A Dry Run

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Dear Elizabeth,

It was a pleasant surprise to see a column about relationships in the paper. I’ve got a situation and wasn’t sure who to ask. My wife is post-menopausal. I’m thankful that she has retained a sex drive, and we still have a fun time together despite our age and some creaky hip joints. She’s a beautiful woman and she turns me on. My problem is the last few years she’s less wet than she used to be, and I worry that I don’t turn her on too! I’m not exactly toned like I used to be. She’s asked me to use lube, but it seems like the fake stuff shouldn’t be necessary. What should I do differently here?

Dry Run


Dear Dry Run,

I’m glad you specified your partner is post-menopausal, because that’s key information in solving your mystery. Menopause is a strange phenomenon from an evolutionary standpoint. Most animal species don’t experience it, partly because predation means they don’t live long enough. For most critters, if you’re still breathing, you’re still breeding. Among mammals, only humans and a few aquatic species such as orcas regularly experience menopause, though recent evidence shows it can happen in chimps as well. These are all highly intelligent species with complex social structures, which implies senior females serve an evolutionary role of community importance in their groups. In other words, wisdom matters, even if you’re a chimp.

Menopause can happen during a woman’s forties or fifties, but the average age in the United States is 51. I assume from your humor about creaky hips, you understand that our bodies age in many inconvenient ways, and menopause is one such occurrence. The upside is women no longer contend with menstrual cramps and save money on feminine hygiene products. The downside is a whole host of bodily changes, including hot flashes and exactly what you describe: vaginal dryness.

Your wife isn’t alone. About half of post-menopausal women experience vaginal dryness. It’s caused by changes in estrogen levels as we age, and is not related to arousal or whether you still have six-pack abs. Lower estrogen levels translate to thinner tissues in the vaginal walls and less natural vaginal fluids. There’s a related issue: thinner tissues are less flexible, which can cause discomfort and even tears or bleeding from penetration.

Just like our joints don’t always work as we age, our genitals don’t always cooperate with us either. It’s not something she can control, and it probably took a fair amount of courage for her to ask you for what she needs. If she’s asking for lube to make the experience more comfortable, she’s not being dramatic or rejecting you in any way. She’s simply trying to accommodate what her changing body needs, so that she can keep enjoying her time with your (also changing) body.

There are a variety of treatments for vaginal dryness. Some are hormonal and some are not, some are topical or locally applied, and others are systemic treatments. Most women don’t seek treatment for these symptoms, but with medical help she may get some relief. Her ability to enjoy intimacy with you is important for you both. It’s also important for us to normalize using products like lubricant, which provides an easy and inexpensive solution to the issue and doesn’t require health insurance or time-consuming trips to the doctor. After all, 65% of women use lube so there’s no need for the stigma.

My suggestion? Make it fun. Go shopping together for some products to try, experiment with a few, and see what you both like. I’d advise staying away from any scented or flavored products, which can irritate already sensitive vaginal tissues. Also, many women have allergies to the spermicide nonoxynol-9, and given she is post-menopausal it wouldn’t provide any functional benefit to your love life. Water-based products have more glide factor, while silicone-based products have more staying power. Be careful not to use silicone lubricant with any silicone toys, because the lubricant can break down the toys and leave chemical residue in the body. Better safe than sorry and happy sliding!

E.R.B.

Elizabeth R. Busbee earned a doctorate at Yale and specializes in issues of gender, sexuality, and communication. She has been helping people explore and enjoy intimacy for over 20 years. Her private relationship and intimacy coaching practice can be reached at alternativeintimacy.com

Have a question you’d like answered? Write to Elizabeth at UnconventionalLoveCoach@gmail.com