Reader’s Warning: If you’re uncomfortable reading or thinking about the trials and tribulations of post-menopausal women wanting to have sex, or I have given birth to you, then perhaps you should stop right here.
Doctor Visit # 1
“Sex’s been hurting lately,” I say to my doctor.
She studies me. “Like how?”
“Like it hurts sometimes.”
“It happens with aging.”
“Yeah, I know that.” (And thank you for thinking that I’m over the hill at 54, which was how old I was at this point.)
“I have a patient, she’s 86, and she has a very vigorous sex life. It’s so important to have one.”
“Yeah, I know. I’d like to have one.”
“Your sex drive?”
“I recommend you keep trying.”
Doctor Visit #2 (Seen recently–ten years later–after a particularly frustrating experience)
“How can I help?”
“It helps to have frequent intercourse.”
“That would be great if it DIDN’T HURT.”
He fiddles with papers on his desk. “There’s estrogen….”
“That causes cancer.”
“There’s only a slim chance in such a small dose….”
Even slim chances are too big when it comes to such a highly fatal cancer. “No.”
“You using lubricants?”
He suggests a vaginal moisturizer. “Try that.”
Great. I stop at the drug store on the way home and pick up the moisturizer. The box says it’ll allow for up to three days of endless youthful sex. Very exciting! Unfortunately, the plastic applicator’s rough edges scrape the two times I used it–and yes, I did it right.
Doctor Visit #3
“I think I cut myself.”
She takes a look. “You sure did. What happened?”
“Dr — recommended this moisturizer.”
“I like this one,” she says and digs out a sample from a cabinet drawer.
I tried that one, too. It’s applicator was marginally friendlier than the last, but not by much.
“And we can talk about estrogen. That’s really the best option at your age.” (Once again, thank you so much for assuming I’m over-the-hill at sixty-five and the only option continues to seem to be a drug that may shorten the little span of life that might be assumed I have left.)
She doesn’t seem surprised to hear my response.
“Evening primrose. I hear that works,” she says and then wants to discuss where I take yoga.
Once more, I stop at the drugstore and buy an expensive bottle of evening primrose. After two months, I begin hoping for a placebo effect but it never occurs.
One day, long ago, when Mom was about the age I am now and I was thirty-four, she said she was through with sex. Her exact words:
“Time that nonsense was done with.”
In general, a thirty-four year old woman will hear something like this and think to herself–is that even possible?
“It stopped feeling good and your father….”
I cut her off at that point in consideration of the universally recognized ban on parents revealing anything about their sex life. Characteristically, though, Mom persisted. After implying Dad wasn’t on board, that he missed their intimacy and was more than willing to work it out, Mom came to her point.
“Everything ends, Patty. You get to a certain age, your body tells you things. Keep that in mind.”
I remember how appalled and sad I felt, absolutely certain I would always have sex and it would always be as it was then, a major joy in my life.
Now that my body seems to be telling me things, I’m no longer appalled and sad. I’m angry because the subject of women’s post-menopausal sex life seems to be, at best, a pushed-to-the-back-of-the-line topic. I can’t believe that the doctors I consulted didn’t have more to offer than a brief exchange of not very helpful advice. I would have at least been grateful for a little more empathy and assurance I wasn’t the only woman my age seeking their help with a crucial part of her life.
Then, again, there isn’t much social pressure to openly discuss the subject. This post? I’ve been playing around with it for about seven months because the subject remains hard to talk about even with my closest women friend. We’ve helped each other through so many intimate moments in our lives. We’ve been shamelessly graphic in our youth about what we’ve done and wouldn’t mind experimenting with. We now have no qualms about exploring in minute details what’s popping up, coming out, sagging and wrinkling on our lovely bodies. It’s not that I’m eager to talk about the bedroom shenanigans between me and the husband and I can live without hearing about their own shenanigans. The kind of conversation I long for revolves around acknowledging our commonality in continuing to be sexual, whatever way that is. Who wants to waste all these hard-earned and, by now, well-polished skills and deep experiences? Why wouldn’t we want to share them with someone we really lust for, to give us both the time of our lives?
Doctor Visit #4:
“What’s the matter?” The attending nurse asks as we wait for the doctor. She’s probably fifty-four.
“I’m so sick of sex hurting.”
“I hear you.”
“There has to be something.”
“It’d make billons if there was.”
“At least worth a Noble Prize.”
We laugh but it’s true.