When I wrote my first book, Hot Sex, back in 1999, I confessed to regularly enjoying two orgasms a day. I still haven’t lived it down.
‘Come on, we all know why you aren’t picking up,’ people continue to say to me if ever I miss a phone call.
In my defence, I was 37 in 1999, and I honestly thought it’s what everyone was up to at that age. Apparently, they weren’t.
I have always had a high libido. Which is partly what made it so devastating when it plummeted, catastrophically, after menopause.
Sex expert Tracey Cox (pictured) reveals her sex drive disappeared when she hit the menopause
It wasn’t that I suddenly hated sex. Far worse than that: I simply forgot about it.
My sex drive, which for all of my adult life formed such a big part of my identity, just fell away.
Here I was, a ‘sexpert’ for three decades, the author of 17 books on the subject, countless columns and TV programmes and sex was no longer on my radar.
It was like someone got up during the night and turned my lust button from ‘always up for it’ to ‘meh’.
Of course, I knew all about meno-pause and the effects on sex — I devote an entire chapter to it in my new book, Great Sex Starts At 50.
Decreasing hormones can cause dryness, insomnia and mood swings. It can take longer to get aroused and, alas, make you less sensitive when you are.
2.3 – The average number of times people aged 50-59 have sex per week
But, surely, none of these terrible things would happen to me?
And yet, ‘sexpert’ or not, I couldn’t deny that they were.
I started going through menopause around 47 but, like most women, the early symptoms could easily be put down to other things.
I was working like a dog, travelling lots, filming between London and New York. It was all very exciting, but I felt exhausted, irritable, stressed and angry.
Then came the hot flushes. The first one struck when I was at a business lunch with two men.
We went to sit near a fire for coffee and I thought I was going to spontaneously combust.
I kept saying to them: ‘Aren’t you hot? Why aren’t you hot?’ They looked embarrassed — both clearly thinking ‘she’s menopausal’ — but, remarkably perhaps, it hadn’t occurred to me that I was.
The loss of libido came next. I was busy writing a piece about orgasms and, suddenly, realised I hadn’t actually had one for weeks, maybe even a month.
Tracey said the average number of times people aged 50-59 have sex per week is 2.3 (stock image)
I was single at the time, but that meant nothing. What was missing was that tap on the shoulder that said: ‘Hey you, satisfy this itch.’
Spontaneous desire, my companion for nearly 50 years, had left the building.
When I did go for it, another shock: my nerve endings felt numb and my orgasms went from being powerful, mind-altering experiences to little ‘bleeps’ that hardly registered.
I’m not going to lie — at the time that felt like a disaster.
We’ve all got a friend or two who sails through the menopause with barely a symptom. But, for many women, it creates havoc.
And, if you’re not careful, this drop in sexual desire can set up a vicious circle that ends in no sex at all.
When the menopause hit, Tracey Crouch (pictured) said her desire for sex had left
The problem is, during menopause three crucial hormones are in decline. Testosterone, which appears to affect desire and blood flow, is seriously tapering off. (By the time a woman hits midlife, her body is producing half as much as it was in her 20s.)
Progesterone, another hormone responsible for sexual desire generally, also declines and stops when ovulation does.
Meanwhile, oestrogen levels fluctuate and become unpredictable, which is often a recipe for painful dryness.
Is it any wonder it can feel like you lose your mojo once you hit your 50s?
The good news is that you can get it back, with added interest — but you may have to work at it, just as I did.
The truth is, sex post-50 and post-menopause requires a new perspective. It’s not about grimly chalking up daily sessions but, instead, about understanding how different sex is compared to how it was in our 20s.
Tracey said that oestrogen levels can fluctuate and become unpredictable, which is often a recipe for painful dryness (stock image)
That’s different, not worse. In fact, one of the great untold secrets of sex in midlife is that it can easily be the best you’ve ever had.
For my book, I interviewed hundreds of women and health and menopause experts to find out what I should do to put my own sex drive back on course.
