I spoke with Dr. Carol Queen, sex educator and owner of Good Vibrations sex shop and staff at The Center for Sex and Culture about lesbians and menopause. Here is what I learned from Dr. Carol Queen about lesbian sex and menopause.
What is menopause? How is it different from perimenopause?Menopause is the tail end of a much longer period called perimenopause. Menopause begins when you have not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months due to a natural decrease in ovarian function. The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. It can start in women as early as their 30s. It is common to have started by the mid to late 40s. It is during perimenopause that women tend to experience some of the problems associated with menopause, like hot flashes, mental fogginess and irritability.
What are some of the sexual issues associated with menopause?Dr. Queen says that menopausal changes will have some sort of sexual implication. It may not be what you expect. For some women there is an increase in sexual desire. For others, there is a decrease. Women may notice vaginal dryness, decrease in arousal response, decrease in libido and problems due to vaginal wall thinning.
What can women do to decrease the negative symptoms of menopause?The most important thing women can do to diminish the negative effects of menopause is to exercise regularly. Regular exercise is good for the heart, circulation and bone strength, among other things. It doesn’t have to be a trip to the gym every day either. Dr. Queen emphasizes that exercise can simply be walking more, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going out dancing a few times a week.
Quitting smoking helps. Eating healthy helps, staying away from processed food, too much salt and too much alcohol. Including phytoestrogens in the diet, especially those coming from soy is a good idea, as well as omega fatty acids.
The other thing women can do to is to stay sexually active. It does not matter if the sexual activity is by yourself or with a partner, but keeping the sexual response cycle going is important. Also, if you enjoy penetration during sex and you don’t currently have a sexual partner, it’s important to incorporate that into your autoerotic activities. Women may find that they need lube now for sexual activity when they didn’t before.
Do lesbians experience menopause differently than straight women?Dr. Queen says the level of stress in one’s life can effect how they experience menopause. Stress is known to have a negative effect of the symptoms of menopause. So a woman who has the stress of homophobia, for example, might have a harder time than a straight woman without that factor.
There is also a subset of lesbians who stay vital through menopause. They stay active and take a much more holistic approach to this period of change in their life. There are lesbians who tend to view menopause differently than some straight women. They don't have the negative feeling that their sexual life is now over.
There can be quite a difference in how lesbians go through menopause, the experience of someone who is coming from a conservative area, dealing with homophobia on a daily basis, versus someone one from a gay friendly place who goes out dancing four nights a week.
What if lesbian partners are going through menopause at the same time?The important thing to remember for partners is that even though they may both be going through menopause, they may not be experiencing it the same. One may have hot flashes and irritability. The other may have brain fogginess and heart palpitations. Dr. Queen says the key is communication and understanding. Also remember that this is a transitional period and you will get through it.
Women together can have a positive effect on one another, getting involved in joint physical activities, researching healthy diet for menopause and involving their social circles in healthy lifestyle changes.