If you're a woman older than 40, sex may not always be at the top of your priority list. There are ways to try to change that, if you want to.
In this week's Reaching for More, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a New York obstetrician-gynecologist and author of "Pleasure: A Woman's Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need and Deserve," and Peggy Northrop, editor in chief of More magazine, share advice with The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler.
Many women hear that sex gets better with age. While psychologically they may have it all together after 40, perhaps their sex lives are not quite what they expected.
More magazine's current issue has an article about sex and the middle-aged woman.
"In fact, a lot of people say, 'Gee, you know, now I have time. The kids are grown, they're out of the house, they are doing sleepovers. And I'm just not in the mood the way I used to be.' And they think, 'What's wrong with me?' " said Northrop. "They think something is wrong or they remember the line in 'Something's Gotta Give' and (Diane Keaton's) character thought, 'Maybe I was all closed up.' The shop was all closed up. It's not true. We have to adjust the way we think about our sexuality at this age."
If a woman believes she ought to be having sex, but isn't, is it better to see a doctor or speak with a therapist?
"In our story, we talk about the fact that a lot of doctors don't have the training or time to talk to you about what those problems may be," said Northrop. "You're better off these days searching for somebody who really has some training as a sex therapist. Of course, you can talk about that."
What causes a decreased sex drive after age 40?
"Physically, as we age, we have two hormones that decrease," Hutcherson said. "One is estrogen. You can experience dryness and pain with sex. The second hormone that decreases is testosterone — the hormone of desire. So you may naturally have a decrease in your desire for sex. But in addition to that, we tend to have more stress in our lives. And, sometimes, when you're under a lot of stress, sex becomes just one more thing that you've got to do for somebody else. Paradoxically, if you have more satisfying sex, that can actually decrease your stress."
The article says many of us exist in a state of sexual neutrality — we're not necessarily in the mood, but we can get there fast if we want to.
"I found that a very comforting idea," said Northrup. "People think if you aren't in the mood it's just never going to happen. And it's a short drive. That's what we have to remember."
Hutcherson says a computer or TV in the bedroom can be a real mood killer.
"It's so easy to turn on the television and find something that's interesting and, therefore, forget about sex, fall asleep with the television on. There shouldn't be televisions or computers in the bedroom," she said.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many women over 40 might be dealing with divorce or, perhaps, are widowed. So is it a bad thing if they aren't having sex regularly?
"You don't need to put pressure on yourself to become sexual, but if you are in a relationship or it bothers you that you don't have desire, then that is something that you should pursue," said Hutcherson. "Speaking to your doctor and being quite honest and bringing the subject up — not waiting for the doctor to bring it up — and not being embarrassed about talking to, not only your doctor, but your girlfriends. Girlfriends are a great resource for information and comfort."
One of the tips in the magazine is that perhaps when we were younger, our hormones were enough to get us through. Now maybe we have to fuel an active fantasy life.
"That's right. The other thing I found really amazing is one of the solutions is not to spend more time with your husband. Women react to stress and deal with stress by tending and befriending," said Northrop. "So it actually makes a lot of sense to go out and hang out with your girlfriends. That might actually get you in the mood, because you aren't being a wife and mother. You are being a woman."