And the first piece of advice I got is both the simplest and yet, potentially, the hardest to implement. Have more sex.
The problem is, the more troublesome sex starts to feel, the less you do it — and the less you do it, the more difficult it gets. It’s the very definition of a vicious circle, and the only way to break it is to spend more time between the sheets.
For my part, it was when sex started to hurt that I knew I had to seek professional help. Nearly every woman feels pain at some point, in some circumstance in her life, during intercourse, and it should never be ignored.
By then, I was in a great relationship with a man I met at the age of 50, who is now my husband. And yet the gynaecologist I saw for the pain was quick with her diagnosis.
She didn’t bang on about the menopause, or impress on me the importance of foreplay or ask if my husband was particularly well endowed. It all basically came down to one thing: whether or not I was having regular sex. We were, but clearly not enough.
‘Use it or lose it’ applies to pretty much everything once you get past a half century. After all, if you stop exercising, you can’t run for a bus.
But it’s pivotal when it comes to sex. Regular sex helps prevent chronic cystitis, eventual prolapse and incontinence and helps with thinning and dryness.
In short: the more regularly you have sex, the better shape your genitals are in and the less likely you are to experience pain. Research suggests once a week will do it.
If you just don’t feel attracted to each other any more, don’t panic. It’s difficult staying attracted to someone for more than a few years, let alone decades.
You should try seeing each other through other people’s eyes. During my ‘can’t be bothered’ stage with sex, I remembered an attractive single woman I met at a party who looked at my partner with hungry eyes.
Offering advice about a sex life after menopause, Tracey said that regular sex helps to prevent thinning and dryness (stock image)
‘If ever you’re done, steer him my way, would you?’ she said.
I remembered her and thought, ‘She could be bothered’ — and, believe me, there is nothing sexier than someone else wanting what you’ve got.
But look past the obvious, too. At a wedding recently, I watched the most beautiful of the guests flirt outrageously with a very average-looking man she’d been sitting next to. Intelligence, humour, the way someone gives you their undivided attention: that’s sexy, too.
The best flirts are those who know how to simultaneously tease and charm. My mum is one of the best flirts I know: at the age of 84, she still flirts with everyone.
Number two on my list of life-savers was HRT (hormone replacement therapy).
For a while I took testosterone, which had an almost instant effect on my sex drive — zoom! — but also changed my personality in ways I didn’t like.
I started feeling impatient and irritated by everyone, so I came off it for a more peaceful life.
Tracey was shocked by how many couples don’t talk about sex which she says can lead to them stopping having sex (stock image)
But my oestrogen pessaries were a huge hit, and almost cured the dryness problems completely.
I also took a high-strength cranberry supplement to stop the pesky urinary tract infections that become more common with menopausal sex.
These were great pieces of advice to put into action — but perhaps the most effective of all does not even require you to take off your clothes. It’s to talk to your partner honestly about all the changes you’re experiencing.
I specialise in writing and talking about sex — I get told a lot of eye-opening, highly intimate things. But nothing has shocked me more than realising how many couples just don’t talk about sex.
Couples I know; couples who are close to each other and tell each other pretty much everything else — even they don’t talk about the sex stuff. And if a couple are not talking about sex, they’re less likely to talk about it when they stop having sex, too.
I’m not going to judge you if your sex life has diminished so much that you want to stop having sex altogether.
You’ll miss out on a number of physical and emotional benefits, including a strengthened immune system and lowered stress, but it’s obviously entirely your choice.
Older couples report higher levels of satisfaction when it comes to sex thanks to both parties slowing down and enjoying the act more (stock image)
However, before you opt for that path, you have to both acknowledge what’s happening and check with each other that you’re OK with sex being taken off the menu. And that means talking about it.
As you would expect, talking about sex isn’t a problem for me. I could probably stand to talk a little less about the clinical side of sex (according to my long-suffering husband).
