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Archive for the ‘The Good Stuff’ Category

If you visit the Dame Products website, the first thing you notice is that it is young, hip, straightforward, and unapologetic. The second thing you notice is that the company’s co-founders, Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman, are very smart. Janet, in fact, has a degree in engineering from MIT, and Alex has a master’s in Social Work, specializing in marriage counseling and sex therapy, from Columbia.

Their company is on a mission: “to design well-engineered sex toys, to heighten intimacy, and to openly empower the sexual experiences of womankind.”  And they aren’t kidding.

From their first meeting in June 2014 until they crowdfunded Eva, their first vibrator, on Indiegogo, raising $575,000 in six weeks, Dame Products has been on a tear.

What you notice about that first product, Eva, is that it is small-ish, unobtrusive, and kind of weird-looking—somewhat bug-like. And that it doesn’t come in pink. (There is, in fact, very little pink anywhere on the website.) Eva does come with wings, which are designed to be tucked inside your labia, making it a hands-free device during sex. In fact, the pressure of a partner’s body during sex ratchets up the sensation, according to one reviewer. (We hope to offer the Eva soon.)

Eva was followed by Fin, which we’ve just added to our shop, a two-finger device that comes with a detachable “tether.” You can either slip your fingers through the tether (for those of us lacking in the manual dexterity department) or use it without.

Both are high-quality (medical-grade silicon), carefully designed products made by women for women—an idea whose time is long overdue. Dame aims to uncouple sex toys from the provocative and erotic—the “male gaze”—and toward an everyday tool that actually works for women. “We want them to be like something from Ikea, not the lingerie shop,” says Fine. Tellingly, its products aren’t shaped like dildos, which don’t actually stimulate the clitoris. These ladies understand that female orgasm can be finicky and that the action has to be in the right spot.

Another element that distinguishes these vibes from many others is their low-tech simplicity. You can’t program a playlist with it or choose among a selection of designer vibrations. There’s a button on top and a choice of three speeds. Easy peazy. “Because that’s what women were telling us they want,” says Fine.

Although the brand has a young, millennial sensibility, chances are that the over-50 customer will appreciate it for the same reasons as her younger cohort: it’s petite and attractive; it’s practical; it works; and Eva, especially, is designed with couple sex in mind. Not to mention being the first fully-female-designed brand on the market, which we all appreciate.

Expect to hear more from Dame. A dedicated department—Dame Lab—is soliciting ideas and comments from women—and men—for future products. Do the vibes need more power for older users? Do you have suggestions that might make it better? Talk to the dames. “We welcome feedback,” says Fine. “The community really drives our ideas.”

Personally, I appreciate a company that’s unapologetic and passionate about designing quality sex toys. It’s time these products move from the realm of the semi-kinky to something that we all can talk about and use without embarrassment. These dames are doing a good job making that happen.

They call it the “female gaze.”

 

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Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Joan Vernikos for my podcast series “Fullness of Midlife,” which are conversations with interesting people about health, love, life, and meaning. Dr. Joan was director of Life Sciences at NASA until 2000 when she “retired” to write and speak (some retirement!) about some of the groundbreaking research she had conducted from her special perch at NASA.

You can listen to the entire interview here, but I wanted to also distill the pertinent bits for MiddlesexMD readers.

As you might imagine, the effect of gravity, or lack thereof, is a fundamental concern for scientists at NASA. Astronauts are exposed to low-gravity environments, sometimes for months at a time, which has wide-ranging and deleterious effects on bones and organs, blood and cardiovascular systems. During her time at NASA, Dr. Joan specialized in the effects of gravity on the human system.

But here’s the thing: Dr. Joan came to understand that gravity operates on earthbound humans in similar ways! When we are upright and moving around, we are subject to the full effects of gravity pulling us to the center of the earth vertically. But when we are horizontal, lying in bed, for example, gravity’s pull is spread evenly throughout our bodies and is much less intense—similar to the experience of astronauts. “…The changes that accompanied lying in bed… 24 hours a day… are very similar to those we see in astronauts. Granted, maybe a little less intense,” said Dr. Joan.

Interestingly, these metabolic changes don’t happen when we sleep at night. Normal sleep appears to have a restorative, “detoxing” effect on the body and the brain, which is also important to good health.

