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Real Talk: A Window Into Menopause and Masturbation

This isn’t your usual Masturbation May post. I can say the usual. How blood flow is good for the genital area, especially during menopause! You need the blood flow to the area. Use it, so you don’t lose it - another good masturbation tagline. It’ll help strengthen your pelvic floor – so necessary as the oestrogen seeps out of your body as you age and you discover the downside of having a uterus, bladder and ovaries. Do your Kegels! They’ll help you when you inevitably start leaking urine when you go to pick up your child. 

But this isn’t a usual Masturbation May post because I have a young child and I’m also menopausal and on menopause hormone therapy; this means, the hormones I have are a result of putting patches on my skin and taking pills – they’re artificial, meaning my body doesn’t produce them naturally. It also means my body acts a bit differently to what it would do. I pretty much knew before menopause what was happening in my body with my menstrual cycle; I could tell what was happening when and how I’d act especially when it came to sex or masturbation. It wasn’t a textbook cycle, it was short with a little blood flow but it was mine and I knew how it worked. And knowing yourself is quite key in being intimate with yourself and with others. 

A blue wall with a small window with bars on it

Now? I really just don’t know. It’s been such a revelation to live through a decline in hormones and live without hormones for a long time and then have them be re-introduced artificially. It’s funny how so much of who I was and what I’ve done was a result of those hormones. When I became a mother, I didn’t have any libido. It took me years to come back to myself. At the same time, I was going into menopause so I don’t know how much was menopause and how much post-partum but the result was that I wasn’t in any way sexual. And with that a lot of my identity was lost. As a woman mostly and then as a person who had enjoyed shared intimacy. But finding an identity that fits into these different slots has been more of a challenge. There are times when nothing seems to fit and trying to put myself into an identity just makes me angrier.

Understanding the role and effects of hormones in my body was an important part of healing for me. I realised what an important role oestrogen plays in our bodies. We have oestrogen receptors just about everywhere – but especially in our genital area, so when that starts to decline our genital area is also affected. Things like, clitoral atrophy, thinning labia, recurring UTI’s make masturbation and sex hard to want to do. For me personally, it was easier not to go there. Orgasm wasn’t what it was. It was an anti-climax. If I managed to get to the point of orgasm, it was a massive disappointment. 

It wasn’t those waves of absolute euphoria that made you feel like you were ethereal and closer to god than any mass or meditation. It was more like struggling to get to the top of a mountain and then your body giving up when it reaches the top. Yes, masturbation is good for blood flow, it helps you relax, it's great for stress, it’ll help you sleep – it’s great for bridging any disconnect you feel between yourself and your body. But what if you can’t orgasm? What if you’ve been so disappointed that you’re scared to try again? This was my experience. 

And I had a box of sex toys gifted to me that I couldn’t use. They sat in the corner of a room unopened mocking me. A physical reminder of who I was or who I could be if I could just ‘let go’.  

My non-existent libido plus my ADHD executive dysfunction made using the toys a problem within itself. The aspect of dealing with how these toys work, what’s needed before hand in terms of cleaning (and after), what’s involved in getting them to work: batteries (what type? how many?), charger (what type? where? how long?). They come with instructions – immediately, I’m out. Instructions can be long and scary; what if I miss something out and do something wrong? These things are physical barriers I can’t get over easily. I have to approach everything in small steps otherwise it gets too overwhelming. 

Female sexuality is also very nuanced. At least mine is. There is so much that needs unpacking which I won’t get into, but I’ll start with masturbation because it’s a safe way to get back to yourself amid the shit storm that is becoming a mother or being a woman in a society that puts a lot of pressure on women to be only mothers, or only carers, holy, good. It’s hard to get out of that head space and take care of yourself. 

But know this, masturbation is health. Cultivating that relationship with yourself will help you know what your boundaries are, what you like and don’t like. It’s a conversation starter with your lover or lovers; It’s a place to start from. Take it one step at a time – open the box, subscribe to an ethical porn site if needed. Take a long bath. Treat yourself how you would treat your lover. Masturbation is selfcare. Whether you reach orgasm or not, as with sex, that shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is becoming familiar with yourself and being confident in what you want and loving yourself. It really does start with you. And if you don’t feel like masturbating and its not your thing that’s ok too. Ignore the instructions on boxes and really take time to let things digest. It might just be about taking them out and looking at them. Holding them and taking in the textures and smells. Then put them away. And go back to the box in a week’s time or whenever you feel ready to. Reach out and ask someone if they know an easy way to make them work, I’m sure the sellers will be more than happy to give you a quick start method or the how-to basics. 

The takeaway is this: don’t stagnate, flow. Let the energy flow through you in whatever way makes you comfortable and happy. That’s all that’s important. Don’t worry about Masturbation May if you don’t want to or can’t masturbate. But do take care of yourself, love and accept where you are now and start from there.  

Kathy is the founder of MITRA Cyprus Menopause Centre, a non-profit organisation helping women in Cyprus going through menopause. Kathy is a certified menopause coach.

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