Life After Menopause
As women our bodies have a tremendous impact on our daily lives through menstruation, pregnancy, birthing, motherhood, and then menopause, in a way that men do not experience. All of these transitions change a woman, and if she listens deeply, the transition of menopause can carry profound wisdom that seems to simply arise within her—intuitive wisdom that can inform, transform, and cherish. It can change a woman’s psyche, inviting her into her own awakening. Hot flashes (or flushes) can be seen not only as annoying occurrences but as a phenomenon in the body to be inquired into and be curious about. Therefore, menopause can be a powerful and transformational doorway ushering her into the next stage of a woman’s life.
Yet tragically, the modern medical model and society in general puts the aging woman on the shelf. Men her age are sometimes looking for younger women and her self-esteem gets a battering, while at the same time she is expected to be all for everyone—including in the bedroom—and she may never really feel as if she is living up to that. Many women have passed through the intense mothering phase or have simply arrived at a stage where they don’t feel able to continue living the way they have been.
In this situation a woman can evaluate the known risks and opt to make minimal adjustments. Or she may see the potential rewards and find a new resolve to increasingly honor her body more, to not compromise anymore—sexually or in family, work, or friendships—and consciously make a shift. Sometimes such a step means the end of a relationship or marriage, or at least it may precipitate upheaval. It may mean finding a new purpose, reinventing herself, or moving into her later-life’s calling, sharing more of her creative gifts. She may feel called to be in more active service in her community or as a grandparent. Not least of all, she may experience a new awakening in her sexuality.
Some women find that their lives improve immensely after menopause, that they are happier, healthier, and enjoy a fulfilling sex life. They often have a new and irreverent boldness to say what they think and do what they want. The bold one replaces the “good girl” as she begins to make more choices that please her, instead of always pleasing others. She becomes less willing to make excuses or compromises for others. By this time, women who have allowed others to step over their boundaries, violate them, cross them, and perhaps walk all over them seem to draw a line in the sand. It’s as if their hormones are calling to them to stand up, step up, and show up in a way that was never before apparent. A welcome and incredibly empowering bonus is that she can now make love without any possibility or fear of becoming pregnant.
However, for others clearly it’s a very different story. Some women feel quite broken and emotionally distraught during menopause, and carry a deep lack of self-worth, shame, even self-hatred, for not living up to the expectations of society, peers, family, or even self. Without adequate support, a woman may flounder and fall into depression and anxiety and can shut down on the emotional, physical, and sexual levels. In the privacy of her own company, a woman may despair at the sight of her skin that was once beautiful, supple, and glowing and is now showing signs of age. Women are social creatures who generally value connecting. The separation within families, each living in separate homes cut off from others, leaves some women feeling isolated and unfulfilled. Women can easily slip through the social cracks at this stage, and sometimes develop illnesses, gain unwanted weight, or have a myriad of health issues.
At this time women need to be together to support and nurture one another, to acknowledge and strengthen each other. A woman who is more supported, informed, and aware of her potential and the potency of this phase of her life can rise through it like a phoenix that empowers the next stage.
This is the life phase in which a woman who has followed society’s mandates by rote has the potential to awaken to her own self. She is being called to dig deeper than the identity of wife, partner, mother, or profession to find something that can continually sustain and nourish her from within throughout her mature years.
Menopause Life Expectancy
An estimated 6,000 U.S. women reach menopause every day (more than 2 million a year). With a life expectancy in the Western world estimated at 79.7 years, a woman who reaches the age of 54 can now reasonably expect to live to at least the age of 84, barring an unforeseen health crisis or accident.
WOMEN’S LONGEST LIFE PHASE
Given the statistics in the box above, at least one-third of a woman’s life on earth will be spent as a menopausal woman, and for some it will be half her life. In a world that gives little value to the aging population, where youthfulness is a multibillion-dollar business, the prospect of moving through the change of life may never have been more daunting or disheartening than it is now. Women are constantly besieged by imagery in the media suggesting that youth is to be worshipped and aging is to be feared. Due to increased means of communication and prolonged lifespan, we are the first civilization to be confronted with this kind of “aging phenomenon.” Yet, as noted above, for those who move with ease through menopause, this is a substantial amount of time in which to develop and celebrate a personal renaissance.