The body is designed to move all day long...Since the few astronauts who actually spent time living in micro-gravity were harder to find than subjects willing to lie in bed, Dr. Joan began studying the effects of long stretches of time spent horizontally. She found, for example, that after about four days “very significant changes” began to happen in the way her subjects metabolized fluids, in the cardiovascular system, and in stress responses. Of course, as with astronauts, these changes mostly were reversed when the test subjects got up and walked around or the astronauts came back to earth, and gravity took over.

Then, Dr. Joan visited a friend’s elderly mother who was bedridden, and she realized the low-gravity changes she’d been studying looked a lot like aging. Was there a link between our increasingly sedentary culture and the symptoms of early aging? Dr. Joan feels that the chronic diseases of the elderly—diabetes, cardiovascular problems, obesity, bone loss and muscle wasting—are happening at younger ages, even in childhood, because we no longer allow gravity to do its work. We sit too much and move too little.

Dr. Joan hypothesized that the body is meant to move all day long, and in the not-so-distant past, that happened pretty naturally. Our grandparents “…bent over and reached up and made beds and cleaned and washed and gardened. And went and bought groceries and walked home or rode a bicycle, or whatever.”

Following several studies, Dr. Joan feels that simply standing up is “fundamental” to countering the effects of inactivity. Simply standing up and then moving around reverses the micro-gravity effects of lying in bed—or of aging. Trouble is, we don’t live like our grandparents. More likely, we sit for hours in front of one screen or another in the office and at home. Then, if we’re disciplined, we might exercise a few times a week.

Exercising, while good in itself, isn’t enough to counteract the effect of sitting around for hours every day. Our bodies are designed to move, to work against gravity. That, not sitting, is our normal state, the result of eons of evolution.

After her 2011 book, “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals,” was published, a slew of new research supported the hypothesis she’d developed from her work at NASA: Long periods of inactivity have deleterious health effects. “…sitting makes worse absolutely everything. Whether you’re talking about cancer—prostate, breast cancer, cardiovascular conditions, stroke, metabolic conditions, diabetes, obesity—you name it, it makes it worse,” said Dr. Joan. (Here, for example, is NPR’s report on recent studies of aging subjects. The conclusion? If you don’t walk now, you might not be able to later.)

So, what should we do, especially if we’re still working and chained to a desk all day—but even if we’re retired and reading or knitting? Fortunately, the solution is simple. “Stand up!” says Dr. Joan. Go to the water-cooler, the bathroom, just take a break every 30 minutes or so. You don’t need to hop on a treadmill or take a 30-minute walk, just stand up and move for a few minutes. You won’t lose weight or tone your muscles with this regimen; it isn’t meant to take the place of exercise and a healthy diet, but it’s a good habit to develop if you regularly sit for hours every day.

Gravity is your friend, says Dr. Joan. Embrace it!

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Okay. We’ve talked about sexual lubricants before. Many times. And for good reason. Vaginal dryness and the associated pain with sex, penetration, and sometimes daily life is possibly the #1 issue I deal with in my practice.

Insufficient lubrication during sex isn’t just a problem of menopause—many women experience it at various times of life—during pregnancy, with insufficient foreplay, or while on certain medications, for example. Or just because.

Fortunately, the sexual lubricants are an easy, safe way to make sex more comfortable and fun.

Vaginal lubricantsOne critical distinction: Lubricants are for use during sex to increase comfort and reduce friction. They coat whatever surface they’re applied to (including the penis and sex toys) but they aren’t absorbed by the skin, thus, they have to be (or naturally are) washed off. Moisturizers, on the other hand, are specially formulated to soften and moisten vaginal tissue. Like any lotion, they should be used regularly and are absorbed into vaginal and vulvar tissue. Moisturizers are for maintenance; lubricants are for sexual comfort.

Basically, there are three types of sexual lubricants: water-based, silicone, and a newer hybrid formulation. Each has unique characteristics and limitations. Water-based lubes are thick, feel natural, don’t stain, and don’t damage silicone toys. They rinse off easily with water. However, they tend to dry out more quickly (although they can be re-activated with water), and don’t provide long-lasting lubrication. Water-based lubricants may contain glycerin, which tastes sweet, but can exacerbate yeast infections.

