Perimenopause and Intimacy: Lessons Learned by MenoLabs Co-founder Vanessa Ford
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My relationship with my body has always been complicated by the fact that I was sexually abused as a child. It is difficult enough for girls to undergo puberty without this added confusion and potential for self-loathing, but it happens to 2 out of 3 of us, and I know I am not alone in this.
But even if you never experienced something like that, puberty is...well, interesting is putting it mildly. Our bodies change, we get a glimpse of ourselves for the first time as women. It’s heady, frightening, and confusing. And if that weren’t enough, we grew up seeing images of “perfect womanhood” that were often contradictory to what we thought women could be (why can’t I climb a tree in a dress and have a thick waist and think race cars are cool and learn to weld?).
How I Dealt With My Insecurities
I was really lucky that I had some great therapists who, in my twenties, helped me work through many of my traumas, but the body positivity thing has always been a struggle. I’ve always carried more weight than is “normal” for a woman of my height and build, and I have always been short (5’3” if you’re wondering). I am by nature very round, and a far cry from the supermodels who were all the rage when I was a younger woman. But I’m a sexual being, and I still want to be seen as desirable. It's an inherent biological drive, it feeds our egos, it makes us feel wanted and worthy and valuable. Desirability is a complicated thing.
And that need to feel desirable doesn’t go away as we age, but our peri/menopausal symptoms can really do a number on our ability to feel desire, and to feel desirable, can’t it?
There are many reasons why we might feel less desire and less desirable: the hot flashes are too exhausting and uncomfortable and we just can’t bear to be touched. Maybe it is too painful to have sex, because of the lack of vaginal moisture or vaginal atrophy occurring. For me, it was mood swings that killed my libido. It is really difficult to feel desire when you experience seething rage every time your partner leaves his shoes in the middle of the floor. And it is very difficult to feel desirable when you cry at the drop of hat. And for most of us, I'm betting the weight gain that can come with menopause just serves as a reminder that we aren’t ever going to look like those damn supermodels.
My wonderful therapists taught me the importance of communicating honestly with my husband (we’ve been together nearly 30 years), but when I started experiencing “menopause rage” I didn’t know what was happening to me. My husband has always left his shoes in the middle of the floor, and it was only ever mildly irritating at best. I was unsure of how to communicate with him what was going on inside me because I didn’t know. I just knew it was unlike me in every way.
Talking with My Doctor Was Essential
My honest communication with my doctor is ultimately how I discovered that I was in perimenopause, and I am so glad she was able to help me figure out what was going on relatively quickly. I cannot stress enough the importance of talking to your health care provider about everything you are experiencing, because you just never know when it is a potential symptom of something happening in your body.
So many women that I talk to who have already gone through perimenopause and are firmly on the other side of it tell me that they are the happiest they have ever been. They tell me that open, honest communication with their doctors and their partners is what ultimately got them to this point. So again, I stress, if you are experiencing anything that is out of the norm for you, talk to your doctor!
What Did I Do To Help Solve It?
Once I understood that my out-of-whack hormones were what was causing me to be so angry with my husband, I was able to, one, communicate with him about it so that he would know I was aware of the issue and actively trying to correct it and, two, take the steps I needed to address my hormones.
I began by implementing stress-reducing activities into my regular routine and cutting sugar to help control the wild swings in my blood sugar that would almost always result in an outburst of “hangry” hurtful comments from me. As I got deep into the research around menopause and truly into the science of probiotics, I added that to my diet as well.
If you’re noticing issues that make you less interested in sex or make you feel less desirable, the first thing you need to do is write down everything that is happening to you. Track your symptoms, note how you feel, and at what time of day. Pay attention to what you eat, keep tabs on your stress levels. Take that information to your doctor, and find out what you can do to address your issues. It might be diet, exercise, medication, therapy, change in lifestyle, whatever it is, once you know what is going on, and how you can address it, you will be that much closer to feeling like yourself again.
I feel like myself again, thanks to my doctor and the strategies I was able to put into place in my life. Is that self a supermodel with a banging body and legs for days? Nope. Does my husband care? Not one iota. Turns out you can climb trees in dresses and have a thick waist and think race cars are cool and learn to weld after all.