health

"How do I get that desire back?" Alison Daddo on the reality of sex during perimenopause.

The following is an excerpt from Alison Daddo's book Queen Menopause: Finding your majesty in the mayhem - a friendly, frank, compassionate and comprehensive companion for any woman experiencing menopause, or anyone wondering what to expect.

This post mentions sexual assault and could be triggering for some readers.

Chapter 5: Relationships, love, sex.

To love a person is to see all their magic, and to remind them of it when they have forgotten. - Mark Groves.

The relationship dance.

Having my marriage to Cam somewhat played out in the media as the 'perfect couple', I expect people must think it’s been all rainbows, love hearts and cupids singing us to sleep at night.

While there have been many moments like that, we’ve also come incredibly close to leaving each other. I have loved, hated, loved Cam more times than I can count. Each time we nearly separated, we dug back in and grew. We learned a little more about ourselves and each other and what love really looks and feels like. What commitment means.

There is a dance that we do. Sometimes we dance together, sometimes apart, and sometimes—my least favourite—we dance until our toes are smashed by the other and we lie bleeding on the dance floor. Those dances can take a while to heal from and they usually require a bunch of kind-hearted women to carry you off the dance floor and bandage you up.

Watch: Cameron and Alison Daddo share marriage secrets. Post continues after video.


Video via Studio 10.

There is something really beautiful about being with someone from such a young age. We have been there for each other for so many life-changing experiences. So much history resides in our marriage. There are scars, sure, and there are patterns that still need tending to or else we find ourselves repeating behaviour that is just plain destructive.

Marriages fall apart for all sorts of reasons, and some really need to end. I feel fortunate to love someone so deeply and have that returned, and to know we were both willing to ride that rollercoaster together. I hate rollercoasters, by the way; I prefer the carousel, but that’s relationships for you.

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Me going through perimenopause has been another challenge for our marriage. We’ve faced harder experiences, as many long-term relationships often will, though this one did spin us both around for some time because of the way it affected our intimate and physical relationship. I’ll explain how later in the book.

Potatoes.

I know I’m feeling older than ever, my body shaping itself into an actual potato. And still I try to: Eat less! Exercise more! Ugh.

What if this potato shape is permanent? What if this is my final resting body shape? 

Can I love this shape just as it is? How can we accept our bodies exactly as they are, in all their different and ever-changing forms? How do I love my body when I hold the comparison to my 21-year-old self?

Feeling sexy is an inside job. I’ve recognised this as I have grown older. I’m not entirely comfortable with this realisation, I must admit, though I understand it from this perspective. When I asked myself when was the last time I felt sexy, I couldn’t remember. It’s been a very long time. Then I thought, 'Have I ever felt sexy?'

When you have been sexually assaulted, sexy becomes something that is dangerous. Feeling sexy under the male gaze is never going to be sustainable. Feeling sexy only when your partner compliments you and tells you how sexy you look is not sustainable. It’s wonderful and lovely and can uplift your mood for a bit. But relying on the validation from men as to whether we are sexy or not is not only false, but degrading.

If I don’t believe that I’m sexy, the compliments start to roll like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. I wish the equation was as simple as Cam x compliments = sexy. But for me, it’s got to be more than that. The more I am still working on. Through the time of being in lockdown due to COVID-19 I felt more challenged than ever to find my sexy/sensual self, and I’m not sure if it was another phase of menopause, the stress of living in a world with a pandemic running riot or a combination of factors.

Freedom from the expectation of my own mind as to what I should look like is my end point. Self-love. Potatoes come in all shapes and sizes and are one of the most versatile vegetables. So maybe I’ll start there.

Journal entry, September 2018.

I’m worried. I’ve lost all desire for sex. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to force myself to have sex with Cam. I feel trapped. Trapped in a body that feels... numb? What should I do? Is there a pill to get your libido back? Is there some hideous herbal drink that will make me want to rip my husband’s clothes off and ravish him? Something that would feel consistent, not just a one-off? 

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I feel embarrassment and shame coming up around not wanting sex. If I don’t want it, am I therefore no longer sexual? Am I not sexy? Is it my history of rape that has tainted my sexuality still to this day? Can I get past this sexual roadblock? 

I just feel nothing. It’s not that I want any other man. I just don’t want sex with any man. How do I get that desire back? I feel scared it’s gone forever. I know Cam has said that without sex, he won’t stay. Panicked feelings arise in me as I think about him leaving, leaving because I can’t be physically intimate with him. I feel the longer we don’t have sex, the more Cam goes numb, too, and gets frustrated at the same time. That he will turn off his desire for me in order to save himself. 

It’s too easy to be lost in all the other symptoms that are louder — the aches and pains and hot flushes draw more attention than this empty feeling of loss. But in the quiet moments, that’s when I feel afraid of what’s gone. Fighting the darkness today, feeling the pull of sadness over this lack of intimacy. Feeling that I am to blame, that I am the one to somehow 'fix' myself. 