Some lubes contain “warming” ingredients, such as capsaicin, the ingredient that gives chili peppers their heat, or minty, or menthol-y oils. They’re intended to enhance sensation, increase blood flow to the genitals, and create a “tingly-warm” feeling. As such, they’re good for foreplay and use on vulva, clitoris, penis, nipples, external vaginal tissue, but not internally if they contain essential oil.

Use warming oils and lubricants with caution, however, since delicate or dry vulvar-vaginal tissue may respond with a fiery-hot rather than pleasantly warm sensation.

Silicone lubes are the powerhouse of personal lubricants. They tend to feel slick and last three times as long as the water-based option. They’re hypoallergenic, odorless, and tasteless. They may stain and they will destroy silicone surfaces on other equipment, so you can’t use silicone lubes anywhere near your expensive silicone vibrator. They wash away with soap and water.

At this life stage, you can put away your coupons and dispense with frugality. Your vagina deserves the best! Not only have those tissues become more delicate, your vagina also has a finely balanced pH level that (usually) protects against yeast and bacterial infections. Cheap or homemade lubricants can seriously mess with tender tissue and that natural acidity.

Use only products recommended for vaginal lubrication—not baby oil, vegetable or essential oils, petroleum jelly, or saliva. (Note: Oil destroys the latex in condoms and leaves behind a film that is a bacteria magnet.) Look for organic, natural, and high-quality ingredients (we look for these for our shop).

Each individual (and couple) ends up with one or more faves when it comes to lubricants. So make this a fun exploration for the products that work best, both for solo and couple play. If you don’t like one lube, a different type or brand might be just the ticket; don’t give up on lubes altogether.

Because the options for various lubricants are legion, we’ve tried to narrow the field in search of only the most effective and safest products for our shop. We examine the ingredients and opt for the most natural and organic brands possible. We also look at the philosophy of the company that makes them. We’ve been known to do quite a bit of research “in the field,” as well.

In the spirit of experimentation, we’ve put together a selection of seven sachets of water, hybrid, and silicone-based lubes in a handy sample kit. You can give them a whirl without the investment in a full bottle of lube that ends up in your sock drawer.

New lubricant options appear with some regularity, and we evaluate and add them periodically. If you’ve found something you love, let us know; other women may be happy to learn about the option!

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Lots of attention has focused on the finicky female orgasm in recent years, from Dr. Rosemary Basson’s model of the female sexual response cycle to the helpful finding of just how female anatomy influences the probability of vaginal orgasm.

A new study from Chapman University, Indiana University, and the Kinsey Institute colored in some details of female sexual response, in part by rounding up a wide net of participants. Over 52,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 responded to an online survey, including a more robust sample of those who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual.

There's significant misunderstanding between Venus and Mars.The take-away from all this analysis was the jaw-dropping finding (tongue in cheek) that men (95 percent) orgasm dependably, while women, not so much (65 percent). About 44 percent of women said they rarely or never reach orgasm with vaginal intercourse alone, a number that is quite low compared to other studies suggesting that fully 70 percent of women don’t orgasm with vaginal penetration. These numbers point (again) to some very significant differences in sexual response, which in turn, lead to significant misunderstanding between Venus and Mars.

“About 30 percent of men actually think that intercourse is the best way for women to have orgasm, and that is sort of a tragic figure because it couldn’t be more incorrect,” said Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd, a professor of biology at Indiana University and author of The Case of the Female Orgasm in this article.

Additionally, while 41 percent of men think their partner orgasms frequently, far fewer women (33 percent) say they actually do orgasm. The researchers note that this difference could be due to women faking orgasm for several reasons: “to protect their partner’s self-esteem, intoxication, or to bring the sexual encounter to an end.”

The researchers were particularly interested in the disparity between how dependably lesbian women orgasm (89 percent) versus heterosexual women (that 65 percent figure). They theorize that this is due, in part, to women having a better anatomical understanding of each other’s needs.

The headliner result of all those survey is a “Golden Trio” of sexual moves that the researchers say are almost guaranteed to induce the Meg Ryan-style “Yes! Yes! Yes!” in women: clitoral stimulation, deep kissing, and oral sex. Even without vaginal penetration, 80 percent of heterosexual woman and 91 percent of lesbian women were able to orgasm dependably with this magic trio. (Although deep kissing and oral sex seem either mutually exclusive or tremendously acrobatic.)

