When Your “Let’s Get It On” Gets Up And Goes
Perimenopause is an unraveling unto itself. Simply put, our unraveling is an opportunity for us to examine our lives as objectively as possible given the tools and skillsets we possess. During this transformative phase, we come face-to-face with a proverbial “fork in the road”. One prong leads to more of the same; the other leads to the unknown which is always accompanied by fear of some magnitude.
I see the unraveling we experience as either proactive or reactive. We can go into this phase proactively with eyes-wide-open; knowing full well we have work to do as far as coming to grips with our past while grounding ourselves in the now, and ultimately designing a future we want to bring to life.
Or we can opt for the reactive approach to our midlife unraveling, which could also be called the “hope and pray way”. In other words, we hope and pray our past doesn’t catch up with us, we don’t sit still long enough to actually feel our feelings in the now, and we keep living the life others have chosen for us while longing for a life we so desperately want to live. This option results from not making a choice and letting the chips fall where they may. Not the more empowering of the two options, but it is an option nonetheless.
Unless one is comfortable with being uncomfortable, the fear of the unknown keeps many a good woman stuck. She’s often locked in a tailspin that she gets rather used to, therefore she sucks it up and accepts that “this is just the way it is”.
This great resignation (unrelated to her employment status) is the most stifling of all resignations. It is the true loss of libido that plagues many perimenopausal women.
Too many women to count have confided in me that when they see “loss of libido” on a questionnaire, they roll their eyes. They do this because as they share in some variation or another, they just don’t enjoy sex anymore (if they even did in the first place), and they really don’t care much about it. It is literally the last “thing” on their list.
They collapse libido with sex. I get it. I used to do the same. But libido is so much more than sex. (Though it does include all things sexuality, from our sex drive to the acts that we think of when we see the word “sex”.)
Let’s get ourselves on the same page before we dive deeper into what will be an uncomfortable conversation for some. And those uncomfortable with being uncomfortable when it comes to the “sex talk” may not want to proceed.
I’m all for talking about the things we just don’t talk about. And this conversation is smack dab in the middle of that continuum. It’ll be PG, but it won’t be puritanical nor prudish. It is going to be 100% real and straightforward.
The concept of libido is unique to humans.
Our libido is the culmination of our zeal for life, our attraction to the pleasurable, and that electricity on which our vitality runs. You could also call it that sense of aliveness felt when we’re fully present in the moment.
We are electricity embodied. And we are walking, talking chemical reactions. Every single happening within requires an electrical “zing”, along with a chemical “zang”. Though I just made up the terms “zing” and “zang” in this context, you could equate them to the yin and the yang. The masculine and the feminine. The light and the darkness. Any duality will do.
The chemical and the electrical aspects of us are interdependent and as such, without one there is no other. When they are out of balance, there will be too much or too little of what we seek.
Our libido is where the intricate dance between the chemical and the electrical gains its tempo, its cadence, and its mojo. That mojo is by far the most important part, in my opinion.
The mojo is the bond between the chemical and the electrical as they dance. It keeps their steps in sync.
During perimenopause, our body and brain have to find their equilibrium again. During our reproductive years, estrogen took care of the mojo, and the libido for the most part. Estrogen makes us want to couple, to make babies, to nurture all the things, and to put everyone else’s needs before our own so we are appealing to others. In this phase of life estradiol is the primary estrogen in play. Now, this is a very blanket explanation but it hits the main point I’m trying to make here.
Estrogen is often referred to as simply “estrogen”, but it is important to know that not all estrogen molecules are created equal. In fact, there are 3 variations of estrogen and they are each quite unique in how they show up for us.
When we enter the perimenopause phase of life estradiol gears up for one last wild ride, think of it like a “Baby or Bust” quest. We can either hit our sexual peak or plummet into the depths of a vivaciousness void we’ve not known before. There is somewhat of a gray zone, but not much of one. The women I have known report a weighting to one side or the other, for the most part.
Think of this as our libido in action.
Depending on how our hOrmonic symphony is tuned before we enter perimenopause, we may have a smooth transition or it can be just this side of “hell”. A hOrmonic symphony is the unison achieved by all the hormones at work inside of us. This includes estrogen (all 3 variations), progesterone, testosterone, adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin. They each bring their own rhythm to the orchestration.
My research points to the adrenals on the physical side and past trauma on the emotional side of the equilibrium equation as the drivers for how we experience life during these transformative years. As for the spiritual side of this conversation, that is fed by our mindset which is the lens through which we filter our experiences and our role in how each experience transpires before, during, and after it occurs.
Our libidos take a hit at every bend in the road of life and the switchbacks intensify during midlife. As does our stress.
