Our bodies are always changing. When I was younger I thought that once you got through puberty, the next change was menopause and that after that the only changes were additional wrinkles. I didn’t realize that our whole life is a physical process and while there are more dramatic moments than others (the beginning of menstruation, the cessation of menstruation), our hormones, muscles, and everything else are going through changes – some of them intentional (by exercising, for example) and many of them invisible.
Women notice these changes over time. Sometimes it’s prompted by a friend or sibling (“You know, you are starting to look a lot like your mother,”) and other times its just you and the mirror, noticing a mole that didn’t used to be there, bags under your eyes that don’t go away even with a good night’s sleep, or a certain lack of elasticity around the neck. As weeks and years go by some of these changes are acceptable – others are less welcome, and gradually we see ourselves as no longer mistakable for under 50.
This doesn’t mean we are unhappy with the way we look. But losing our youth is a real transition – and since youth and the beauty of youth are venerated in most societies, many women notice that they are less “visible” as an object of desire than they used to be. This can be depressing – or not.
Generally, we have other things we take pride in. It may be that we have a good relationship with a partner, it might be that we have achieved certain career goals or parenting validation. We feel smarter than we used to – or at least wiser. We have many accomplishments and life experiences that make us feel proud.
Still, if we have been sexually active and have felt sexy most of our lives, we want to retain that gift. It is sweet to feel wanted. It is thrilling to feel turned on. Desire wakes up all the senses and refuels our vitality. We worry, however, that our aging body is going to get in the way of the way we have previously enjoyed life.
In my next post, I’ll address specific body challenges due to menopause that affect sexual functioning and pleasure.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz is the author of the Vibrant Nation Health Guide, A Woman’s Guide to Great Sex After 50: Getting Your Mind, Body and Relationship Ready for Pleasure.