Over 40: Maintaining Sexual Health
Updated: Jan 14, 2019
This month's segment I talked with Tra' Renee about menopause and how women can start preparing for perimenopause as early as 40 years old. Listed below my video is more information and details that I mention during my interview.
So, your body is starting to change and you begin to wonder... am I entering perimenopause? Here are a few symptoms to watch out for:
- Hot flashes
-Lower sex drive
-Vaginal dryness, discomfort during sex
-Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
If you're experiencing some of these symptoms then all signs are leading towards yes, you are! Don't worry, you're not alone and quite possibly a lot of your friends are starting to experience the same symptoms so you should feel free to start discussing this with them. It's time to start assembling your menopause support group! But first let's talk about your overall sexual health and what you can start doing TODAY to ease yourself into the big M.. (right now, you're in the little m).
What can you do physically? I'm sharing with you information I've gleaned from the books Sex Matters for Women by Sallie Foley, MSW, Sally A. Kope, MSW and Dennis P. Surgue, PhD and Menopause, An Imperfect Guide by Sasha Davies.
The vagina during phases of menopause requires some additional assistance to stay healthy and be ready for play when you want it. Experiencing pain during sex can really just pull you out of the mood, right?! There are three things I want you to consider when entering menopause I recommend you lubricate, moisturize and stretch your vagina on a regular basis. I'll break down all three with more detail for you.
Lubricate and Moisturize
Your body is starting to experience hormonal changes that can dampen desire due to the discomfort vaginally that comes with reduced estrogen and androgen. This is also dependent on which direction you decide to go; HRT (hormone replacement therapy) which can promote healthy vaginal tissue or the option of going au naturel with the help of a naturopath or acupuncturist. Either way you should consult your healthcare professional with all your options and then do your own research as well to make the best informed decision for yourself. OK, back to lubrication. I recommend using an oil-based lubricant which is very helpful in providing a natural glide when having sex AND providing your vaginal tissue with moisture. I've had great success with myself and my clients using Chiavare which is an all natural oil-based lubricant and moisturizer. Another option would be Replens - vaginal moisturizer. Once you've chosen your moisturizer you'll want to insert it into your vagina twice a week to maintain moisture and decrease feelings of dryness and pain.
Stretching the vagina regularly is a great way to help prevent pain. If you're having regular pain-free vaginal sexual activity then you don't need to stretch your vagina. If you're having more infrequent sexual activity and sometimes feel pain then I suggest you start the stretching process. Why would you need to be stretching your vagina?! Don't worry, it sounds crazy but I'm here to help it make sense. Your vagina is surrounded by muscles called the pelvic floor. These muscles can become too lax during the perimenopausal and postmenopausal periods so regular stretching exercises help increase your overall comfort. You may be asking yourself, but what if I'm not having sexual activity at all, do I still need to worry about stretching exercises? The short answer is, yes you do! Even though you're not having sex it's still an important part of your body to maintain your overall physical health. There are many reasons why your vagina should feel comfortable accommodating penetration. Think of gynecological exams, sex toys, penial penetration and vaginal suppositories. Ok, now how do you do the stretches?
You want to try stretching every day. I know that seems like a lot but trust me you're investing time into your health. There are two types of stretching exercises that are proven to be helpful. The first exercise is known as the Kegel exercise, heard of it? Before you start Kegel exercises it's important that you make sure you're doing it correctly, please check here to learn more.
The second exercise you can do helps keep your vagina comfortable during penetration. You can do this exercise while in the shower or bath, wet your fingers with your vaginal moisturizer, insert one or two fingers into your vagina and push slowly up into the interior space. Then make a small circular motion with your fingers, assuring that all the walls of the vagina are comfortable being touched. Next, using your index finger or thumb, gently press all the way around the opening of the vagina (the introitus) in clock-like fashion. Try pulling the introitus open as your move your finger around the circle. As a visual aid, imagine opening your mouth and then taking your finger and pressing gently out in a circle against your lips, as if stretching your mouth wider. The introitus will respond to this stretching and, as a result, you should have greater vaginal comfort when being penetrated.
A really important part of this routine is setting a reminder for yourself to actually do the exercises! I ask my clients to think of a time of day where routine already exists - the shower, brushing teeth, stopping at red lights, bedtime.. you get the idea. Start incorporating Kegel exercises during that time as well. For the second exercise, in the shower, bath, bedroom laying down it may help to put a visual reminder for yourself - write STRETCH! somewhere you'll see it and help you remember to do this regularly.
I really hope this quick guide helps you move smoothly through peri-post menopause!