Monday 12 August 2019

Survive the menopause – and have your BEST sex yet! Darcey Steinke lost her libido at 50, but refused to let her love life die. Now she's written a revolutionary book revealing the secret

Before then, I¿d always had sex once a week ¿ I still have sex once a week. But at times I felt numb, like I¿d be happy never to have sex again, writes Darcey Steinke (pictured, stock image)
Before then, I’d always had sex once a week — I still have sex once a week. But at times I felt numb, like I’d be happy never to have sex again, writes Darcey Steinke (pictured, stock image)
I was often up at night wandering around the house, feeling like I was moulting. I’d rush to the freezer and grab frozen peas, pitta bread, packs of ham, and plonk them on my forehead, chest, stomach.

I was bewildered.

My general sense of well-being was off. I felt out of synch with myself.

My desires also changed; sex, which had held me under its spell for 30 years, was slowly receding. Its signal, once loud, was now so soft it was hardly audible at all. When I went to a party, I no longer ranked the men in order of who I fancied. I didn’t feel desire build up until I felt jittery.

This was a huge blow. In many ways, my sexuality had developed in the face of my mother’s modesty. Like a lot of women in the Fifties before the Pill, she’d been taught that sex outside marriage could ruin a woman; that only slutty girls enjoyed it.

She wasn’t really interested in any sexual freedom at all. So one of the ways I defined myself in my 20s was by my sexuality.

I was probably fairly demure compared to some people, and I was a serial monogamist. But I was definitely interested in sex, and tried to have better and better sex with my partners as I moved into my 30s.

as I got into my late 40s, however, I found my desire waning. If I was no longer led by my biology, who was I?

I went to see my doctor. Even though she knew my periods had stopped and I was in the first months of menopause, she didn’t link my symptoms to the change. Like so many women, I learnt what was happening to my body from online forums and chatrooms.

I didn’t know anything about the sexual changes, the changes in desire that menopause brings.

When my husband and I made love it felt uncomfortable — almost like being a teenager again. It was as if my body, without me knowing it, had travelled back through time to the beginning of my sex life, when it was still a little painful and very strange.

This was sad, as well as weird. Sometimes I wonder if these changes were brought on by the drop in my body’s production of oestrogen, or if I’d internalised the way society dismisses menopausal women.

Women are valued for their sexuality and their role as mothers. Once fertility ends, many women feel pushed to the sidelines. There’s a lot of shame because we’re made to feel that our bodies are useless.

I chose not to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) because my late mother took hormones and had breast cancer. But I felt my femininity was fraying. There was one time I caught sight of this elegant older man in the window next to me, before I realised: ‘Oh God, that’s me.’ I sympathise with women who want to ignore menopause, and pretend that the transition hasn’t come. They want to be seen as women who are still fertile, still viable.

I have a friend in her 50s who works in the media and she would love to go grey, because she’s sick of dyeing her hair. But in her world, she just can’t. She needs her colleagues to feel like she’s hovering around 47. This is an extremely brilliant woman and she’s feeling this incredible pressure.

I found few books about the menopause that I could really connect with. There were medical texts and these celebrity hormone screeds. I hated Suzanne Somers’ The Sexy Years in which she warns that if we don’t go on hormones, our husbands are bound to leave.

So I started writing my own book, Flash Count Diary: A New Story About the Menopause. I’ve written five novels, but this is my first non-fiction book.

As research I spoke to 100 women. Most did feel transformed by menopause, but each had their own unique way of moving physically through the change.

Some were more, not less, interested in sex now they couldn’t get pregnant. There was Brenda, who found that menopause ramped up her sexuality. She got divorced and began dating younger, less uptight guys.

Several women ended relationships with men and began new ones with women.

Like me, many women felt decreased sexual interest. Some, like my high-school friend, were sad that sex had turned into a ‘wifely duty’, while others did not see this as a tragedy.

Even women who had chosen celibacy were not dried-up crones, but extremely vital sexy women who welcomed the chance to opt out of the sexual rat race.

One married woman told me about the peace she found. Susan, a 55-year-old artist, said her move away from sex was natural.

‘Not having sex doesn’t in any way reduce the way my husband and I feel about each other,’ she told me. ‘There was a time for it, and maybe now it is time to do other things.’

I also spoke to a half dozen men. Many were frustrated by their wives’ changing attitudes towards sex. They deflected questions about their own ageing bodies and were focused instead on their wives’ libidos.

