Christian presses Anastasia up against the wall of the elevator and kisses her passionately before the doors open and three businessmen walk on, interrupting the moment. Anastasia’s head swims and she breathlessly waits for them to leave, and then …ahem, you get the idea.
Even if you haven’t read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” you still can probably guess what comes next.
In a perfect world, we’d all have endless naughty adventures with the person of our dreams, and be billionaires too.
Unfortunately, in the real world that’s just not how it happens; at least not for most women, anyway. Between kids, work, stress, money woes and physical and self-esteem issues, there can be a million things that prevent us from having the kind of sex we read about in steamy romance novels, especially for women older than 50.
“It’s truly design flaw,” said Dr. Maxine Klein, gynecologist and one of only 13 certified menopause practitioners in Connecticut. “Women weren’t designed to live this long.”
In fact, according to Klein, unlike most other female animals that typically don’t live much past their reproductive years, women can live more than half their lives after going through menopause and often do.
“Technology has gotten us this far,” she said. “But from an evolutionary point of view, we’re not caught up.”
And by caught up, she pretty much means in the libido department.
For men, this is not a big problem because they continue to produce testosterone up until the day they die, which is why the average guy thinks about sex about every six seconds. And though women have testosterone too, we lose it all by the time we’re done with menopause, and what goes with it? Yep, sex drive.
The kicker is that we also lose most of our estrogen too, which causes a myriad of physiological changes to our bodies, not the least of which include thinning of vaginal tissues and dryness. So that means even when we do feel like having sex, it can often be uncomfortable and for some, downright painful. And that’s not much of an aphrodisiac.
“I hear it multiple times a day,” said Klein. “People tell me stories and say they have no interest in having sex and it’s ruining their marriage. So we try and fix the pain, because if it hurts you’re not going to do it. The second problem is finding something to increase your interest.”
But sometimes that’s easier said than done, according to AASECT certified sex therapist and clinical psychologist, Sandra Scantling.
“Women over 50 buy into the propaganda that they are no longer sexual beings,” Scantling said. “I see women come in with a tremendous amount of guilt and anxiety. They feel like something is missing. And there’s sadness and loss because they wonder, ‘Is sexual pleasure over for me?’ ”
It doesn’t have to be, she asserts. Beyond treating the physical symptoms there are a number of things women can do to get their mojo back; starting with introspection.
“It’s really important that women ask themselves when sex was best for them and how they used to feel sexually. Because some women come in that are over 50 and have never felt good about sex and now, even less.”
Scantling suggests adjusting to changes rather than resisting them.
“After menopause, many women change preferences about a lot of things; fabrics, smells, touch that used to feel good, that no longer feels good. We don’t feel the same as we did when we were young, our tastes change. Let’s not blame ourselves for that; different isn’t bad. As things change, we’re required to adapt.”
Self-esteem is another big problem. Fear of rejection, poor body image and anxiety over performance can also play into lack of libido.
“Worry is the culprit in most situations of disappointing sex,” said Scantling. “You can’t be anxious, depressed, fatigued and hate your body at the same time you’re turned on. It’s not possible.”
For women struggling with some of those issues, Scantling recommends trying to talk to their partners about their concerns and insecurities while reassuring that after seeing thousands of people throughout her career, she’s never had a man complain that he didn’t want sex because his wife had gained 10 pounds.
“I’ve never once had a man say to me, ‘If it weren’t for my wife’s body, I’d be turned on.’ More often I hear, ‘She doesn’t seem comfortable, but I think she’s beautiful and I love to look at her.’ ”
At the core, she believes that women need to be accountable for figuring out what’s making it difficult for them to enjoy sex. “It’s not about your husband or partner making you feel better. We have a responsibility to look at what is making it hard to enjoy pleasure, sex and life.”
To help with reconnecting, Scantling recommends fostering intimacy; and not just the sexual kind. She said that reaching out for closeness is key, and to not let more than 48 hours go by without some type of meaningful touch. And that can be as simple as holding hands, a loving hug or even just looking into your partner’s eyes.
“Something that makes an impact on your heart, your soul, your body,” she said. “Just for two seconds, give yourself and your partner some attention. I guarantee that will change your relationship.”
In addition to meaningful intimacy, Scantling said that curiosity is also important. “That’s adventure, that’s surprise, novelty, spontaneity. Remember why you fell in love; that’s what gets the juices flowing.”
Of course, a little titillation doesn’t hurt either, according to Klein, who offers some short-term advice of her own.
“My cure? ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ ” she said. “Read a chapter with a glass of wine, and have a date.”