First of all, most of us are so overextended we don’t know if we’re coming or going. We say “yes” too often to keep in line with our role as the “put-er of all others first”. We plaster a smile on our face because God forbid if we don’t look like we’re happy all the dang time.
To add fuel to this dumpster fire, we are eating stuff passed off as food that is anything but…and washing it down with alcohol. “But it’s just wine.” And such a slippery slope. (Ask me how I know…)
The proverbial cherry on top? We rarely, if ever, get a moment to reflect. Let alone a moment to sit with our thoughts and feelings as a kind of check-in with our own selves. We’re essentially on autopilot, which is no way to live. Another way to phrase it is that we’re numb. We don’t feel the bad, nor the good. We’re in this middle zone of complacency. A middle zone that is becoming narrower and narrower as we approach menopause.
Menopause is the great reckoning, also known as the “I no longer give a f*ck” stage of life. Watch out for this one. When done well, it is liberating. When done poorly, it is dangerous. And a source for many a woman blowing up her life instead of dismantling the ticking time bomb that’s been swept under that fabulous throw rug for far too long. The dismantling is the unraveling.
More often than not, the vast majority of our to-do list items are anything but enjoyable. We procrastinate. We bitch. We moan. And we often find ourselves in a doctor’s office asking if there’s anything we can take to make that which pains us go away… ”Sure. Here, try this.” More deflection. More covering over. More lipstick on the pig.
We stuff our emotions because we know that if we examine one we have to examine them all, and that would be un-freaking-bearable. So stuffing is the only viable option.
I noted earlier there are 3 variations on the estrogen theme. During our pre-menopause or reproductive phase estradiol (E2) is the leader of the pack. During pregnancy, estriol (E3) is the main Mama. And postmenopausally, estrone (E1) runs the show. Estrone is less nurturing in nature. She is a creatrix and all about living her best life, as she sees fit. She knows this lifestyle is new to you and your previous “serve at the pleasure of everyone else” self, so she takes the wheel until you’re ready to sit in your own driver’s seat. And by “she” I mean you, but par for the course, our hormones run the show.
The reason our “let’s get it on” often gets up and goes is that estrone (E1) is less potent than estradiol (E2). There’s already less estrone than estradiol in circulation, add to that the plummeting potency, and we’re behind the 8-ball from the first break. Interesting fact to bring up, the reason we put on fat around our midsection as we hit midlife is that body fat produces estrone and as the ovaries start to plan their retirement party, body fat gets the nod. Our adrenals add some estrogen to the mix (all 3 variants), but all too often they’re too exhausted from fighting off the “dragons” we slay day after day to make much in the way of a contribution. Body fat has to make up the difference. More demand, more supply.
Estradiol is produced in the ovaries. Since those gals go into a well-earned retirement 365 days prior to our Pause Day (the menopause) there’s barely enough estradiol to make any waves in the hormone pool the closer we get to our menopause. Estrone has its own powers, but they are different than estradiol and in essence, our cells go into a detox of sorts as our hOrmonic symphony shifts its tempo, its cadence, and its mojo.
Just like Stella, you too can get your groove back. It will be different. In this case, different is a more creative, a more self-forward, and a more vibrant libido with your overall experience as a person at the center of her priority.
It’s a stark contrast to your usual spot on the back burner, but you’ll get used to the view in no time. I promise.
Sometimes letting the interactive sexual side of us sit a spell is just what WE need. I took a 2 year hiatus from sex and I tell you what, it was fantastic! I didn’t date much, and when I did, sex was not on the table (or anywhere else mind you). I was able to heal some past sexual traumas and gained great insight into what I found pleasurable body, mind, and spirit-wise. I’ll discuss this further in the Unraveling Together community. Going any further here will blow my PG promise out of the water, so I’ll end it on this note.
If your “let’s get it on” has gotten up and gone, look to building ALL the facets of your libido. Breathe life into your Inner Creatrix. Allow your physical prowess to reconnect with her strength, recall back to when you enjoyed being in action. Whether the action was through a sport, through walking, yoga, art, miming…whatever it was, get more into your body and stop living in your head so much. Present, not rehashing the past.
Get some dirt under your fingernails in the garden. Join a Tai Chi class. Grab some girlfriends and head to a painting studio. Try Pilates. Go to a Salsa class. Dancing the Salsa is a way to connect all facets of your libido on the dancefloor with the ever-so-sexy stranger from Vancouver, BC (good memories there)! Heck, throw axes if that gets you moving. (Super fun BTW.)
Do something with that amazing body of yours. She has inner creativity and strength just waiting to be tapped into.