The research noted that women who orgasm more frequently also have sex more frequently and are more likely to be satisfied with their relationships. Whether satisfying sex is the chicken or the egg—a contributor to a satisfying relationship or an effect of a good relationship, it’s safe to say that the two go hand-in-hand. Good sex and good relationships are both enhanced when partners communicate about what works and include a healthy dollop of fun and flirtation.

“I would like [women] to take that home and think about it, and to think about it with their partners and talk about it with their partners,” said Lloyd. “If they are not fully experiencing their fullest sexual expression to the maximum of their ability, then I think our paper has something to contribute to their wellbeing.”

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“Midlife: when the Universe grabs your shoulders and tells you “I’m not f-ing around, use the gifts you were given.” —Brene Brown

I don’t know about you, but I love seeing old people in love. The way they hold hands toddling down the street. The way they go about their daily tasks having made peace with the past. I think it’s a miracle when love lasts this long and ages this gracefully.

Relationships encounter lots of challenges in the course of a lifetime, but from my own observations, which are supported by the data, the midlife transition, that somewhat fraught passage, is nothing to sneeze at. Menopause aside, the awareness of time passing often arrives unexpectedly and with surprising intensity, leading both men and women to make decisions that belie common sense, compared to which the red Corvette might be among the most benign. For example, the highest divorce rates from 1990 to 2010 occurred among couples over 50, according to this study. Concurrently, co-habitation rates among over-50s tripled from 2000 to 2013.

Whatever the cause—longer lifespan, greater economic freedom for women especially, cultural change—the fact is that something shifts when folks approach that midlife marker, and it’s often the woman who agitates for change.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Periodic reevaluation and readjustment is healthy. So is honestly confronting ingrained habits and responses that ultimately stifle intimacy and deflect communication. Like a vintage car, most lengthy relationships require a major or minor tune-up now and then.

Still, midlife often opens a Pandora’s box of restlessness and dissatisfaction—the perennial is this all there is? What happened to the passion? Am I missing out? Do I really have to endure the quirks and habits of this individual for the rest of my life? What is really important? What dreams have I buried?

Those existential questions herald an important crossroad—the frontier between youth and maturity. With regard to your most intimate relationship, you can:

  1. Invest in what you have. Work on ways to reinvigorate and reignite the flame. This won’t be the passion of your youth, but something burnished by time and familiarity. A golden glow rather than red-hot embers. If your relationship is solid and things have just cooled off with time and neglect, it’s worth investing for the future.
  2. Reinvent it. Sometimes a creative change eases the chronic irritations that can erode a longterm relationship. Some couples successfully stay together but give themselves extra space with separate households, for example, or planned time apart, or splitting the daily finances and decision-making that cause problems. Rejiggering the quotidian foundation might ease the annoyances enough to allow a couple to value and appreciate the familiarity and intimacy that has developed over many years.
  3. Scrap it. This is a very tough judgment call, but some relationships have never worked well; some matches are misses; and sacrificing the years you have left may not be worth it for one or both of you. Dismantling a lifetime is a heartbreaker (or—maybe a release), but you may end up in a better place when the dust settles.

Major life transitions should never be done in haste. They deserve a considerable degree of mature reflection. We all know people who make fast and sometimes rash decisions in the throes of passion or as a desperate attempt to seize a day that appears to be slipping away. Amid the landmines of midlife, the baby is sometimes thrown out with the bathwater.

Here’s a little reality check.

However irresistible the urge, don’t blow up your life. Wait. Reflect. Seek counsel. The demand to create something more authentic, to realize cherished dreams is real and should be honored. But the best path forward probably isn’t over the shattered pieces of your present life.

You still have time. You can still seek your bliss, optimize potential, maybe with more freedom and effectiveness now that the kids are grown and you’re more self-confident. Start a business. Learn Chinese. Travel. The world is your oyster—just in a different shell than when you were younger.