Beyond Society’s Limitations
Again, more than ever previously, women are being called to redefine themselves beyond the lens of advertising, and beyond the lens of our social and sexual conditioning. Somehow women need to bridge the gap to this next stage of life if they are to be happy, empowered, and inspired. Somehow they must make meaning of their lives to go beyond society’s limitations.
Loss of Interest in Sex
While some report feeling freed from the fears of pregnancy, many menopausal women find that the desire for intimacy simply has become nonexistent—they groan at the mention of the word sex, and feel resigned to the fact that sex as they know it is no longer satisfying. Sex has become “less important,” yet they may still experience stress in their relationship. Could this stress possibly be the unacknowledged sexual tensions, hurts, and disappointments that can occur between man and woman? Or possibly a loud call from her psyche and body begging her to question whether the conventional way of making love still works for her?
Often a strong voice begins to call out in relation to sex. Through menopause a woman can begin to find her own voice and listen to a deeper one calling from inside. “Not this again . . .” If her pattern has been to please man, which is a very deep imprinting in all women, then her internal radar system is on high alert by this time, telling her No more!
But she is often flailing to find a solution because her heart still yearns for the intimacy of relationship, yet her body may not go where it used to go with conventional sex. She may feel herself in a double bind because in so many relationships, sex is the gel that has brought a couple together intimately, yet now sex is the very thing that makes her feel more and more separate, driving her away from the very one she wants to love. In a way the aching love inside her just can’t get out, it can’t find a passage. Her emotions can at times become overwhelming and uncontrollable and her hormones may wreak havoc on her beautiful body.
WHY TANTRA WORKS FOR MENOPAUSAL WOMEN
Through a more informed approach to sex and beginning to access the true source of her sexual vitality and its potential, a woman can open to herself again. The symptoms that up to 75 percent of women experience around menopause—loss of interest in sex/intimacy, dryness, thinning vaginal walls, pain, anxiety, and so on—can be a surprising doorway into the incredibly gentle and relaxing world of the tantric approach to her own body as an individual . . . and if she has a partner, to a more relaxed and more conscious way of making love.
In addition, and not only when she is moving through menopause, for a woman to see that she is an equal yet opposite force to man, complementary and not subsidiary to him, can be a welcome relief. Metaphorically, the power or force that went into the body’s creation of eggs is now able to lie dormant, not to atrophy, shrink, and die, but to harness the truth of sex for higher means. At any time in a woman’s life, again not just in menopause, shifting her awareness to a tantric, mindful approach allows her to experience sex as a generative, enlivening force, not as a depleting, painful, or obligatory act. Instead of creating life for another, she finds she can begin to generate more life for herself.
The tantric Making Love approach that we both practice and teach offers the possibility of a long and lasting love affair with your own body and with your lover (if you have one), allowing you to step into the realm of cultivating your own sensual vitality and inner presence. Tantric sex, sometimes called “slow sex,” is a beautiful bridge for a couple who are reaching their midlife years and starting to feel inevitable changes in their bodies. It’s a time when heartfelt negotiation and communication between man and woman is important. Man can be welcomed into the world of sensitive awareness and, if he is open, he can discover a whole field of love and relaxation—one that brings release from what potentially can be a deeply concerning and disheartening pressure of sexual performance. No longer does he need to be working so hard at sex, getting it right. Instead the body and the genitals can be the guides. This is a welcome relief for both men and women.
Pain during Intercourse
Pain is frequently experienced during sex by women of all ages. For a woman who has had pain in the past yet still gone ahead with sex, there may be lot of tension and resistance to sex built into the tissues of her vagina, and indeed her whole body and psyche. In more sensitive and informed sex, in a safe environment, a woman is given more time and space for a true opening and awakening in the body. Along with the use of natural lubricant, it allows a woman to relax more deeply into herself. She has space to be with her body on the inside, and perhaps find herself accessing something that may have been lost along the way—her exquisite internal feminine energies. The fragrance of love can suddenly become released, set free while making slow, sensual love.
