Author and TV presenter Andrea Mclean (50), is married and has two kids. In September 2016, Andrea had a hysterectomy after a long battle with endometriosis, and the op brought on early menopause. In an extract from her latest book, Confessions Of A Menopausal Woman, Andrea shares her experience of post-menopause sex…
The truth about menopause
“When I went back to work after my hysterectomy and talked about it publicly, the papers picked up on the story and ‘Woman Has Menopause’ seemed to be, excuse the pun, pretty hot news. I didn’t set out to be a poster girl for all this. It happened by default, because I realised there wasn’t any point pretending I hadn’t had a hysterectomy or wasn’t going through menopause. I could see by the response I got how much of a relief it was to other women that someone was talking about it.
I faced up to the fact that a big part of me was afraid to talk about what I was going through for the same reason other women now confide in me: they don’t want to be seen as ‘old’. Originally, I wasn’t going to speak about it publicly because I didn’t want to be seen as old, either. I still don’t! But I realised it isn’t about age. Menopause can happen as early as your 30s and if you’re old then, what hope do any of us have?
Talking about ‘stuff’ is what women do best. We share and offload, we laugh and bond over the ridiculous, incredible things our bodies go through. Hearing other people’s experiences is what makes our own bearable. So here goes…
The ‘s’ word – dealing with post-menopause sex
Whatever your experience of sex has been throughout your life – good, bad or indifferent – menopause is one of those times when it most definitely changes. If, like me, you’ve had kids, then it’s right up there with post-baby sex – you either get right back in the saddle, or grit your teeth and bear it while internally raging that this is another thing you have to do.
I think how we feel comes down to two factors – body and mind – and the two are inextricably linked. Our bodies change during menopause; that goes without saying. They just don’t seem to work the way they used to. The parts of us that were normally dry are now soaked (think upper lip, back of neck), and the parts we relied on to get wet are now bone dry (you know where I mean).
It leaves us feeling horrible about ourselves, which of course starts to play havoc with our minds. How are we supposed to feel sexy when our bodies are falling apart, we have no energy, our libidos have dropped, and everything our partners say and do makes us want to punch them on the nose?
In my experience
What I’ve discovered about menopause is that it’s all about trial and error. What works for one woman might not work for another – there’s no ‘quick fix’ to make it all go away. The key, however, is to do something to improve the situation.
Menopause is about trial and error
Women often ask what HRT I’m on. I’ve been prescribed four different therapies:
- Oestrogen gel, which I rub on my skin daily
- Testosterone gel, which I apply once a week
- Oral progesterone tablets, which I take every night
- An oestrogen pessary, which I insert twice a week
…and each serves a different purpose. The oestrogen gel helps with many things, including low mood; while the testosterone gel improves energy levels, the development of lean muscle mass and, importantly, sex drive. The oestrogen pessary alleviates vaginal dryness and thinning of vaginal walls, both of which can make sex not merely uncomfy, but downright agony. How can you relax and enjoy sex when you know it’s going to hurt? I say this from first-hand experience.
Getting back to it
It was around four weeks after my hysterectomy that I felt ready to try the one thing I’d been told to stay clear of: post-menopause sex. Just the thought of letting Nick anywhere near that region was enough to make me cross my legs, but a month was a long time for us not to be intimate, and I missed the closeness of it.
It was me who initiated it one night as we got into bed. We were both as nervous as first-time teenagers. Would it hurt? Would I bleed? As he took his lead from me, it was hard not to squeeze my eyes shut and grimace. It was only when I tried to open my eyes again that I remembered I’d taken one of my strong sleeping tablets before getting into bed. I was sleepy, and even though my mind was willing, my body wasn’t on the same page at all. I quietly asked Nick to stop.
A week later, we tried again. This time, we had wine to help us relax, and tried to take things more slowly. Like a born-again virgin, my first-time post-hysterectomy wasn’t like something you see in the movies (especially not 50 Shades of Grey!); it involved fumbling, wincing, grimacing, and trying to relax enough to enjoy it. It took a lot of patience, but we got there… eventually.
I have to admit that, for a long while after, cystitis and other urinary tract infections became the norm. For days after having sex, I’d feel a dull ache as if I’d been kicked from the inside. I kept cystitis medication in the bathroom and started taking cranberry tablets to try calm things down.
Why did I carry on? Well, because sex to me is more than just the act of intercourse; it’s about closeness and love, isn’t it? Not having sex, or putting it off because of possible pain, meant I didn’t feel like Nick and I were as close as we were before. And I missed it.
What I’ve learnt
Things have never got back to how they were before, in the way that sex after having a baby is never quite as it used to be either. You can’t think of your body in the same way; it doesn’t feel exactly the same and, for most of us, it certainly doesn’t look the same.
While the urinary tract infections and pain aren’t as frequent, they still feature. But if I can give one piece of advice? Talk about your sex life; don’t just put up with problems. Sex is supposed to make us feel good. It has the potential to be one of the most emotionally connecting experiences you can share. If it hurts, say something. If you can’t find a way to work around it without it still hurting? See your doctor. It’s time we all started being honest about it.”