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romantic dinnerI’m a big believer in year-round romance, especially for midlife women. As our bodies change, frequency matters to keeping our bodies in shape for intimacy. And I recognize that the stakes are a little higher around Valentine’s Day, when messages all around us are raising expectations–realistically or not.

As a menopause care provider, I spend a lot of time in conversation with women about what it takes to keep their sexuality alive. Here are the four steps I’d recommend to have your best Valentine’s Day–well, if not in memory, at least in the last few years!

First, it’s important to set the stage. While the hormones that led to a night of passion your first Valentine’s together were lovely, they’re likely not circulating in the same heady stew. For us at this point in our lives, thinking about sex, even visualizing how we’d like the evening to go, is more likely actually to lead us there.

It may be you making the dinner (or the reservations!) or your partner. But you know what additional steps you can take to tell yourself that it’s a special evening, that you’re a sensual person, that you have intentions. Candles on the table? A new dress? A bubble bath? Some music that takes you back to a memorable vacation?

Next, plan for plenty of touch. The skin, with its exquisite sensitivity, is often considered our body’s largest sex organ. Some slow dancing or cuddling are good places to start. At this time of year, and especially for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day, I like massage oil candles. They’re romantic while burning, often with sensual scents. And with a low melting point, they turn into massage oil that can be poured off and used directly for a warm, luxurious massage. Burn several and take turns with your partner.

Third, because you know your body (you do, right?), think through, in advance, what you might want to assure your arousal. For some women, using vaginal weights (or Ben Wa balls) increases anticipation. Pop them in before dinner or before dancing, and let nature (and the contraction of your your pelvic muscles) take its course.

I’ve also recommended clitoral pumps to women; in fact, one patient to whom I recommended this route to reawaken arousal sent me a bouquet of roses! There’s a new device available, called the Fiera Arouser for Her. Sleek, compact, and positioned over the clitoris, it provides gentle suction and vibration. Use it (it’s hands-free) before heading out to dinner, or to make a transition from dinner to intimacy.

And finally, don’t skimp on sensation. One of the effects of changing hormones is less circulation in our genitals, which means less sensation. I know intercourse can be satisfying without orgasm, but I also know that there are lots of positive effects from orgasm–from increased circulation to stress-reducing hormone release to pelvic floor muscle conditioning. If orgasm has become more difficult, I encourage women to find ways to increase sensation, rather than giving up on orgasm. After all, we don’t give up on reading when the print gets a little small! We find some stylish cheaters or a new prescription for our eyeglasses.

The easiest way to increase sensation is with a vibrator, and Valentine’s Day may be the occasion to introduce one to your relationship if you’re not among the half of us who already uses one. A clitoral vibrator will fit in the palm of your hand–or your partner’s– and I can attest that it’s helped lots of women reclaim orgasm after menopause.

If you’re concerned about your partner’s reaction, feel free to say that Dr. Barb said it could help, and know that I’ve yet to hear from a man who didn’t find it sexy to see his partner aroused. A vibrator can lessen anxiety for your partner if he doesn’t quite have the dexterity or agility he once did. And if you’ve started with massage, it’s a short step to exploring what’s pleasurable with a vibrator.

That’s the four steps. If it seems overwhelming to follow all of them, just pick one. Any one of them can make a difference, and the route to romance is the same throughout the year. And with knowledge of and compassion for yourself, you can follow it whenever you choose.

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