Want to be healthy in midlife? Eat your veggies. Wear sunscreen. Drink enough water. Have sex (use lube!).
Yep. Not to give cheesy pick-up artists one more line to use in a bar, but having sex after is actually really good for you.
“Sex is an important part of our health and well-being,” Madeleine Castellanos, MD, physician, sex therapist, and author of Wanting to Want: What kills your sex life and how to keep it alive told us.
“Consider that we are created with all these different systems that are interrelated. Our cardiovascular system is intimately related to our immune system, which is related to our neurological system. Human beings are designed to respond to physical contact, to eye-to-eye contact; it’s what makes us thrive as babies and as adults.
“We know that people who have strong interpersonal connections live longer lives. One extension of that is sex. It helps support a healthy balance of our hormones and a healthy balance of our neurotransmitters, it helps us feel pleasure and triggers our relaxation response.
“People who have regular sexual activity have better blood pressure, they handle stress better, they have less depression, they’re protected against dementia, they have better cognitive functioning, better memory, better eyesight. Sex improves blood flow … basically, if you want to live longer and better, make sure you get enough lovey-dovey time!”
Recent research certainly supports Dr. Castellanos’ enthusiasm for regular sexual activity. Studies show orgasms help us sleep, thanks to a release of sleep-supporting (and stress-killing) hormones. If your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity, the aerobic nature of sex can actually promote heart health. Sex can relieve pain and even keep you looking younger.
Midlife can make sex seem less sexy. Reduced libido, vaginal dryness in women, erectile dysfunction in men, plus our cultural attitude that sexuality is for young people can all contribute to us turning off and tuning out when we hit a certain age.
It’s understandable to feel that way, says Dr. Castellanos, because our bodies become so unpredictable in midlife. In perimenopause, we experience estrogen dominance, she tells us. “Your brain gets the message that no egg is being produced because progesterone levels are low. So it starts pumping out estrogen, but there’s no progesterone to balance that surge of estrogen. So you get tender breasts, moodiness, irregular periods, and the up and down, up and down of emotions. In menopause, when estrogen drops off significantly, you get the hot flashes, which are caused by estrogen withdrawal, and vaginal dryness. It’s no wonder so many women get discouraged and give up.”
Brains can get a little unpredictable too. Some women blossom in midlife, embracing their freedom from periods and pregnancy scares, while other women get caught in negativity, Dr. Castellanos tells us. “They think, ‘I’m older, my skin is sagging, no one’s really going to want me.’ That affects their behavior and their response to their partners, and pretty soon all those negative thoughts start to create negativity in real life.”
Celebrate! It is possible to get your sex drive back, with a little effort (fun, sexy effort!) How?
Ultimately, Dr. Castellanos says, sex and sexuality are highly personal, and there’s no shame or guilt in simply being uninterested. But if not having sex or intimacy is making you unhappy, stressing your relationship, and reducing your quality of life, there are ways to improve the situation AND get all the healthy benefits of regular sexual activity.
We’d love to hear what you’re doing to revitalize your sex life. Share your tips and tricks on Gennev’s Facebook page. Want to talk to other women about what they’re experiencing? Join our closed Facebook group for frank, safe, open conversation.
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