By Sandra Gordon
Have Satisfying Sex at Any Age
When you hear the words “sex ed,” you probably think of teaching children about the birds and the bees. But women’s health experts say that there’s a lot that you can still learn about your sexual health, whether you’ve been part of a committed couple for decades, are single, divorced, or dating. Myths about things such as desire and orgasms can linger from your younger years, and new issues can crop up as you or your partner enter menopause or contend with other health concerns. One of the biggest misconceptions: Age will sour your sex life. “Many women in midlife say the quality of sex is better than ever because they know themselves and what pleases them, and they feel an intimacy and connection with their partner that’s unique to this stage of life,” says Barb DePree, MD, director of Women’s Midlife Services at Holland Hospital, in Holland, Michigan, and founder of middlesexmd.com. Beyond that, here are common sex myths that doctors hear all the time — and the truth about how to have a satisfying sex life at any age or stage.
Myth: Menopause Steals Your Sex Drive
Myth: Men Always Want Sex
If he’s not that into sex lately, don’t assume that he’s just not into you. All men experience some degree of “male menopause” — a combination of aging, decreased circulation, and lower testosterone levels that can affect a man’s sexual desire, arousal, endurance, and emotional health, says Steven Lindheim, MD, professor of reproductive endocrinology at the University of Cincinnati. In addition to normal aging, something else could be affecting him physically or emotionally, such as stress, side effects of certain medications, and health concerns such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Suggest that he see a doctor to rule out medical and emotional issues. You might say something like, “Honey, you haven’t seen a doctor in a while. It’s definitely time for a check-up to make sure everything is okay.” Then, use touch or a glance to help him get your drift without bruising his ego. Also, as they get older, most men need more stimulation, either visual or tactile, to achieve an erection. Keep an open mind and consider expanding your usual repertoire to experiment with new positions, toys, lingerie, and more.
Myth: Sex After Menopause Hurts Too Much to Feel Good
As many as 50 percent of postmenopausal women experience vaginal atrophy, a condition in which tissue becomes thin and dry as a result of lower hormone levels, according to a 2010 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. It can make penetration so painful that you don’t want to have sex, but there's still a lot you can do to make intercourse appealing. “I’ve had patients come in complaining of a low sex drive when, in fact, the problem is vaginal atrophy and pain with intercourse,” says Alan Altman, MD, president of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, in Aspen, Colorado. Women who don’t have sex regularly are most susceptible to vaginal atrophy because sex boosts blood flow to the vagina to help maintain healthy tissue. Over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers or a prescription estrogen cream can rejuvenate the vagina to make sex feel good again. Moisturizers are applied a few times a week to alleviate dryness; however, most lubricants are for immediate use right before intercourse. Whatever you do, don’t “lube” with Vaseline or mineral oil, which actually dry out the vagina. If topical estrogen, a vaginal moisturizer, and lubricant don’t help, ask your doctor if oral hormone therapy is a good option for you.
Myth: I'm Not Capable of Having Orgasms
While about 25 percent of women frequently report issues having orgasms, fewer than 5 percent are actually physically unable to, according to Dr. DePree, so don’t be too quick to count yourself among them. Even if you’ve never been able to climax in the past, that doesn’t mean you can’t aim for the big “O” now. “Some couples have never really developed the art of foreplay, which is especially important to help women orgasm during sex,” says DePree. Or maybe the foreplay you enjoyed as newlyweds has fallen by the wayside over the years, as you’ve had to squeeze sex into your hectic schedules. But it’s never too late to tell your partner that you need to spend more time on foreplay (more kissing, more breast fondling, and more direct stimulation of the clitoris, which is the orgasm golden ticket for many women). If you’ve only recently begun to miss out on orgasms, decreasing levels of testosterone, which affects libido, fantasy, and orgasm, may be a factor. There’s no FDA-approved testosterone product for women just yet but some physicians, including DePree, prescribe low levels of testosterone off-label to their female patients for this reason.
Myth: Once You Use a Vibrator, You Can't Orgasm Without It
Using a vibrator can help you orgasm more easily, but it won’t keep you from responding during regular (vibrator-free) intercourse, says Carol Queen, PhD, the staff sexologist for Good Vibrations in San Francisco. So don’t be afraid to use one on your own or think that it’s only for friskier “cougars,” which is another common myth. In fact, more than 50 percent of American women (age 40 on average) use vibrators, according to a 2009 University of Indiana study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. If you think bringing one into the bedroom would intimidate your man, consider this: A separate University of Indiana study published in the same journal found that 45 percent of men have used one, too, especially with female partners. Not only can it spice up sex with your mate; if you’re between partners, a vibrator or self-stimulation can help you enjoy sexual pleasure and maintain a healthy vagina by maintaining circulation to the area. Fortunately with online shopping, vibrators are easier than ever to buy in the privacy of your own home.
Myth: Condoms Are for Teenagers
A proud grand-poppa G.