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What the “Third Shift” taught me about menopause and sex

Ever wondered if there's a difference between the sex drives of men and menopausal women? Yes, there most certainly is.

Pre-pandemic, I was in New York City with a girlfriend and we happened on the goop pop-up shop. While there, I took this picture because I thought, how interesting, sex and aging together, topics no one discusses but we should absolutely be having a conversation about.

On one wall in the closet-sized store, there were vibrators with funny names and a whole section dedicated to making sex a better experience, and on another, there were anti-aging creams and potions, as if the two should be considered together.

This got me thinking, as menopausal women, we spend a lot of time (or at least I do) trying to keep up our appearance - we workout, we eat healthy, we try to get enough sleep, we hydrate, the list is endless and yet, we spend very little time focused on our sex life. Why is that, exactly? I'm not embarrassed to say that my sex-life is hanging on by a thread. It's not enjoyable anymore and quite frankly, it's not a priority. I mean, the million-dollar question is what’s up with sex and why doesn't anyone tell you that sex becomes a problem when you enter menopause?

Clearly, there is a disconnect between (most) men and women on this subject. Sadly, as we age it doesn’t get any better, without a lot of hard work. Some years ago, while driving home in the wee hours of the morning due to a delayed flight, I happened upon a talk radio show called the Third Shift. It's no longer on the air, but it should be. Men of all ages and professions called in for advice about their sex lives, or more accurately the lack thereof. Every man spoke about their wives, girlfriends, and/or significant others and told a similar story - their partners were no longer interested in sex the way they once were. I found their complaints and pleas for help both fascinating and disappointing. Most talked about the lack of sex post-baby, but in some cases, they had only been in a relationship just a few years while others had grown kids. One of the co-hosts had this to say... men and women view sex differently. If you think about a bar chart, sex for men is a straight line; regardless of age, whether you're 20 or 60, the sexual desire of men rarely changes, but women’s sexual desire is high at the onset of a relationship and declines from there. It was an aha moment for me.

Experiencing peri-menopause, and then menopause, only makes our natural proclivity towards sex that much more evident. I see it in my own relationship of over 20 years. For the most part, our sex life has been great, but in all honesty, since entering menopause it's not even on my radar. What I know to be true…. sex is great until it's not. You may love it, but if you are peri-menopausal – where I used to be – or menopausal – where I am now – you may find it painful, difficult, unsatisfying, or uninteresting. Many women in menopause suffer from vaginal dryness which makes sex uncomfortable, to say the least. I am one of them. Or, depleted hormones wreak havoc on your libido. Either way, it takes work to bring back the magic.

I think back to that radio show every time my husband asks me why I'm not interested in sex anymore. He thinks we should be having sex much like we did when we first met. My response, seriously? Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. To me, that is a huge disconnect between men and women. For me, I love my husband and I want to stay connected so we make an effort to find ways to have sex that is pleasurable for both of us. Again, it takes work to maintain intimacy, but if you’re invested in your relationship, you should think of it as keeping that connection.

The good thing is, I talked to my girlfriends about it. One of my close friends, who is also in menopause, had been experiencing painful sex and found relief in vaginal creams. It took me a while, but I finally went to my OB/Gyn who recommended creams and other options to try that would help. It's amazing how difficult that conversation can be, but once it's out, it's out. My doctor was really helpful and gave me a few options to try. I settled on an insert that I use twice a week. It took 6-8 weeks to realize the benefit, but it was worth it. Some of my girlfriends are using the transdermal estradiol patches. I’m a little weary of the side effect profile, so I haven’t tried these yet. I am also considering hormone replacement, but again, I need to do more research on this subject before I dive in.

Great sex during menopause and beyond is possible. There are many options that can help you continue to have an enjoyable sex life if you want one.

Share what’s worked for you. We may not want to admit it, but every woman I know loves to have good sex.


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