Scottish Daily Mail

Why so many women are succumbing to late life lust

Thought the menopause destroys libido? It can actually do the opposite ...

- by Linda Kelsey

WHEN the menopause knocks at the door, sex flies out of the window. As bedfellows go, there couldn’t be a less compatible pair.

Thanks to plummeting hormones, a woman’s libido goes into free fall, often never to be revived. The only thing you desire right now is a good night’s sleep and an open window. That, at least, is the accepted wisdom. We’ve been told this so often that to even hint, well, that it’s not quite how many women experience it, is to mark one out as something of a traitor.

In the arcane world of menopause show and tell, if you can’t make jokes about your appalling sex life and how you hate the very idea of making love, you’re just not one of the club of suffering sisters.

It may have come as a surprise to some, therefore — though not especially to me — when in July former tennis champion Chris Evert, now 61, blamed the menopause for the affair which ended her 18-year marriage. Not her husband’s affair. Hers.

‘We had a rough couple of years,’ said Evert of her marriage to American Olympic skier Andy Mill, father of her three sons.

‘I was going through menopausal stuff that doesn’t get talked about enough — what women go through, you know, at 50ish.’

Whatever she was ‘going through’ in 2006, it led to an affair with her husband’s friend, golfer Greg Norman, whom she subsequent­ly married. It lasted 15 months and broke a lot of hearts.

It would be easy to dismiss Evert as just another attractive, successful woman, panicking about ageing and attempting to justify her uncharacte­ristic, destructiv­e behaviour on her hormones, rather than being accountabl­e for them.

But while I cannot condone her actions, I can certainly understand the sentiments behind them.

For the hidden side of ‘menopausal stuff’ — suddenly feeling attractive again, having erotic dreams, even thinking about sacrificin­g middle-aged comfort and family stability for the frisson of illicit sex — is seldom addressed at all.

The reason I’m not surprised by Evert’s fling is because when my own relationsh­ip of 20 years was going through a fatally bad patch, eventually leading to separation and divorce, I was at around the same age and stage in life as she was.

I was in my early 50s and perimenopa­usal — my sex life had dwindled away almost completely — when suddenly I found myself harbouring fantasies of the kind of passionate affairs that would make me feel young, womanly and appreciate­d again.

Even at this age, and despite my dodgy hormones, I experience­d feelings of desire. Although lacking an object for my affections

— I felt emotionall­y and physically rejected by my husband — I could sense a spark of libido, waiting, longing to be ignited.

For me, though, the sex was all in the head, because I’m a useless liar, plotter and deceiver (all pre-requisites for a successful fling) and still unfashiona­bly wedded to the idea of fidelity.

When I confided to a slightly younger perimenopa­usal friend she grinned at me slyly. ‘The only difference between you and me,’ she said, ‘is that I have the courage to go out and do something about it’.

She went on to detail how her husband barely acknowledg­ed her existence any more, except when he wanted sex. ‘My lover, on the other hand — how I love the sound of that — lavishes me with attention.

‘Neither of us want to run off together, so perhaps it’s a last hormonal hurrah. But whatever it is I don’t intend to feel guilty about it.’

AlThough she fully intended — and has succeeded — in staying with her husband, it can’t be a coincidenc­e that divorce rates among 50-year-olds are rising. While other age groups remain static, the ‘hRT splitters’ have increased by more than a third in a decade.

Also, it can be no coincidenc­e that a 50-year-old woman today looks very different to one of a generation ago. She exercises, watches what she eats, and is, in some cases, in better shape than a 25-year-old.

Whereas in the past, opportunit­ies to stray were few and far between — a lusty menopausal woman of our grandparen­ts’ generation may have consoled herself with a Mills & Boon novel — today there are many outlets for a late-life surge in libido.

looking back more than a decade, the hormonal fluctuatio­ns in the run-up to my menopause, at a time when I no longer felt loved or desired, may well have contribute­d to my ramped-up sexual imaginatio­n.

When I met my current partner at the age of 56, a year after separation from my husband, I was at peak menopause. I was experienci­ng hot flushes, night sweats and sleeping appallingl­y. I was also having the best sex of my life. And I wasn’t even taking hRT.

At the time, I put this down to the confidence boost of a new relationsh­ip. Now, I realise I may also have been experienci­ng what a growing body of medical opinion is calling a ‘late-life lust surge’ — a sexual surge at the very moment when women are supposed to have lost all interest in sex.

My menopause, it turned out, was a transition — not a road block — in my love life.

This is thought to be influenced by testostero­ne, the male sex hormone that men have in abundance, but which also contribute­s to female libido.

During the perimenopa­use, the slow countdown to infertilit­y which can begin up to a decade before your periods cease, oestrogen levels fluctuate and fall.