Romantic passion is a landmine. Passion is powerful, blinding, and temporary. You can’t make good decisions in its throes. And even the most incredibly passionate relationship will inevitably fade with the demands of daily life. White-hot passion doesn’t last; it’s not meant to. And when reality checks in, the dirty socks on the floor look the same. Trust me on this one.

Talk to someone if you need to. A therapist. A friend. You can’t see things clearly (even if you think you can). Trust the counsel of someone wise and objective.

Don’t freeze out your partner. However restless and unsettled you may feel, your partner is probably not the enemy. You want to elicit support, not resistance. Anyone would feel threatened when cracks appear in the foundation of a secure life. Anyone would feel uncomprehending and maybe hurt. If, however, you are able to communicate what you’re feeling, even if it’s confused and incoherent, at least there’s a bridge rather than a canyon.

“This too shall pass,” writes blogger Deb Blum in this article. “It will pass more gracefully and completely if everyone is gentle and loving and gives the space necessary to get through this time.”

And that study about over-50 divorce rate also found that the longer a marriage lasts, the less likely it is to end in divorce. So those old folks holding hands in the park? The real deal.

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We blather on regularly at MiddlesexMD about the importance of good health—staying active, eating well, exercising, maintaining a healthy body weight. Given the many exercise fads that come and go (remember Jazzercize?), maybe it’s time to get specific about ways a mature woman can stay in shape.

Yoga is one of the best. Hardly a fad, yoga’s been around for at least 5,000 years; the earliest mention is in sacred Ayervedic texts in northern India. In the US, it’s now a $10 billion-a-year industry with 20 million practitioners.

As you can imagine, many styles of yoga have developed over the millennia, but the main forms you might encounter are:

  • Hatha. The most familiar style that focuses on the breath while holding various poses.
  • Vinyasa. Series of poses that flow smoothly into one another.
  • Bikram. You might have heard of this “hot” yoga style that involves a specific series of challenging poses done in a very hot room.
  • Iyengar. This type uses props, such as foam blocks, straps, or blankets to maintain comfort and good form during poses.

What all these flavors have in common is a focus on the breath as a meditation and on moving at various speeds through a series of poses, which are sometimes very challenging. As such, it combines the calming effect of meditation with bodyweight strength-training of held poses.

The benefits of a regular yoga practice are impressive. Yoga clearly increases flexibility and strength, and improves balance. According to a slew of studies, the mind-body effect of yoga may also relieve stress and depression, lower blood pressure and heart rate, stabilize blood sugar levels, relieve chronic neck and back pain, and even improve brain function.

Referring to a 2015 study published in The European Review of Preventive Cardiology, an article in the Harvard Heart Letter reports, “over all, people who took yoga classes saw improvements in a number of factors that affect heart disease risk. They lost an average of five pounds, shaved five points off their blood pressure, and lowered their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by 12 points.”

Despite the fact that some of these studies are small and not terribly rigorous, the consistent result is that, while yoga isn’t a cure-all, it helps to relieve some surprising conditions.

One of those small studies published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that yoga can even improve sexual function. In this study, 40 women practiced yoga for an hour every day for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, 75 percent of them reported improvement in sexual satisfaction on several assessment areas, such as lubrication, desire, arousal, and pain. Women over 45 showed the most significant improvement in lubrication, arousal, and pain.

The good thing about yoga is that you can jump in and feel challenged at any fitness level, from couch potato to workout devotee. It’s low-impact, so it’s easy on the joints. It isn’t competitive, so you shouldn’t be looking over your shoulder (or between your legs) at the next person. It doesn’t require any equipment other than a mat, so don’t stress the gym wardrobe.

You can find yoga workouts online or on DVDs, but classes are offered everywhere as well. The glut of choice actually makes teasing out the best choice for you more challenging. It took hours of online searching to find a workout that fits my ability but that also avoids an annoyingly smarmy monologue or off-the-wall comments about hairstyle or the leader’s latest manicure. (Not kidding.)  I ended up sampling the beginner clips from this list.

Taking a bricks-and-mortar class may be the best option for maintaining motivation, but also for feedback and advice on proper form and avoiding injury. Check out the background of the person leading the class. Barriers to entry are low, so anyone can teach yoga with a few hours of training. You’ll want someone with experience and many years of practice in the discipline.