Am I broken? Did something break in me a long time ago and only now it’s been driven to the surface? Right now, I don’t know how to fix this. I guess I just need to start somewhere, start with a hug, hand holding, or a kiss. I need to get through my shame over not wanting to have sex to actually have sex. Breathe deep, breathe deep.

What makes conflict so painful is that we are desperate to be heard but too upset to listen, desperate to be understood but too upset to be understanding, desperate to be validated but too upset to be validating. What can help you get what you need is the willingness to stoke even a small ember of empathy for your partner’s experience. - Alexandra Solomon.

The penny dropped.

One day, while conversing with a friend, she mentioned how her girlfriend was in perimenopause and how challenging it was for her. How their sex life had dwindled down to nothing and her girlfriend didn’t even want to cuddle anymore. She said her girlfriend was too hot, prickly and angry a lot of the time. My friend was devastated. She felt pushed away, and she was so concerned that their relationship had irrevocably changed for the worse.

Now I know what I’m about to write seems a tad unfair, but I heard that commentary as clear as day because it was a woman speaking about her girlfriend. Had a man been complaining about his wife and the lack of intimacy and sex, I would have risen with my feminist language in full tilt and said, 'How dare you, Sir. You have no idea what she’s going through.' But when I heard this woman, I heard her pain and the loss that she was feeling. It clicked for me and I understood that our partners are struggling, too. For this I apologise to the men out there who are scratching their heads (and possibly their balls) at the sudden lack of sex and for not understanding that you, too, are in menopause with us.

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I remember my husband looking at me in horror as I was mentioning to someone all my crazy symptoms, and that I don’t know how long I’ll feel this way, or how long my menopause will last — could be a few more years, or not.

He literally looked like someone had just thrown his golf bag off the Harbour Bridge. 'Years? Years? Are you kidding me? I can’t handle years.'

Part (okay, most) of me (okay, all of me) wanted to scream, 'You have no clue.' This is not a choice I made. This would not be something I would choose, as a matter of fact. But it’s here. We both have to deal with it. Well, in all honesty, he didn’t have to do anything. He could walk away, he could ignore it, pretend it wasn’t happening, or any number of other ways to deal with my menopause. In a perfect world, I would have loved for Cam in that moment to be embracing, loving, tender, considerate about anything and everything I was feeling.

There’s no rule book or emotional map for our partners in this game. When I wasn’t wallowing in sweat and frustration, I did feel for Cam and how our marriage was changing. I was not seeking any physical intimacy, and I was so irritated... often with him.

Listen: The Quicky speaks to an expert doctor and a woman currently living through menopause about what it's really like. Post continues after podcast.


The outcry.

Will our male counterparts ever really understand menopause and what we are feeling? I don’t know. Apparently, women don’t understand what getting kicked in the balls is like either. Men might only get kicked in the balls once in a lifetime, maybe never. Where do I start with women? Period cramps, endometriosis, labour pains, contractions, birth. Pap smears! Hello, forceps and tearing perineums. How do we describe menopause to our partners? I see Cam’s eyes looking mighty confused when I talk about the grief and loss I’ve felt around my fertility.

'But you don’t want any more kids,' he would say. 

'I know. That’s not the point,' I’d hurl back at him.

I know of women who have had a rough time needing to carry on with their regular work schedule while nursing multiple symptoms of perimenopause. How do you explain to your boss or co-workers that you can’t focus, or need to walk out of meetings for fresh air as your temperature spikes? Menopause is one of the most underrated stressors for women who work. Yet we are expected to not only carry on, but not to complain, either.

How can I explain it in terms that a man might understand regarding the changes women go through both mentally and physically?

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Say a man had worked hard all his life to own his own business, he loved his job, was successful, and then testosterone starts to slide. His hormones are taking a nosedive. He no longer can manage his business. He can only really work part time now, maybe doing some filing work and dusting around the office. His favourite suit no longer fits him due to weight gain for no apparent reason. He’s lost some hair, his knees and elbows hurt, and he becomes fairly invisible at the workplace. His penis is atrophying and sore. He feels tired all the time and people around him think he might be losing his mind. All because his body stopped producing the 'right stuff' to keep up with his job requirements.

Can you imagine if that happened to every man? Imagine the outcry! I wonder if there would be hundreds of tests, pills and potions all covered by healthcare for that?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the men in our lives, our co-workers, our bosses, or employees, dads, brothers — all men — had an understanding about what menopause is actually about for us. To have empathy and support for us. That’s a world I’d like to live in.

Image: Booktopia. 

You can purchase Queen Menopause by Alison Daddo here.

Feature Image: Instagram @alidaddo.

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