Taboos are off the table: Sexual pleasure is a health issue

Feb 25, 2023
Source: Getty

In the recent film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, its star Emma Thompson had the audacity to explore the concept of sexual pleasure as an older woman. Radical. Or was it? In the media, Thompson was ferocious in defending a woman’s right to talk about sexual pleasure without shame, as am I.

Women have the right to a healthy and fulfilling sex life at any age, but as we get older, we face more challenges in achieving this. For decades men have had access to medications such as Viagra and other therapies that improve poor sexual performance, often due to illness or the normal processes of aging. For whatever reason, women’s sexual health has been shrouded in secrecy and embarrassment. 

Times have changed. Not only is the sexual health and pleasure of women being talked about more openly, but technology has also developed. Having a confidential discussion with your doctor or specialist practitioner is not only possible but critically important.

We’re all aware that our bodies change with age, and as we move into our 50s and 60s, no change feels more dramatic than menopause, especially post-menopause, particularly when it comes to sex. For decades women have endured pain and discomfort, lack of pleasure, unwanted abstinence and/or relationship anxiety. These issues are no longer inevitable, as sexual health management has come a long way. Women no longer have to accept the status quo.

Other hormonal and age-related issues can arise due to illness, injury, and possible trauma which may prevent women from enjoying a happy and fulfilling sexual relationship with their partner. Vaginal dryness, vaginismus (the tightening or spasming of vaginal wall muscles), and other issues can occur unexpectedly at different stages of the hormonal roller coaster. For many women, these hormonally related changes can result in painful sex or potentially make sex impossible.

We invest in our homes, cars, children, and more. We’ll renovate the house, install solar power, or help chip in for our children’s weddings or first home deposits. But when it comes to self-care, especially in sexual health, it’s easy to dismiss it as vanity, self-centredness, or luxury. What we need to understand is that sexual health is as important as every other element of our well-being. And it’s our right to enjoy love, intimacy, and a vibrant sexual life.

Women all have different needs with unique health and personal histories that dictate how our bodies adapt to ageing. But, we don’t have to sacrifice sexual pleasure. If anything, sexual pleasure can become more important as we age for reasons such as intimacy and trust as well as the physical and emotional connection that sex gives us. The benefits to our physical and mental well-being are long understood and robustly researched.

The first and most important step is acknowledging that there is an issue, and having that confidential conversation with your doctor or specialist practitioner. The support, research and treatment are now available. 

All women deserve the right to enjoy pleasure from their relationships and their bodies – no matter their age. 

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