With the common complaint around menopause of never really feeling ready for sex and experiencing vaginal dryness and pain, a slower, more conscious style of lovemaking gives her body more time to warm up. She is able to bring more awareness to her breasts as the energy-raising pole in her body, allowing her to come to a place of physical readiness, which in turn completely transforms her experience.
Often the cause of vaginal pain is threefold: First, a woman’s vagina at rest is not energetically ready to receive, the door is not yet truly open. Second, a man on entering into the vagina may push his penis into her body, with very little awareness in the penis itself, or of the way he is using it. His focus is more on “getting in there” as quickly as possible rather than on feeling his way gradually into the canal. This push makes the connection very physical, with no energy or awareness component, and thus is likely to cause pain. As soon as a man becomes more conscious of what he is doing and how, the ensuing slowness and sensitivity will relate to and communicate with the vaginal tissues, which in turn will relax and yield more easily. So in a high percentage of cases where there is pain, there is definitely a possibility to create a big shift in experience, as elaborated in chapters 8 and 9. The third cause of pain, as discussed in more detail in the next chapter, is lower levels of estrogen in the menopausal woman’s body that naturally cause a thinning of the vaginal walls, which makes them more sensitive to abrasion and discomfort.
Alternately, for the woman who has no problems or challenges moving into lovemaking during menopause, the pace of a slower style of sex opens her to sensual frontiers perhaps not previously felt. She finds her body is more joyful than ever and she freely allows and relaxes into pleasure.
Friction in the Vagina
For women who do suffer from pain during sex, a conscious approach also implies a need for less friction caused by excessive movement of the penis inside the vagina, which can be the cause of the pain in the first place. Pain also disturbs the vagina generally, making it more contracted and narrow, whereas with relaxation and awareness, the cells of the vaginal wall and indeed the whole pelvic area have time to soften and expand, readying to invite and receive a penis that becomes a welcome guest, rather than an invader and inflictor of pain.
One woman shares her story:
For the last ten years, my husband and I haven’t had sex and our intimacy involved cuddling and mutual masturbation. We decided to attend the retreat and within three days I was having my husband’s penis inside me comfortably—even feeling great—for the first time in over ten years. I now have a deeper relationship with my husband through having a new paradigm for approaching love, not just sex.
Expanding into Sensitivity
As menopause can invite you to greater depth and more honesty as a woman, slowness in sex is also something you can integrate into your lovemaking at any stage. If you are already naturally sensitive and more attuned than most, being more conscious can help you become even more attuned. It’s an ongoing circle of awareness and attunement. A tantric approach to lovemaking enables deep insights to be harvested in the psyche. Instead of being identified with the idea of aging, or of love outside of ourselves, it enables us to feel our bodies from the inside. There is a growing feeling that our bodies work perfectly in a beautiful, harmonious, divine way. It enables us to move through our days and open to pleasure freshly, using the senses as doorways. A menopausal body is pleading: Slow down! Be more receptive, more sensitive, more conscious!
Expanding into sensitivity heralds the sacredness of love, transformation, and a deep healing of earlier years in which life may have propelled us in unwanted directions. A shift in attitude can bring a newfound centering and trust in ourselves and our deepest body truths, which allow us to have more influence in sex—to steer it in the direction of love, presence, and awareness instead of being mechanical and focused on sensation rather than sensitivity.
Menopause is an individual quest or heroine’s journey for each woman to find her own way armed with knowledge, information, and her intuition and deepened connection with her body. Then she can navigate her own path to power. But this is not “power over,” it is a power within—one that can move mountains. This is the true power of woman. And this journey is not outward; it is an inward journey.
The menopause years invite a woman to become her own person—to leave the shackles of past identification of who she is, of her roles, and transform into an expression as unique and individual as she is, of presence and love. If a woman is on track she will grow increasingly more loving and more compassionate.
Like any journey, menopause changes you. It is an undeniable gateway—a threshold. As the process is usually a gradual one, it’s a slow unfolding, of initiation, of emerging. It is the grand walk into her elder years, “the second spring” as the Chinese refer to it. Menopause can potentially be a phase where a woman’s sexual expression matures into something else, something deeper and more profound. There is no going back. This is the great power and potential of this incredible phase of your life.
TANTRIC SEX AND MENOPAUSE by Diana Richardson & Janet McGeever