Others thought the women didn’t like them any more because they didn’t want to have sex in the old way they always had done. And that was really sad, too.

But one professor in his 60s told me: ‘Now we have less sex, but more hand-holding, hugging and kissing.’ Another man, a freelance writer in his late 50s, found more positive than negative in postmenopausal sex. Now, he told me, it was more like play.

I didn’t want to give up sex completely. I longed to be close to my husband. But I thought there had to be a new way of thinking about my body and my sex life.

I went to see a hormone doctor. She told me that most of her patients didn’t enjoy intercourse, but at least with oestrogen supplements it wasn’t as painful. Her patients wanted to give their partners ‘spontaneous’ pleasure, even if they had to be medicated to do so.

This wasn’t for me. I wanted to bring my authentic self to my intimate life, not some chemically propped-up version.

I started treating my menopausal symptoms as like a graduate school for life. ‘OK, this is the phase I’m in now. What am I learning about my life and my body?’ It took a while of re-orientating myself as a sexual body to figure out what felt good for me.

The young woman I used to be in thigh-high boots and a push-up bra had given me a lot of pleasure, but I was not that person any more. Could I be loved and also be myself?

Jonathan Huber, a Canadian doctor and researcher I talked to, believed I could. He told me that ‘unlearning’ was the most important part of remaining sexually vital in later life, not hormones. What might someone unlearn?

‘Basically everything society and culture tells you about sex,’ Huber said. ‘Much of the information we pick up along the way is contradictory, negative or downright incorrect. Examples might be that the only good sex is spontaneous, or that sex has to result in orgasm for both parties at the same time.’

Finally, I was ready for a sex life based on who I really was, not clichés. I let go of the sexual script that I’d used all through my fertile years and tried to figure out what I actually wanted. I told my husband I might not want to go all the way, and he was cool with that. We began, like teenagers, rolling around on our bed with our clothes on and kissing. Things developed from there. Our urgency was based not on youthful desire, but on the knowledge that our time together is limited.

Today I have sex less, but I enjoy it more. It’s still exciting and sensual and I feel like there’s been no loss of pleasure, but it’s not the thing that drives me.

The interesting thing is my husband has always been less fixated on ‘the act’ than me. He loves those roll-around-the-bed sessions, where you talk and drink wine and eventually see where it goes. At first I was confused. Was there something wrong with me?

‘I love it, but I love other things just as much,’ he told me.

For a long time, I felt frustrated and even a little bitter about this. But as more time passed and I entered menopause, with its sexual changes, I realised how lucky I was.

One friend told me that in the Nineties, she and her husband, both then in their 60s, had not had intercourse for years. Their sex life had grown so much better, she felt, ‘tender and adventurous’.

I don’t believe that older women don’t like sex, I think it’s that sex becomes a different thing.

My husband and I needed to have a lot of honest discussions, of course, but it’s brought us way closer than I was with my partners in my 20s. Mike had to have his knee replaced, I’ve had some back problems. We have to discuss what’s happening to our bodies, and gently, tenderly, help each other through these things. We definitely want to keep our physical life going.

And a lot of women I spoke to said that when they finally did have the courage to talk about it with their husbands, and tell them they did still like them and want to be close but that the sex might have to be different, their husbands were very open about what they needed to do to make sex better.

I sometimes miss the ferocity of desire. And some spontaneity gets lost. But in its place, you have spontaneous intimacy — real moments of closeness. It’s less about physical release and more about being really intimate. Good sex is about authenticity; bringing your whole self to the other person.

Several sex therapists I interviewed for the book talked about how amazing erotic touching is, how it can bring back people who don’t think they are interested in sex if you don’t put too much pressure on doing the actual act.

We tried it, and now it’s one of my husband’s favorite things. He’s like: ‘OK, let’s get out the massage oil.’ He’s really game.

I like being my authentic self. There’s an emotional, even spiritual component to menopause.

I feel much less competitive with other women. The only person I want to still find me attractive is my husband.

I want to look nice and I will definitely wear a dress at times, but am I interested in super-high heels and purple eyeshadow? Absolutely not.

I feel like I’ve been on a journey. I’m 57 now and moving through the end of my menopause. I feel great, I’ve not had many hot flushes lately and my sex life is better than ever.

As told to Liz Hoggard. Flash Count Diary: A New Story About the Menopause, by Darcey Steinke, (Canongate £16.99)

No comments:

Post a Comment