“To my mind, a good teacher always asks, ‘Are there any injuries or conditions I should know about before we get started?’” writes Julie Corliss, editor of the Harvard Health Letter.  She also advises checking out a few different classes to find a good fit.

 

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Sex after menopause can be challenging. This website and my medical practice is dedicated to addressing those challenges, so topics like dry vaginal tissue, pain with intercourse, loss of libido get a lot of press here at MiddlesexMD.

But for once, let’s turn the picture on its head. Let’s look at postmenopausal sex from the sunny side of the street.

Sure, menopause isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a hormonal roller-coaster with a chaser of unpleasant side-effects. Sex can become collateral damage during all the turmoil.

But the big picture? The view from the top of the hill? Not so bad at all. In fact, depending on your inner resources and resolve, both sex and life after the big M can look pretty darned sweet. Some women even report experiencing a resurgence of desire, sort of golden age of post-menopausal sex.

Several elements tend to coincide during those post-menopausal years that contribute to a more serene, predictable life and the potential, at least, for a renewal of romantic zest. For example:

  • More time; less stress. Retired or not, you’re probably past actively building a career. The kids are independent and maybe out of the house. You aren’t completing financial reports while sitting at basketball practice. You can linger over a pinot grigio and actually listen to the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D Minor without the distracting din of kids fighting.
  • No periods; no pregnancies. A lot to celebrate here. The years of birth control (and worry about the Whoops! factor), the discomfort and nuisance of menses—all in the rearview mirror. You can sleep in and take the triple gatehook locks off the bedroom door. Canoodling can last as long as you want.
  • Financial freedom. Generally speaking, the hamburger years are over. You can afford steak, a night out, a nice bathrobe, or even a romance-inducing cruise. All of which can make you feel relaxed, sexy, and vital—and more connected to your honey.
  • Fewer crazies. As the hormonal ride levels off, you’ll feel more stable, mature, and confident. You know what you want, sexually speaking and otherwise, and you know how to ask for it. You’re coming into your own—no one is the boss of you.
  • Synchronicity. With maturity, the sexual needs of men and women tend to converge. Men slow down and value emotional connection. Women become more assertive. It can be a great time for playful exploration on all levels.

Intimacy at midlifeGranted, aging comes with challenges, and they can be unpredictable. But growing older and staying sexy is more about your attitude, and the resources you bring to bear than what’s happening below your neck. “So here’s the big reveal,” writes Barbara Grufferman in this article. “After 50, we’re at a sexual crossroads, and need to make a choice: We could go through menopause, shut down that part of ourselves, lock the door and throw away the key. Or we could embrace this new life with a sense of freedom and fun…”

So that’s the thing: it’s a choice. There are no wrong answers (unless they hurt your partner); instead, you have lots of options. Barriers to good sex are very fixable, both for men and women.

Here’s a list of simple things you can do to enjoy these golden sexual years to the full:

  • Preheat the oven. You are responsible for your own arousal, so get to know your body and what it likes. Read erotica. Play with toys. Then teach your partner. Don’t wait passively for Prince Charming to ring your chimes.
  • Just do it. Sometimes you have to begin in order to get aroused. Start the kissing and cuddling. It’s quite possible that your brain will catch up. “If you’ve been ignoring, neglecting or denying your sexual self for a while, then you must consciously decide that you want sex in order to even let yourself feel desire,” writes Grufferman.
  • Sex leads to more sex. “Women who have regular sexual activity have less sexual dysfunction [and fewer] complaints,” says Dr. Madeline Castillanos, a psychiatrist and sex therapist in New York City. It’s that “just do it, you’ll like it” thing again.
  • Take your time. You don’t have to hurry, and you don’t even have to please your lover. Turning you on is a big turn on for him, too. So you can relax and let go of the worn and useless sense of duty about getting him and yourself off expeditiously.
  • Engage in outercourse, says Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, a psychologist with University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Involve all the senses; practice luxurious, languid, voluptuous sex that may or may not actually require penetration. Most of all, have fun doing it.

According to the experts, the most dependable predictor of good sex after menopause is good sex before menopause. And if it wasn’t so great before, time’s a-wasting. You can apply your hard-won life skills and your intimate knowledge of your partner to begin addressing the issues that stand in the way of intimacy and a solid sex life.

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