As I said in my last post, if and when you reach your fortieth year, you don’t fall apart, zombie-like, at the stroke of midnight of that birthday. The aging process doesn’t work that way.
So, as far as your vaginal area is concerned, this means that, at the chime of that particular midnight, it won’t instantly shrivel up and sink to the base of your spine.
What I have noticed as I move through the early part of my forties–and your experiences may vary, depending on what’s going on physically, emotionally, financially, and so on–is my orgasms originate from a deeper place and are more intense. My ovulation, and its attendant feeling of lustiness, has a bite that I didn’t notice in my twenties or thirties.
Am I indeed reaching my own “sexual peak,” that legendary apex of erotic everythingness that “women” (implicitly meaning “cisgender women”) are supposed to achieve at the age of forty? What causes this “peak,” and what’s going on “down there” as I’m going towards this summit?
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Well, let’s get real about that whole “sexual peak” thing: first of all, the age of it has changed in my lifetime, from one’s forties to one’s late twenties and thirties, though that elder sexologist, Alfred Kinsey, stated back in the mid-1950s that women reached their sexual peak in their mid-thirties. The shift lets you know that, at best, it’s more of a social idea(l) than a physical fact.
The reality is, for quite a few of us, we reach our physiologically sexual peak in our late teens, or nearing the end of what’s considered puberty. However, that doesn’t mean that, at that point in our development, several of us understand what our individual “sexual pleasure points” are. Several sex-and-dating advice folks and sexologists state that “The Sexual Peak” happens when we do understand them–and feel free to say and/or do them in our sex lives and loosen the social strictures from, for example, slut-shaming and/or living up to some notions of what we “supposed” to do and be “in the bedroom” based on, among other things, race/gender/class/ability. And that “peaking” can happen at any age.
Now, let’s talk about perimenopause, which may start, depending on circumstances, in a cisgender woman’s forties, though some medical experts say it can start as early as one’s thirties. Simply put, perimenopause is the transition time from, as the Mayo Clinic’s website states, “more-or-less regular cycles of ovulation and menstruation toward permanent infertility, or menopause.” (In this post, I’m looking at non-induced menopause. For the different kinds of menopause, check this out.)
You can think of perimenopause as a bookend to puberty, when one’s hormones once again wildly fluctuate, only with this phase, it’s because the ovaries are gradually ceasing to produce hormones. This ebbing may occur months or years before menopause, which medical experts consider as not having a period for 12 consecutive months.
How a cisgender woman make her way through this transitional time depends on the woman herself; each woman has her own story of her making her way through this. What’s tricky about figuring out the signs of perimenopause is they can resemble PMS or pregnancy, including irritability (though Our Bodies, Ourselves For A New Century debates this idea (p.558), tender breasts, a missed period, and/or migraines. Medical people say that perimenopause shows itself in these combination of signs, too, along with the above-mentioned ones (again, your experience may vary):
1) A definite change in one’s period: this can range from experiencing a noticeably heavier or lighter flow, a more or less frequent period, and/or a shorter or longer period.
2) The famous “hot flashes” and/or “night sweats.”
4) Vaginal dryness due to thinning vaginal wall–Our Bodies, Ourselves For A New Century cautions women to practice safer sex during this time because the thinning may lead to tears that could make them susceptible to HIV. (p. 563)
6) Decreased fertility: A quick note here: though a cisgender woman’s fertility is decreasing during this time doesn’t mean she’s won’t get pregnant at all. As long as she’s menstruating–and doesn’t have her tubes tied or is using another birth-control method–she has a possibility of getting pregnant.
7) Lowered libido: This one’s is a bit fuzzy. For some women, their libido isn’t lowered at all but heightened because she is hitting her aforementioned sexual peak. For some women, they may find themselves not wanting to have sex, be it solo or partnered, like they used to, partly because of the discomfort, even pain, from vaginal dryness and other changes in the vaginal area during this transition. And for some women, it’s not so much a lowered libido as it is not quite finding the right outlet for their needs and desires, be it finding the right partner and/or toys. And some women may be taking drugs that lower their libido.
8) Weight gain: this is a fraught one. Some medical folks claim that, as a person ages, not only does it become harder to lose weight, but the weight gathers in one part of the body: the belly, Some experts say that the weight is not so much related to perimenopause itself but the larger aging process. Then again, we live in both an ageist and fat phobic society, which means that we need to counter the stereotypes about aging and being of size.
So, I’m still trying to figure out why my horniness had so much bite during the month. Yes, I’m off my birth control pills–I’m doing the whole quirky-alone thing for a year, so I don’t need to take them–which led to my feeling my body ovulate for a first time in a long while. But I’ve gotten off The Pill before and never had that knocked-breathless feeling before. Yes, I do my Kegels and masturbate, which does help with orgasms. I also know what I like sexually and am not shy about telling a partner. So, yeah, I just may be reaching my very own sexual peak…and, considering some of what I listed, I also may be in my very own perimenopause.
Again, your mileage may vary as your reach your own mountaintop.