Sensuality, the menopause and sex
From the outer gaze to an inner awareness
Menopause and sex - becoming aware
The words "menopause" and "sex", when said together, make women approaching midlife tremble in their boots. It's the big fear, the big taboo, the big unspoken dread.
Midlife is when a woman finds herself questioning her sense of womanhood, perhaps for the first time since her adolescence.
And unfortunately many women perceive, as they traverse their middle years, that their attractiveness and their sexuality and are under threat.
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One reason for the fear is that we live in a society that seems intent on having us "disappear" as we age.
Perhaps it's because of this belief that menopause and sex just don't go together, that lies at the root of many women's anxieties at midlife.
In Western society, almost all our media images of attractive women, are of young (and ever younger) women and even girls. Since middle aged and older women simply do not appear in any of these images, our beauty and attraction is not only ignored but is positively discriminated against.
The result is that whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we are all - women, men, young and old - gradually programmed into believing that middle aged and aging bodies, especially the female variety, are not and cannot be attractive.
The power of the gaze
When we fret about the menopause and sex, much of the perceived threat comes from how we feel about the gaze of others. Being "sexy" is all about being seen, being the object of attention.
When we are younger, our sense of being attractive as women is about how we are seen by others. Whether we actively or passively pursue this attention, or even attempt to reject it, how we look is so much a part of the fabric of what it means to be a woman - that we are unconscious of its force.
We women, are beings that are looked at - and not only by men. As all women know very well, the gaze of the 'other' which is even more critical, even more discriminating than that of men, is the gaze of other women.
But as we get older, the gaze of others averts, because our social world - at least in Western cultures - is blind to the older woman as an attractive, sexual being.
And women as they age, fear to ask, dare not question the all too implicit social assumption, that menopause and sex do not match: sex is not for older women - not their rightful territory, nor their expectation nor even their interest...
Perhaps this is all tied up with fertility and ability to "perform" as a reproductive agent, but it is a blindness that is nourished daily by our youth obsessed, image culture.
The feeling from within - embodiment and desire
Female sexuality is very complex and depends on so much more than this feeling of being a "looked at" object of desire and the focus of the "other's" gaze. Female sexuality is intimately connected with
how we feel about ourselves, as beings, living in our own bodies.
Our sexuality depends on how we feel about ourselves, as someone who can and does control her own life and - as far as is possible in an uncertain world - her own destiny.
A woman’s sense of herself as a sexual being, depends on the strength of her inner, personal sensuality, her contact with her feelings and how comfortable she is with her body.
If we do not feel comfortable or content or at home in our own bodies, if we are not relaxed and aware of our senses and physical feelings - then it is much more difficult to connect sensually or sexually with a lover. And while this is true for all women, it is even more true at and after middle age - when menopause and sex maybe worrying us.
Because as we age, the social odds are against us... we are fighting a battle with a society which wants to marginalise our selves and our bodies, and which seems to appreciate only the young, the pert and - always the thin.
In our crazily immature image culture, wrinkles, rolls and roundness are regarded as unsightly and ipso facto: unattractive and unsensual. It's all part of the culture that seems to imply that menopause and sex don't go together.
But you only need look at images of women in historical art, to realise that attraction and sensuality were not always associated with emaciation and youth.
Isn't it time for older women (and our more insightful male friends) to inject some sense into the world?
Published February 26th 2011.
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