Q. I'm happily married for 27 years. I love my man dearly and our sex life is warm and comfortable and loving. But it's always the same. I know I don't try to change it at all so I don't blame my husband for not changing things. I've never thought about being with anyone else and am totally devoted to my marriage, but recently while having sex, flashes of this other man have appeared.
It's like I'm having sex with him and my husband is watching. The sex is much rougher and I like it. I've found myself simulating that kind of sex with my husband, but once I notice, I stop. I'd like to try more of the things in these flashes, but I feel mortified that I'm having them, and that I want rough sex. Should I shut it down or try to tell my very gentle and loving husband?
A. Tell him. He's probably noticed you moving differently already. You don't have to tell him about your fantasies if you don't want, but you could introduce the topic by saying you saw something on TV or online that looked fun. You could test the waters that way without having to expose your true desires.
Alternatively, you could keep moving that way rather than stopping, and just see what happens. You could prompt your husband to go a little harder or faster and you could suggest positions that interest you. It's all about your delivery. If you show him that you're really turned on by him and that you really want to share passion with him, he may find it incredibly sexy. He may be as interested in mixing it up as you are and just needs a gentle push.
Or you could introduce the idea as your fantasy. When you're kissing and touching you could whisper in his ear that you've been thinking about him ravishing you (insert your own words) in a certain position or depth or speed. I'll leave the sexy language for you as it needs to feel appropriate and natural. Don't give up! Do try to introduce the idea, and feel proud and confident that your desires are healthy and will only add to your already loving sexual relationship.
Q. To what extent do you think hormones are at work versus desire? For example, if a woman starts a new relationship after menopause, do you think her libido would be as low as a woman of the same age in a long-term relationship?
A. This is a great question because is highlights the complexity of us as human beings. While hormones are a vital part of our sexual and general lives, they are not the be-all and end-all! This is exemplified by how our desire levels fluctuate throughout life, depending on how our relationships, health, finances and general quality of life are.
We can have fantastic hormone levels, but if we have chronic relationship problems and don't feel connected to our partner, or are engaging in unsatisfying sex, our sexual desire is likely to diminish over time.
There's a great study that shows post-menopausal women in new relationships have the same sexual desire levels as their pre-menopausal counterparts. This implies that female desire is significantly increased when they feel exciting and attractive and desired (usual feelings in the early days of a relationship). Women in long-term relationships often report that they don't feel those things and so they don't want to be sexual with their partners.
For perimenopausal (those on the hormone roller coaster leading to their very last period) and menopausal (those who haven't had a period in a year or more) women, feeling attractive, exciting, loved and connected is more important than ever. Lowered sex hormone levels, changes in our bodies and continence, mood swings (which can be very distressing for all concerned) and sexual pain and so on, mean that our confidence is often eroded. We may need to be touched differently, have different kinds of sex that may or may not include penetration all the time. It's normal to need longer to get aroused and even when turned on, we may not lubricate.
If we have a supportive and creative lover, and if we understand our symptoms rather than blame ourselves, it's possible to design a new sex life that really works and feels great.
But even with understanding and support, without a reasonable level of testosterone (for desire) and oestrogen (for elasticity, lubrication and plumping of the vaginal walls and vulval skin), we may be more inclined towards Netflix and cuddles, than swinging from the rafters each night.
We do need to be careful not to reduce everything to hormone levels, however. There is fantastic new research emerging that shows a significant increase in sexual desire, as well as general quality of life, for menopausal women who engage in a healthy lifestyle (which can contribute to natural hormone balancing) and also undergo appropriate hormone therapy when needed.
Q. Is it normal or acceptable for a couple not to have sex at mid-life?
A. The important question here is why you're not having sex - if it's because the sex you had wasn't satisfying, if it's hormonal, or if it's relational and you don't feel close, there's lots that can be done. If it's due to ageing, pain or health issues, medication or surgery, you may need some specialised help, but there's still lots that can be done.
The first thing is to find out how you both really feel about sex and not having it, and then get the help if appropriate.
If two people come to the decision not to be sexual together, and are genuinely happy with that choice, then it's a good choice and is "normal" and "acceptable" for them. That's all that matters.
The best way to navigate this is to stick to your own values and do what feels right for you both, ignoring the temptation to compare yourselves to others or be swayed by media pressure.
The fact that you're writing to me may mean you're looking for a way to reintroduce sex based on an idea of "normal" or "acceptable". I'm not a believer in comparisons or in creating "norms" around the amount of sex people have, because inevitably, someone is going to feel inadequate or wrong somehow.
It's good enough that you may want to have some level of sexual connection with your partner. Your needs and desires are important and worthy and deserve proper discussion. It may not be possible to go back to the kind of sex life you once had, but it may be possible to invent something new that fits with the people you are today.
The place to start is asking your partner why they no longer want sex. You may be surprised by their answers.
It's always better to talk before taking action, like buying a new toy or underwear. Those can be great, if you're already close and feel sexual desire, but are unlikely to create desire from scratch (despite what the movies tell you).