Your Sex Appeal Has No Expiration Date, Sis
Black women have an edge when it comes to body confidence as we age. 3 top docs talk sexual satisfaction, self-care and radical self-acceptance — gravity, grays and all.
The naked truth about getting older: Gravity will shift some things. Skin may soften and fold. Gray hair sprouts … there. And there may be other surprising changes going on with your lady parts. These days you may catch your reflection after a shower and notice a belly bulge you didn’t have before, or that your bra doesn’t fit like it used to. As we age our bodies will inevitably change, and these changes can do a number on our self-esteem.
How you feel about your body can also affect how you feel in the bedroom. A study published in 2019 in the Journal of Women’s Health found that women at midlife who felt self-conscious about bodily changes reported that these concerns had a negative impact on their sexual satisfaction.
But the report offered good news, too, especially for Black women. The study found that women who felt confident, even in the face of bodily changes, also had better sex. And Black women were more likely to boast midlife body confidence.
“It's very common to feel insecure with bodily changes as we age,” says Hilda
Hutcherson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University and a nationally renowned expert in the field of women’s sexual health. “But that doesn't mean that you have to buy into the narrative that older women are not sexy!”
Better body confidence means better sex, so Sisters talked to top experts in medicine and sexual health about ways to feel good about the skin you’re in.
Manage your mindset.
Ditch the notion that your body needs to look a certain way to be sexual.
“When we look at sex as being about pleasure versus meeting an expectation or standard, we can begin to see that giving and receiving pleasure has nothing to do with the way the body looks or the shape of the body,” says Kathryn Ellis, a sexuality counselor with a doctorate in occupational therapy. “It has to do with our skin and the sensory system. I encourage people to not let the image of the body interfere with the body’s capacity to enjoy the sex they’re having.”
Don’t compare and despair.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Well, those words of wisdom apply even when you’re comparing yourself to yourself!
“Oftentimes we are comparing our 60-year-old self to our 40-year-old self, and when you’re 40 you’re often comparing yourself to your 20-year-old self and that’s just not realistic,” says Monica Christmas, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Chicago and director of the school’s Center for Women’s Integrated Health and its Menopause Program. “Let’s take where you are right now and let’s optimize that.”
Get healthy and stay healthy.
Improving your overall health can help boost your confidence in the bedroom and beyond. “If we are able to be independent, we feel good, we are healthy, then absolutely you’re going to have better sexual health, too,” says Christmas.
Medications for conditions like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes can lower libido. So, adopt a healthy diet to help prevent or manage these diseases.
Skip the fad diets. They may help you lose weight fast, but if you want long-lasting results, you need to make lifestyle changes. You need to adopt a sustainable diet plan, something you can stick with indefinitely. Christmas recommends the Mediterranean diet, which is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts. Studies have shown that women who follow the Mediterranean diet have better heart health, better bone health and less cognitive decline.
Move your body.
Regular exercise can help you manage your weight and your mood. Exercise brings more oxygen to your brain and all of your other vital organs and also releases endorphins, leaving you feeling exuberant after a good workout.
Be sure to include weight-bearing exercises in your fitness regimen. This can help you maintain muscle mass and even reduce some of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. And don’t forget to add exercises that help with posture and flexibility. “Pilates is a really great exercise,” says Christmas, “and if there was ever a fountain of youth, I say it’s probably yoga.”
Talk it out.
If your partner is a man and he’s hardly ever in the mood, your confidence may be taking a hit. But don’t assume you’re to blame for his low libido.
As men get older, their testosterone levels decrease, just as a woman’s does. This can affect their sex drive, their ability to have an erection and even their ability to ejaculate. These conditions can cause men to shy away from sex. “Women think, ‘I’m not as attractive as I used to be and therefore that’s why he doesn’t want to have sex,’ when in fact it is hormonally induced in most cases,” says Hutcherson. Talk to your partner to find out what’s really going on. If he is having trouble maintaining an erection, encourage him to see a doctor.
If you’re insecure about surgical scars or apprehensive about sex because of health conditions you or your partner are dealing with, consider talking to a sex therapist.
Have open conversations with your doctors about your sexual health. If you’re not sure what to say, visit WomanLab.org for a list of questions to ask your doctor about sex and menopause.
Don’t stay silent about what you want in the bedroom. If you need lubricant and more foreplay to get in the mood for sex, say so. If you want to experiment with vibrators and toys, let your partner know. If there’s a lovemaking position you want to try or one you never what to try again, speak up.
“A fulfilling sexual relationship oftentimes comes down to communication and being able to feel comfortable talking to your partner about what feels good or doesn’t feel good,” notes Christmas.
Do whatever you need to do to feel sexy again. Buy sexy lingerie and wear it under your clothes just because, Hutcherson suggests. Do a striptease, just for yourself. Take a pole-dancing class. Read stories about sexy older women or watch movies like How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
The better you feel about yourself, the better your sex life is going to be. “Self-love is an aphrodisiac,” Ellis says. “No position will ever be as powerful as feeling desirable and sexy from the inside out.”