5 ways to reignite your sex life in midlife
Since launching Postcards From Midlife, the podcast I co-host with fellow magazine editor, Lorraine Candy, in 2020,we have been overwhelmed by the response from our female midlife listeners. It’s here that they pick up on the conversations we have with our celebrity and expert midlife guests, such as Davina McCall, Philippa Perry, Kate Garraway and Elizabeth Hurley, about what it means to be a midlife woman now.
We are, after all, Generation X, the women who grew up with far more freedoms and opportunities than our mothers could have dreamed of. We openly discussed with our girlfriends the sex features we read in magazines such as more!, Cosmopolitan, Elle and Marie Clarie. And now we’ve hit midlife, a time when the women who went before us became invisible in society, perceived as grey, sexless and only there to serve those around them. Well I can tell you, Gen X isn’t having any of that.
We want to feel as desirable as 45-year old Kate Winslet during hot first-date sex in Mare of Easttown, confident in her body regardless of a muffin top. We want some of 52-year old JLo’s scintillating sex appeal playing a pole dancer in the film Hustlers. And we also want to keep improving our erotic lives just like the couples on the soon-to-be-50 Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix show, Sex, Love & Goop.
In a recent survey we conducted of our midlife listeners, 41% of women said they wanted to have more sex, 39% are having sex at least once a week and 36% are masturbating at least once a week too. The main obstacles to having more sex, they told us, are the symptoms of peri-menopause, which for many women can cause low libido, vaginal atrophy, brain fog, anxiety and a lack of confidence.
If you are over 40, you can’t have failed to tune in to the changing narrative around menopause that’s been getting louder and louder over the last few years. There have been a raft of books, websites and social media accounts dedicated to discussing, educating and helping women get the support and help they need through this life stage. Davina McCall’s Channel 4 documentary, Sex, Myths and the Menopause also lifted the lid on the devastating impact it can have for some women’s sex lives, and revealed the shocking statistic that only 11% of peri-menopausal women are on Hormone Replacement Therapy, which can swiftly and safely restore hormonal balance and give women their lives – and libidos – back. Many GPs admit they just don’t know enough about menopause to prescribe HRT, which given half of the population is going to go through it, is, frankly, staggering. Far too many prescribe antidepressants instead, despite this being against NICE guidelines.
One of our Facebook group members, Laura, a 51 year old marketing manager from the midlands, spent the best part of her forties trying to convince her GP that she needed HRT, listing her debilitating symptoms, including the loss of her libido. ‘I really thought I was going mad, I had to put my career on hold, I had no sex drive and I felt like my life was falling apart,’ she says. ‘My GP refused to give me HRT and offered antidepressants instead, which I didn’t want to take as I’ve never previously had any mental health issues and I knew what I needed was to get my hormones back.’
Eventually, Louise saw a GP who did prescribe HRT, a combination of the oestrogen and progesterone hormones that fluctuate and decline during a woman’s forties and early fifties causing up to 40 known symptoms. She then managed to see a menopause specialist, who also prescribed testosterone, and within two months her libido was back with a bang. ‘I went from having no sex in seven years to feeling as though my body was urging me to have it’, she says. ‘I’ve got a new found confidence now and I love my body. I just feel really sad that I spent all those years being ashamed of it.’
During our conversation, Louise also reflects on the fact that her relationship sadly fell apart during this time, in no small part, she says, due to her lack of desire to have sex. Something she thinks might not have happened if she’d been given HRT sooner. She is now happily dating and has bought herself a number of new sex toys so that she can fully enjoy her revitalisted sexuality, joining the 57% of women in our survey who said they own at least one sex aid.
According to Sophie Benge, menopause can often be the trigger for a midlife awakening. ‘Menopause is a staging post,’ she says, ‘a time of reflection because of the drop in hormones that powered the way we thought and operated for so many years. No longer being powered by the same fuel can make us think differently.’ Rather than being indifferent to sex — that tired but popular misconception about midlife women – Benge says that with the right knowledge, women, including herself, can reach their sexual peak in mid-to late life and then have wondrous love lives.
‘I was 44, divorced and had been through a series of unsatisfactory relationships when I burst into tears one day because I felt that my body was telling me that I hadn’t enjoyed sex like I could have,’ says Benge. After attending a women’s sexuality workshop, she then had a series of one-to-one sessions with a sexual healing and intimacy teacher, which she says helped her to reframe desire by tuning into her body and stepping out of the self-critical chatter in her mind.
‘We need to let our body lead the way, rather than thinking about it too much and we will start to feel sexier,’ she says. Indeed, creating a healthy relationship with our changing bodies, feeling the force of our feminine and sexual energy along with the power of touch are key components of the courses that Benge herself now offers. She encourages participants to look at their bodies without judgment, to tell themselves they are beautiful in the mirror and to touch themselves and see how they respond. Believe me, you’ll be surprised by how sensual and intimate mindfully stroking just your thighs and hips for five minutes can be.
Regular touch and intimacy drives down cortisol and other stress hormones. In our midlife sex survey, 75% of respondents said that intimacy with a partner was the most important part of having sex, over and above orgasm, with only 33% coming during intercourse. Orgasms are important to them too though, and 77% said they happily go so solo to achieve those through regular masturbation. And what wondrous things orgasms are, filling our bodies with the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, resetting the nervous system and flushing out adrenaline as well as sending blood flow to the vagina, especially important for preventing atrophy – a thinning and drying of the vaginal walls – that can affect some women in midlife. When you put it like that, given our longer life expectancy, who on earth would want to live for another forty years without those benefits, free to all?