When we’re coupled, our partners often don’t know what hit them when perimenopause comes on scene. Heck, we don’t know what’s happening ourselves. How can they possibly know what’s unfolding for us? As we say in the South, “Bless his heart.” Or hers.
We can’t possibly know the outcome of our unraveling, that’s part of the mystery only experience can reveal. The better prepared the two of you are as you navigate the perimenopausal waters, the better you’ll sail through it, together. Your unraveling affects your partner too. BUT, and that’s a BIG but, you are not responsible for how they handle it. That’s on them.
Be open with your feelings and allow your partner to be open with theirs as well. Listen to understand, not to respond.
Couples counseling can be a great way to connect again, or for the first time really. Too often the estradiol haze had us caught up in baby-making mode and we neglected the other million facets of what makes us the unique person we are at our core.
Ask your counselor about their experience counseling women in all phases of their menopause. If they “hmmm and hawww” or stumble on their words, choose someone else. Don’t assume that if your counselor is a woman she’ll understand menopause better than a man. A man is fully capable of understanding the process, and bringing to it empathy while holding space for you and your partner.
In the spirit of talking about the things we just don’t talk about, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the damage that pornography (porn) has done to our collective libidos. Point of distinction, there’s erotica and there’s pornography. In my mind, pornography is the complete opposite of erotica. Erotica is the sensual and sexual exploration of self and others, along with opening the mind to kink and fetishes. Erotica is more sensual in nature and porn, more sexual …and in some instances, violent. Porn is geared more toward the male of our species and erotica the female. I know that is another collection of generalized statements, but in the interest of avoiding a very deep dive into a very deep conversation, I’m painting with a wide brush once again. Whether we’ve viewed pornography or not, we know that the majority of the men we interact with have.
Our culture is absolutely marinating in the sexuality portrayed by pornography. Now this isn’t the “porn” of our youth; the “dirty magazines” and the VHS tapes we found under our parents’ beds. The porn of today runs the gamut from rather tame to unbelievably violent, and on the whole, it degrades women and men in ways that are incomprehensible to me.
What breaks my heart most, is the fact that children are seeing these images before they get those unbelievably wonderful stomach butterflies in anticipation of their very first kiss. Their innocence is not only lost, it is wiped off the map.
The US-based nonprofit, Fight The New Drug does great work educating on the topic of pornography with science and personal accounts from those both addicted to it and those afflicted by it.
Porn does not “add to the sexual experience” nor does it add “a hint of spice” as I’ve heard a time or several from men I’ve known. BS-Flag on the play Boys…don’t even try coming at me with that!
“Porn Kills Love” is not just a tagline, it is a true statement. And it kills our collective libidos to objectify a person as just their body parts which is exactly what porn does. Porn has disrupted connection, annihilated romance, and has skewed our collective sensuality to levels we can’t even fathom.
When we’re honest with ourselves, at least when I am with myself, it weighs in the back of my mind that “he” expects this type of sexual experience with me. That is a presumption wrapped in an assumption, but tell that to my subconscious. She makes her own “mind” up, leaving me to chase down the fallout. And lived experience shows me I’m not all that far off. I’ve had two long-term relationships with porn-addicted men. One I was blindsided by and the other I knew about going into the relationship. I had no clue how deeply he was wounded, he said he was “through it” and I was naïve as all get out then, I actually thought love could heal his wounds.
Both experiences still affect me in ways that continue to unfold.
Pornography rewires the brain, and not in a good way. It whacks out dopamine much like cocaine, in that it takes more exposure to pornographic images to get the same hit of dopamine. Which then requires either more in quantity or let’s just call it what it is, more depraved images to elicit the dopamine reward. Dopamine is the main player in our brain’s reward center. It is a slippery slope from “curiosity” to full-blown addiction.
When our stress is dialed up to “TILT”, our fear center requires so much energy that it empties our intuitive center, our heart center, our communication center, and our higher thinking centers just to make it through the day. We are anything but grounded when we are stressed.
Lastly, the fairytale hype we watched as girls doesn’t help things one bit. The maiden. The wicked woman in her life (reinforcing the setup for competition with other women). The prince. The distress. The rescue. The “happily ever after”. This storyboard sets us all up for failure.
I have to say, writing this has been rather therapeutic. Thank you for reading it. Though I’ve not reached my Pause Day, I’m embracing her wing-woman, “I don’t give a f*ck”. I’m talking about the things we just don’t talk about and are in desperate need of a space in which we can do so. I will hold that space for us here and anywhere you find me.
I think I’m walking that line between liberating and dangerous rather well…most days. On a scale of 1 (liberating) to 10 (dangerous), how’d I do today?