The change: What I learned from early menopause
Thanks to a combination of fertility treatments, endometriosis, and an exploded ovary that had to be surgically removed, I went through menopause earlier than expected. At 45, that was it for my menstrual cycle.
After a year of not bleeding, it became medically official:
I am a menopausal woman.
My initial reaction to this new identity was a big fat meh. I spent five years trying to get pregnant in my early 30s, and every failed cycle was another round of grief for my identity as a fertile woman.
Miraculously, the corporate health insurance I had in early 30s covered one cycle of IVF, and I was able to conceive (thanks, Microsoft!). When my breech son had to be delivered via C-section, I asked the doctor to tie my tubes while she was in there, and that was it: I was officially done with my childbearing years.
Since I’d already spent years making my peace with my identity as an infertile woman, I was initially blasé about the prospect of menopause. In fact, I’d been the one to make it official once I’d had my one kid! After my divorce, I’d delighted in being infertile — it made dating so much easier to make it clear: “I’ve got a kid, and there absolutely will not be more.” I reveled in my infertility!
But menopause is different. It’s not just about making babies, it’s about making hormones. It’s about sex. It’s about skin. There’s more here than just fertility.
That in mind, here are my experiences with menopause, and how I’m trying to use the fears and symptoms as a portal for more love, awareness, and connection.
Fear #1: But does my vaj stop working?
Many of the stories I’d heard about menopause included a lot of fear-mongering about vaginal dryness and elasticity. I watched a Marianne Williamson seminar once where she off-handedly joked, “When you’re young, you want a well-endowed man. When you’re older, you don’t.” The audience laughed, she added, “Those of you who get it, get it.”
I was like NOOOO, I DON’T WANT TO GET IT. I’m a girth queen! Who will I be if my vaj stops working?
Luckily for me, I got some amazing advice from a tiny OBGYN I slept with in my early 40s. She told me to put coconut oil on myself daily, all the time, for any reason.
“It’s a mild antimicrobial AND antifungal,” she told me. “You can never use too much coconut oil on your vulva. Just slather it on, all day every day.”
So I did. And, even as a perimenopausal woman, the difference was remarkable. The color of my delicate mucus membranes changed to a lighter pink. I realized, wait: had my lips been sort of chronically chapped? I use moisturizer on so many other body parts (face and lips, legs, shoulders…) why wouldn’t I moisturize these other lips?
(Disclaimers here: Obviously, I’m not a doctor — I just slept with one once. Also, oils and condoms don’t mix, so practice caution with your coconut oil if you’re using condoms)
Do I use coconut oil all day every day now? Yes. Do I ever have sex without it? No. Is my vaj broken? No. Do I prefer the fractionate kind? Yes.
That said, I’ve also leaned into my fear: what if my vaj DID stop working? What if there’s a point where no amount of coconut oil is enough?
The good news is that as a queer woman who’s dabbled kink and breathwork, I know for a fact that penetration is just one tiny slice of sex. I know that there’s a whole wide world of non-penetrative intimacies to explore, and that if someone I adored was like “Girl, I want you to beg me to fuck the back of your knees,” I would probably be like, “Ooh, that’s hot.”
This is all to say, menopause hasn’t broken my vaj, but I’m also using it as an opportunity to make my peace with the fact that our bodies are all aging. We’re all pre-disabled. Intimacy and sexual pleasure can take many different forms, and the real joy is exploring them with folks you care about.
TL;DR: Vaj not broken, but also preemptively making peace with the fact that vaj may someday break.
Fear #2: But does my libido die?
Here in menopause, I am here to say that I am not as horny as I used to be, and it is a relief.
I’ve always had a healthy sex drive, and after my divorce, things got uh, intense. I now understand that it was a triple punch of recovering from sexual rejection + dating as a single person for the first time since the ’90s + what I now understand was the last gasp of my reproductive cycle… but the results were exhausting.
I was deeply preoccupied. It was the first thing I thought about in the mornings, and the last thing on my mind at night. How am I going to get some booty? My husband walked out, how am I going to get some booty?! Good morning, I am alone, and how can I ensure that I am getting some booty!?
Walking down the street, I assessed each person I passed from a voraciously pansexual perspective. Would I do him? Yes. Would I do her? Yes. Would I do them? Absolutely. What about them? From behind, in the dark. What about her? Meh, if she was topping me. What about them? Sure, but only if I was topping them.
It might sound sexy, but that phase of my life deeply exhausting.
“Holy shit,” I thought to myself at one point. “Is this how men feel all the time?”
As a menopausal woman, I’m recognizing that it’s true what they say: you’re not as horny. But, as someone who truly lived it up during her wonderslut years, it’s actually a weird relief to be a little less preoccupied.
I know that some folks experience a total drop-off in sexual interest, and I’m definitely not there. I love sex, and seek it out with partners. But am I less of an ambitious wonderslut? Yes, and thank god.
It’s also made me aware of just how much of what I thought was my personality was actually hormones. I started feeling oddly alienated from my single friends in their early 40s, as I watched them ride their ovulation manias and PMS rages.
Things feel more even and stable, now that I’m off the monthly rollercoaster of my cycle. I still deal with anxiety, fear, anger, sadness… but I experience it less as a wild ride I’m stuck on, and more of clouds passing by.
This is where things get confusing: is this menopause, or years of mindfulness practice? Is this menopause, or things being relatively calm in my life? It’s impossible to know.
Fear #3: But does my body change?
Ah, aging and body image. This is one that I’m continuing to learn about. I’m the same weight, but I feel like my waist is maybe a bit thicker… but is that from finally resolving my chronic stomach condition by treating my SIBO, which means I’m able to actually digest my food and be nourished by it so of course I’m a little thicker? Or maybe it was the pandemic? I don’t know.
I do know this: bodies are always changing, and trying to stop them from changing is a setup for suffering. When I feel unsure about things, I try to focus on where I can celebrate things instead of punishing myself.
I started a new weightlifting protocol, because while I’m not into worrying about my waistline, I do like how it feels to have more strength in my body. That’s a better use of that energy.
Is my skin drier? I think it might be, so I use more lotions and oils, while also making my peace with the fact that ultimately this body is dying, and the energy inside it will joyously reintegrate with the universal soup that it came from.
I’m trying to treat menopause as a yes/and situation. I can address and mitigate some of the symptoms, while also looking the reality full in the face: I am dying.
We all are.
It’s the one thing we can count on.
My reproductive years are over.
I can grieve the losses (farewell to that wonderslut era! It’ll never be that again, thank god / how tragic) while also having gratitude for the journey, and curiosity about what’s to come.