But there’s a period in which testostero­ne remains relatively high. This is because, while testostero­ne peaks in your 20s, and then halves by the time you reach 40, the decline after that age is less dramatic.

At this point, when there are fewer hormone binding chemicals in the blood to dampen its effect, there’s effectivel­y a testostero­ne spike.

Psychiatri­st Dr Julie holland, who has a special interest in the effects of hormones on our well-being and is author of Moody Bitches, which explores the relationsh­ip between the two, suggests there may be an upsurge in libido during this period. Any drop in testostero­ne, whether it is produced in the ovaries or the adrenal glands, is age, rather than menopause, related. ‘In early perimenopa­use, around the ages of 40 to 42, increased libido is very common,’ says holland. ‘It’s also a common time to have affairs, which is where the notion of the Cougar came from. From then on, it’s more of an individual thing. ‘Providing you are still getting periods, even if they’re irregular, you’re guaranteed to get a mid-cycle spike in your libido. This can be the case well into your 50s.’ of course, it would be incorrect to suggest that women are entirely slaves to their hormones. Claudine Domoney, a consultant gynaecolog­ist at the Chelsea and Westminste­r hospital and a member of The Institute of Psychosexu­al Medicine, says it would be misleading to focus on hormones to the exclusion of a woman’s life and relationsh­ips. ‘There are some women who feel better about sex when they no longer have to worry about contracept­ion,’ she says. ‘Perhaps they’re more confident because they are taking hRT. or because they’re no longer so focused on being a good mother now the children have grown up.’ I recall a former colleague who had three kids at a young age, the first when she got pregnant at 20 and dropped out of college. By her late 40s

her kids had left home and her sex life suddenly took a turn for the better — the freedom to do it anywhere in the house, rather than silently behind closed doors, being one factor, as well as a certain sense of liberation from parental responsibi­lity.

When she told me this 20 years ago, neither of us would have considered that a positive surge of hormones might have also had something to do with it.

On the other hand, says Claudine Domoney, ‘I have women who come to me and say, “I feel desire with my lover but not my partner. Can you help me?”

‘I have to tell them there isn’t a magic pill for this because sex is a mind/body activity. It’s not separate, ever. Yes, HRT can bring back desire as symptoms improve, but it’s an individual response.’

As for post-menopausal sex, Domoney is keen to explode the myth that a diminishin­g sex life is mainly because women have lost interest.

‘There is evidence,’ she says, ‘that ceasing to have a physical relationsh­ip after the menopause is more likely to be male than female driven.

‘If the man develops sexual difficulti­es, the woman will excuse it with a loss of libido on her side which doesn’t necessaril­y reflect how she really feels.’

This is backed up research led by Dr Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiolo­gy at King’s College London.

In studying women’s responses to questions about desire, arousal, orgasm satisfacti­on and pain during sex over a four-year period both pre and post-menopause, researcher­s found the rate of sexual dysfunctio­n barely altered.

FOR every woman who reported a sexual problem during the period, an equal number reported an improvemen­t.

‘We were surprised by the results,’ says Spector. ‘They suggest that menopause has been exaggerate­d as an excuse for everything.’

It turns out the end of oestrogen isn’t the end of sex after all.

If hormones are part of the picture, then changing attitudes to ageing are significan­t as well.

Dr Louann Brizendine, a top n euro spy chi atri stint he U.S. and author of The Female Brain, claims that changes caused by the menopause weaken women’s instincts to hold a family together and liberate them from the need to put up with second-rate husbands. Brizendine also claims that a woman’s brain chemistry changes in perimenopa­use, too — and that is to do with the feel-good hormone oxytocin (the one you get from having sex).

When oestrogen levels dip, so does oxytocin, making a woman less ‘we’ and more ‘me’ focused.

Combine this with a testostero­ne spike and you have a perfect storm for Chris Evert’s ‘menopause-induced’ affair. It also explains why more women than men in their 50s initiate divorce.

As the list of women achieving great things — and looking amazing — in later life grows exponentia­lly, from our new Prime Minister Theresa May to the likes of Helen Mirren, post-menopause starts to look less like a slippery slope and more like an invigorati­ng spin class that leaves you glowing and self-satisfied.

As Dr Holland says: ‘People have this idea that hormones cause behaviour, and this may be true. But often it’s the other way round, and environmen­t and behaviour will actually trigger hormones.

‘Don’t forget, libido is more in your head than anywhere else.’

Even, it seems, when you’re a menopausal, sexual write-off like me! Or Chris Evert.

Suddenly despite my dodgy hormones, I could sense a spark of libido, longing to be ignited. A friend confessed she felt the same — only she had the courage to take a lover

 ??  ?? Desire: Linda Kelsey and (inset) Greg Norman and Chris Evert in 2009
Desire: Linda Kelsey and (inset) Greg Norman and Chris Evert in 2009
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