But the more honest you are about sex with each other, and the changes you’re feeling, the less likely you are to fall into that awful place where you’re both avoiding any type of intimacy because you’re embarrassed by what’s happening to your bodies as you march through the decades.
Talking will help you alter the way you think about sex, too — and you can start by shedding those outdated, unhelpful, irritating sex myths we carry around. Yes, of course our bodies change as we age.
Our lives change. What we want from life changes. I don’t want to do the same things I wanted to do in my 20s and I certainly don’t want the sort of sex I had back then either.
And yes, orgasm does often takes longer to reach after menopause. Is that really a disaster? Or a blessing? Turn it around to ‘Great! More time to enjoy the journey’.
Sex in your 50s and over is gentler, unhurried, less penetration-focused than it was in your 20s. One reason why older couples report higher satisfaction with sex is that they slow down and spend longer on foreplay.
TRACEY’S TOP TEN MIDLIFE SEX TIPS
- Losing desire is more ‘natural’ in long-term relationships than continuing to want sex — it doesn’t mean you’re with the wrong person. You’d be a freak if you wanted to slam your partner up against a wall when they walk in the door for the 15,000th time.
- DON’T assume your partner is going to love you no matter what. Saying ‘Harold will never cheat’ is bigging yourself up and is even something of an insult to Harold. If you love your partner, there’s a reason for others to love them. Appreciate what you have while you’ve got it.
- Happy people do have affairs. Your partner cheating on you often has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.
- New lovers turn into old lovers. That tempting, shiny, new person will be just as annoying in a few years as the one you’ve already got.
- Feeling desired is the biggest turn on of all. Seeing appreciation in your lover’s eyes excites more than any sex trick in the book.
- Being selfish in bed is no bad thing. Focus on your own pleasure and neither has to worry if the other one is having a good time.
- It’s ridiculous to feel guilty about your fantasies. Being unfaithful in your head isn’t the same as doing it in your bed.
- It’s OK to stop having sex from time to time. Life is stressful. Agree on a break and neither of you will freak out, thinking that it’s permanent.
- A good lubricant is as essential as toothpaste and loo paper.
- If you’re feeling bad after having sex, you’re sleeping with the wrong person.
Sex — shock horror! — doesn’t have to mean intercourse. It might be his favourite bit, but most women don’t have their orgasms that way.
When foreplay gets a promotion and becomes the main event, sex is invariably more satisfying for women.
By the time you hit midlife, you also discover how overrated spontaneous sex is. Dodgy knees and bad backs put paid to any ideas of spicing up a country walk with an al fresco quickie.
Instead, you realise how powerful an aphrodisiac it is to anticipate and plan the event.
My husband and I now have ‘Sunday sex’. It’s a day of no interruptions; we go for a relaxed, boozy lunch, then go back to bed for a bit; we take turns to come up with something new to try — and it works.
My 30-year-old self cringes when I admit this in public. ‘For God’s sake, that’s such an unsexy thought!’ she hisses. ‘Planned sex is so . . . well . . . boring!’
But for many post-menopausal women, and men who may need a bit of help in the bedroom, planned sex is low-stress.
Besides, we don’t care what our 30-year-old selves think , as we care less about what anyone thinks! Lots of women become more confident in their own opinions as they age.
This translates well in the bedroom, because we care less about making men happy and more about making sure we orgasm.
Enjoying great sex later in life isn’t about trying to stay young, either physiologically or in attitude. It’s not about desperately trying to turn back the clock.
It’s about being the best version of yourself, so you can enjoy the second half of your sex life as much as the first.
I’m 58 now, and my 50s have honestly been the best decade of my life — it helps that I’ve spent most of it in the best relationship I could possibly wish for, but it’s not just about that.
I feel peaceful, but not like the fire in my belly has died. I’ve got my libido back and I finally feel like I’ve settled into it.
So, adjust your expectations, move the goal posts — and, like me, you just might surprise yourself with your new midlife between the sheets . . .
Great Sex Starts At 50, by Tracey Cox (Murdoch Books), £12.99, is out now.