“Life is so much better!” says Lynn C, age 61, of Minneapolis.
“Many things are so much better in my life now,” writes journalist Dorri Olds, 56.
Kathy A., age 58, of Los Angeles, says, “I’m more confident now than I’ve ever been in my life.”
“I feel sexier than ever,” 59 year-old Helen Margaret Mikul tells me.
Are these women talking about their lives after being on some new drug, medication, or superfood? Actually, the reality is much more heartening, as this seemingly magical state is available to every woman lucky enough to live through it: They’re talking about their lives after menopause — and they are not alone.
According to a survey commissioned by Health Plus magazine, 72 percent of post-menopausal women think they are “just as attractive as before,” 82 percent feel “as feminine as before,” 80 percent feel an “overwhelming sense of freedom,” and 60percent feel “better than ever before.” More good news: The average post-menopausal woman feels 10 years younger than her real age.
We might experience various difficult symptoms during perimenopause (the two to 10 years leading up to menopause, when estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate and decline), but after women go through menopause (defined as not having our periods for 12 consecutive months), we can expect for life to get much better.
Exactly how can we expect for life to get better after menopause? This is what the experts — and the women who have been through the process — have to say.
1. Say goodbye to periods and PMS.
For some women, a monthly menstrual cycle is no big deal. For others, it’s an inconvenience that comes with mild cramping, an avoidance of wearing white jeans, and an annual cost of about $120 in tampons and pads. But for many women, a monthly menstrual cycle is a painful medical conditional from which they truly suffer.
Jessie Prichard Hunter was one of these women. “From the time I was 12, I had super-periods,” she writes, “which lasted up to 13 days and entailed changing a pad (and later a tampon) about every 45 minutes. I also had what is now recognized as really extreme hormonal swings — super-PMS — and they made me feel actually, literally insane.” Her menopause, in contrast, was very easy, and happened when she was 47. Life has truly been better for Jessie — and for numerous other women who suffered from debilitating symptoms that came with their menstrual cycles — ever since.
2. And say hello to terrific sex.
For many women, sex after menopause is the best sex they’ve ever had in their lives, thanks to increased confidence, reduced stress, and the absence of any fear of pregnancy.
Liz Strong,* 58, is separated and back on the dating scene. She says, “It’s such a relief to have finished up menopause. I’ve been having a lot of fun on the sexual front after a long dry spell, and it’s so great I no longer have to worry about the chance of getting pregnant. Of course, I still need protection against STIs, but this is one less thing on my mind. Yes to menopause!”
“I was a cougar for the first time in my life,” writes the journalist Dorri Olds, age 56. “I had to get over the loss of my marriage and I was wooed by a man who was 24 years younger than me. Had fantastic sex for over a year. It helped me survive my ex-husband’s relapse on heroin and the end of our beautiful relationship. The cougar thing wasn’t meant to be anything permanent, but it was awfully exciting while it lasted. Some of the best sex ever in my life!”
Kathy, 58, of Los Angeles, admits that she and her husband went through a dry spell (pun intended, she says) during her perimenopause. “Sex was painful, and my libido was low.” But after about three years after her last period, she found that her sex drive had returned — and then some. (This return in libido in post-menopausal women may be due to the new higher balance in testosterone versus estrogen, medical experts say.) Kathy used topical estrogen cream to combat her vaginal dryness. “Thanks to these changes, our empty nest, and no more contraception, I can honestly say that our sex life is better than it’s ever been.”
3. Free yourself from caring about what men think.
Some neuroscientists believe that the drop in estrogen experienced by post-menopausal women manifests with women carrying less about what men think of them. This is the experience of Suzanne Scanlon, a writer from Chicago, who went through menopause in her 40s. She says that many women spend a lot of time in their 20s and 30s thinking about men, and she definitely did. “It took up so much space,” she says. “As a writer, it’s a great freedom not to think about men as much.”
4. Learn to nurture yourself.
Estrogen is the nurturing hormone. Men produce some estrogen, but most (cis) women produce it in spades— beginning in puberty, peaking during pregnancy (if we experience pregnancy), and declining during perimenopause and beyond. When we go through estrogen withdrawal, our skin dries out, our hair and nails become more brittle, our body fat moves from our hips to our waist — and we become less nurturing of others. (In other words, it’s occurred to me as I write this, we become like witches in fairytales.) This last part— the becoming less nurturing of others — can be a shock to our significant others and children (or so I’ve noticed). It’s not that we don’t care about the people we love anymore; we just think that maybe they should start fending for themselves a bit more.
When Carrie Brenner of Chicago was first divorced, at age 52 (about the same time as her last period), she would stay at home instead of going to yoga class or book club in the evenings when it was her turn to have the kids (who are now 20, 17, and 16), because she felt too guilty. Now, three years later, “I tell them to cook dinner, order pizza, go out and eat fast food — I don’t care! They’re old enough to manage.” She finds that she really needs her yoga and time with her friends a couple times a week to stay centered and sane, and she just doesn’t feel guilty anymore about needing — and taking — time for herself.
