Advice and education on menopause from leading healthcare experts.
Claudia Levine MD, NCMP, and Kate Maclaughlin, FNP-C, are two friends who both work in healthcare. They noticed that something important was missing from both their practices and the broader conversation about healthcare. It was absent from public health education. And it was lacking in their lives as women, wives, and mothers.
This great void? Advice, education, and community support around menopause.
There were groups for pregnancy and parenting. Doctors to talk to about health, weight, and aging concerns. And yet, no one was talking about this big change that happens to (just over) half of the population at a certain age.
So Kate and Claudia decided to change things. They used their expertise in medicine and reproductive health to start Menopause Jewelbox. Through educational groups, a blog, and a newsletter, they offer practical information, vetted resources, and group support for people going through menopause.
Pepper recently sat down (on Zoom) to talk to these two smart women about menopause, the importance of menopause education, and how it can affect sexual health and relationships.
Why menopause education matters
Like most pre-menopausal people, Claudia and Kate knew nothing about menopause until they started going through it themselves.
Claudia: When I was in my mid-forties and started to experience hormonal change, I was surprised by my own lack of knowledge around what was happening. I realized that I wasn't doing a great job as a healthcare provider, and the general field of medicine does not do a great job providing women with needed anticipatory guidance and education around this time in our lives. Women need to know both how to identify what's going on and how to seek relief if needed.
According to a 2020 study, half of all women experience some vaginal discomfort or urinary problems during perimenopause and menopause. Yet over 70% of people who have these issues don’t talk to their healthcare providers about them.
Menopause doesn’t need to mean the end of sex
According to a 2019 study, 49% of women stop having sex after menopause. This can be for a variety of reasons, from physical pain, to lack of interest, or issues regarding their partners. Menopause educators like Kate and Claudia are here to tell women everywhere: It doesn’t have to be this way.
Kate: Although it's common, we don’t have to accept this as just the way things are. Menopause does not have to mean the end of sex. There are treatments to help vagina dryness, discomfort, and a waning sex drive. People need to know that this is something to bring up with their healthcare providers.
Bringing back libido and comfort
There’s nothing better for libido and sexual function than sexual activity itself (and that includes masturbation).
Kate: It's really important to have a good sexual connection to yourself. There are many positive effects of sexual activity. It's good for vaginal function. Being regularly sexually active can increase lubrication, elasticity, muscle tone, and blood flow. Masturbation counts as sexual activity. So whether or not you have a partner, making sure you have a good sexual connection to yourself is really important. If you don’t have a sex toy, now is a great time to get one.
“If you don’t have a sex toy, now is a great time to get one.”
Claudia: Exploring different kinds of sex toys is a really great idea. Bringing a clitoral vibrator into sex with your partner is also a good idea, because it can increase the intensity of orgasm and also help you get there faster if you’re having trouble. Oil-based lubricants or vaginal moisturizers can help repair and hydrate vaginal tissue.
Keeping your connection strong with a partner
Claudia: As we age, we have to remember that connection, even intimate physical connection, isn’t always about sex. And it’s certainly not always about mind-blowing sex. Just letting go of some of the expectations that we might have around every sexual experience having to be fantastic is important. Sometimes you have mediocre sex with your partner, and that’s okay.
“Sometimes you have mediocre sex with your partner, and that's okay.”
Kate: Make time for quiet intimacy, where you're just connecting or doing something easy that you like together, and there is no expectation of orgasm. We get a lot of images through marketing and social media about what our sex lives should look like, and I think acknowledging that and letting that go is important.
Claudia: Another thing to keep in mind is how, at this age, many women have been with their partners for decades. And if their partner is male, he might be having his own issues with erectile dysfunction or loss of libido. This is where a penetrative toy might come in handy, to use alone or with a partner.
Physical and mental changes
Physical changes and emotional changes are all very much tied up together.
Claudia: The main thing that happens during perimenopause and menopause is a fluctuation in hormonal levels. Most of the effects women feel are related to low estrogen levels. This can cause irregular periods, mood changes, hot flashes, changes in sleep, and more. Additionally, the decrease in estrogen can affect the tissues of the vagina and vulva. This can mean dryness, loss of elasticity, and even pain. These physical effects can, of course, impact sensitivity and sexual desire.
Kate: Some women gain weight as they age. Their lean muscle mass is less than it used to be when they were younger. And so, because of the way our culture is set up, we get messages around our bodies and how our bodies are supposed to be. The changes in our bodies can bring up a lot of issues for some people around how they feel about themselves sexually—how they feel about their attractiveness. This can affect whether or not you’re interested in getting naked with your partner.
Changes for the better
Menopause isn’t all doom and gloom. There are a lot of positive aspects to aging that are important to keep in mind.
Claudia: We're wiser. We have all this cumulative experience that we get to draw on, and we're badass. We're just really strong, powerful creatures. And I think women often feel that in a new way as they get older.
We couldn’t agree more. The older you get, the more intimate you are with your body and what makes you feel good. And the more confident you are to express these needs to your partner.