccoli isn’t your vegetable of choice, you’ll enjoy similar benefits from spinach or kale. Another additional advantage of these vegetables is that they can potentially protect you from certain cancers which are oestrogen-driven.

Oats

Oats are a great source of fibre and vitamins, and even just a small portion each day can really aid in living a healthy lifestyle. Fibre is important for women during menopause, as it works to support your microbiome. The microbiome is the bacteria that you will find in your digestive tract, and the microbiome aids in hormone turnover. 

When this is not supported, you will find that you may experience heightened symptoms of menopause, which can disrupt your day-to-day life and make daily tasks more challenging.

Berries

 When it comes to snacking, replace your previous sweet snacks with berries. opt for any berry of your choice, as they all offer anti-inflammatory benefits while still allowing you to enjoy a sweet treat. Berries help to reduce fat and your risk of heart disease and are so easy to add throughout your day. Either sprinkle them on top of your morning cereal or porridge or mix them with some healthy nuts for a hearty snack in the afternoon. You’ll find berries help your skin to look healthier throughout menopause, giving you more confidence during this transition.

These five foods can all help to minimise your menopause symptoms while providing you with a balanced and nutritious diet. All of these foods are easy to add to your daily diet and can replace other snacks that may be exasperating the symptoms of menopause. While it can be tempting to continue eating as before, by making a few small tweaks to your diet, you will find your quality of life is much improved, and you feel confident and healthy for years to come.

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