5. Experience emotional stability.
“I love feeling more even emotionally,” says Robin White-Diamondstone. “I always had such highs and lows. Now I feel very content, wiser, and grounded. I went into menopause early, age 39, and finished by 45. I’m now 50 and so grateful to be through the process.”
Dorri Olds has a similar perspective. “Whenever I miss my young 20-year-old skin or perky breasts, I remind myself how tormented I was in my 20s. So much rage and self-loathing. It is nice to really know myself now.” She tries to remember, “To be mindful of the moment. To think things through and not blurt out the first thoughts that come into my head when I’m angry. It’s kind of like radio’s ‘7-Second Delay’ my dad, a successful radio man, told me about.”
It makes sense that after the emotional mood swings that often come with PMS and perimenopause, many women would find liberation and calm in experiencing emotional stability — and in being mature enough to know how to deal with strong emotions when they do experience them.
6. Discover a second act.
In The Menopause Goddess Blog, Lynette Sheppard writes: “I have long maintained that after the worst of the Pause has happened, life becomes richer, sweeter, and more fulfilling. We truly can re-imagine and re-create ourselves then. This can be the best time of our lives. I can attest to it.”
This re-imagining and re-creation of a self and a life after menopause is often referred to as a “Second Act.” Famous examples include Grandma Moses, who was 76 when she first picked up a paintbrush, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, who didn’t publish her first novel until she was 65.
In The Hot Guide to a Cool Sexy Menopause, Nurse Barb Dehn writes: “Menopause offers an opportunity for a renaissance of sorts with a renewed drive toward more creative, spiritual, and professional fulfillment.” Dehn cites the example of her patient Maggie, who began to sense that there was more to life than just waiting to be a grandmother. With the newfound confidence she’d discovered after menopause, Maggie did what she’d always wanted to do but never thought she could manage: she opened her own catering company.
As Christiane Northrup, M.D., writes in Goddesses Never Age, “We are meant to begin life anew around the biological marker of our last menstrual period.”
7. Dazzle with confidence.
Helen Margaret Mikul, a 59-year-old midwife from North Carolina, says that after gaining 20 pounds during menopause, she loves her body and feels sexier than ever.
Kathy, 58, attributes her increased confidence to being proud of her strengths and accepting of her weaknesses. “I’m at the top of my game at work, and I have a great relationship with my husband, my kids, and my friends. Do I have the taut skin and size 4 figure I did in my youth? Nope, but I dated horrible guys back then and abused alcohol. So I’m fine with the tradeoff. And you know what? I think I look pretty damned good. I’m more confident now than I’ve ever been.”
M.W. of Minneapolis says, “It is never too late, or too early, to start becoming the person you want to be.” She accepts mistakes as part of life, which she finds very freeing. “If you know you’re going to survive and don’t expect everything to always be perfect or successful, you’re going to try new things a lot more. It’s like a muscle you keep exercising, a skill you keep practicing. Over the years it adds up to being more confident and comfortable with yourself.”
When I look at many of the women I know over age 50 or so (the average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51), I feel they exude a confidence that most women in their 20s and 30s can only envy.
8. Experience post-menopausal zest.
American anthropologist Margaret Mead defined post-menopausal zest as the rush of physical and psychological energy that many women feel after menopause.
I can’t help but think this is exactly what Lynn C, 61, is experiencing. “I honestly feel I have come into womanhood and finding my own person,” she says. Lynn was a DES baby (her mother used the drug to prevent miscarriages when she was pregnant with Lynn during the 1950s), and Lynn suffered from cramps and headaches during her monthly cycle from puberty until her total hysterectomy at the age of 56.
“Life for me began at age 56 following my hysterectomy,” she says. “I refused to take hormones and was determined that whatever side effects I would experience, they would be nothing compared to my pre-menopausal suffering. Therefore, I was determined not to listen to my friends complain about brain fog, low energy, and weight gain.”
At age 61, she has more energy and is more physically active than ever. “My confidence in myself as a woman has never been stronger, I’m comfortable with watching myself age without the need of Botox or body alterations of any kind. And sex is awesome; orgasms come much easier.” She feels she can do absolutely anything she sets her mind to, a belief that reality certainly seems to bear out: she has earned two promotions in the past five years. “In a word, post-menopause to me means empowerment. Life is indeed better after menopause!”
Margaret Mead wrote, “There is no more creative force in the world than a menopausal woman with zest.”
Hearing the stories of Lynn and these other inspiring post-menopausal women, I can only heartily and happily agree.
This post was written by Kelly Dwyer, a published novelist, playwright, and freelance writer.