Hot flushes, anxiety, brain fog – many women will be nodding their heads and mentally ticking off these common perimenopausal symptoms one by one as thephysical and mental changes are still very real or a not-so-dim-and-distant memory. Thanks tothe likes of Davina McCall,Andrea McLean and even former First Lady Michelle Obama, the menopause is no longer a taboo topic. But there’s still one issue that isn’t widely discussed: loss of libido.

In a study published in the medical journal Menopause in 2019, 30% of women aged 50-74 said their sex lives had come to a halt because they had “no interest”. And it’s now believed that a woman’s sex drive, in fact, decreases after the age 40 — that’s usually some years before the average age menopause is reached.

Add in the stress and mental load of running a house, a family and a career – plus perhaps caring for older relatives or adult children – and it’s not surprising we have little headspace left for nurturing our relationships at a time in our lives when self-care would be most beneficial.

When you’ve been with the same partner for a long time, pillow talk usually centres on whose turn it is to put the bins out rather than whispering sweet, sensual nothings in each other’s ears. While some women end up closing the mental door to sex, those who are still getting intimate tend to rely on gesture and wordless noises to encourage – or discourage – their partners in the bedroom, instead of clear direction. Women would often rather murmur and moan, and hope that their partner gets it right, than say the actual words or give instructions and risk giving offence.

Proper communication with your partner can lead to a more fulfilling sexual experience. Fact. However, in a recent study carried out by the University of Quebec, the 27 couples interviewed admitted they avoid voicing their desires in order to “preserve the mood, protect a partner’s feelings, and sidestep experiencing a partner’s judgment”.

Indeed, only about 20% of women aged 35 to 64 are comfortable talking about sex with their partner, according to the British National Survey Of Sexual Attitudes And Lifestyles. That’s despite approaches towards sex improving for women in recent years.

As a sex positivity and women’s health advocate, I can relate. Since having kids, I knew that my sexual encounters with my husband needed to be far more effective if we were going to make the most of those rare early nights. And we’ve since found that making our needs known in the bedroom is the key to better intimacy. You don’t ask, you don’t get pleasure.

While I’m now happy to ask for what I want in the bedroom, it didn’t always come naturally. In fact, it’s taken a long time to feel comfortable expressing my needs and preferences, and to talk openly about intimacy to help understand the needs of my husband.

“If sex is meaningful to you, it needs to be intentional,” agrees Jody Coyle, founder of the Happy Vulva Club. “It’s about prioritising pleasure, redefining intimacy and having open and honest communication between partners.”

And if you’re looking to reboot a sex fe that’s gone a bit stale, Jody points out, “It’s not choosing to be focused on getting your old sex life back, but discovering a new one.”

It can be harder to reignite the spark when you’ve been with one partner for a long time. Through thick and thin, babies and teens, postnatal and perimenopause, when you get into that comfortable rut (and yes, that can mean less sex), it can understandably feel awkward to suggest something new in the bedroom.

Oddly, while you know each other inside out, it might mean that you’re too timid to openly voice your sexual desires.

For women, the menopausal years can compound the issue. Oestrogen levels drop in the lead-up to periods stopping, sometimes resulting in vaginal dryness, hot flushes, mood swings and a drop in desire – none of which are ideal for a healthy sex life.

But know this – sex during and after the menopause might be different, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be bad. And communicating with our partner is crucial here.

Psychologist Charlotte Fox Weber, the author of What We Want: A Journey Through Twelve Of Our Deepest Desires, explains, “In any relationship over time, desires and priorities can change, but it can feel uncomfortable and even shameful to admit this. We’re socialised to seem consistent but, of course, we change and our environment affects our sexual desire and what we choose to display. We don’t know ourselves or each other as well as we might believe we do.”

Communication about sex is something most people need to work on, particularly when it comes to how inadequate TV and film portrayals of sex can make us feel. And that’s not even taking into account the unrealistic nature of most pornography.

Idyllic love scenes, or the ubiquitous hearts, flowers and romance of Valentine’s Day, can lead us to assume that sex should be perfect without us having to say anything. If they’re The One, surely they’d know exactly how to push our buttons without asking, right?

Wrong. Charlotte adds, “Satisfaction is fleeting, but the romantic myth of love sells permanent fulfilment.

So, as pillow talk really can make a difference to your experience – more pleasure, please! – here’s how to really ask for what you want in the bedroom.

Be direct

This is the most important piece of advice of all. Sure, gentle moans and nudging your partner into position can be effective, but it takes longer and often doesn’t quite achieve the desired result. So now is a good time to take the bull by the horns. Think about what you’d like, or what you’d rather not. Then take a deep breath, and just say it. The chances are your partner will be relieved they’re not having to guess for once. Importantly, remember that being direct does not mean being rude.

Be positive

We all like good feedback, and that’s especially true for sex. We don’t always know whether what we’re doing is effective or not, so it’s good to receive a little praise. Lead with the things that you’re really enjoying and what you like most, before introducing the idea of things you’d like but aren’t getting. Now is a good time to frame any changes positively, too. So try, “I’d love it if you could…” rather than, “Could you not…” Or, “I love it when you do X, can we try it here as well?” I mentioned earlier about a fear of hurting our partner’s feelings, but none of this has to be negative. In fact, having an open conversation can lead to the most positive changes of all.

Ask what they want too

Communication is a two-way street. While you might be thinking about what would make sex better for you, the same goes for your other half. Ask what your partner wants. They might never have thought about it before (my husband didn’t feel it was his role to ask until recently) and they might not have an answer right away, but the question is a great prompt to ensure you’re both getting what you need. Start with, “I’d like to try X, is there anything you’d like to do differently?”

Don’t do it in the bedroom

Sure, you can have sex in every room of the house, if you want, but let’s focus on the chat first. I’m talking about communicating – it might take the pressure off to raise the topic while you’re not in the bedroom. Sometimes we find talking while driving or on a walk best, because we’re not facing each other. Or why not bring it up while you’re watching TV? Those sex scenes we talked about can at least be a great conversation starter. Blogger and business owner Christina Pickworth (@thismamadoes) says, “If, in the moment, I haven’t asked for what I want verbally and the other signals I’m giving haven’t been understood, then what has worked for me is giving feedback later.”

Use a game

Sometimes we need a prompt to get the conversational juices flowing. There are plenty of conversation card games, such as Vertellis and the School Of Life’s Connect, that can act as an easy way to introduce an awkward topic. You’ll often find that once you’ve started talking about one thing, it will reveal some honesty on both sides about topics you really wanted to bring up but didn’t feel able to.

Show and tell

Still struggling to break the silence? How about writing a letter or a short note? If you find it easier to express yourself on paper this could be a good starting point. Or show your partner what it is you want to change or develop. Want more massage? Buy some sensual oil and introduce that at bedtime while explaining your needs – having something to demonstrate what you’d like can work wonders.

Take things up a notch

Found you like all this chit-chat? How about taking it to the next level? Sexy talk can be useful for amping up the passion inside the bedroom, and the best thing is that you can send it remotely (hello, sexting!) and in advance, so that you’re both on the same page when you finally see each other.

Put your nervousness into perspective

Remember that talking about sex is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s natural to be nervous of something you haven’t done before. But I’m betting you were nervous about some of the best things in your life, like getting married, having kids, or entering the room at a party. Often it means they’re the most worthwhile things to do.


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