Greetings from the Middle Ages and other Women’s Sexual Herstory

Okay, by now you’re trying to remember what you learned in your sixth-grade world history class for the dates between 600AD and 1500, roughly, well, gee, only 500 years ago.  Or maybe you’re thinking of what kind of sex toys they had in the Middle Ages because this is XBIZ after all. You know, sex toys have been around since people have been having sex and I imagine it started with a rock, cucumber, potato, stick, and you get the picture.

But you know, many sex toy customers are LIVING in the Middle Ages!  Yep!  Many men and women in their mid-forties to their mid-sixties think this is the prime of their lives and since I fall into that range myself, I’m gonna put all of this in the first person.  Experience and wisdom are acquired with age and I’m damn proud to say that I’ve been around the block and played the field and am one of the happiest cougars out there but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog and website.

When I opened Grand Opening! sexuality boutique in the Boston area in 1993, there were no stores that catered to women, never mind women “of a certain age” as they like to call themselves (okay, so I didn’t put that in the first person because I’m proud of my 53 years on the planet in excellent health, thankyouverymuch). So much has changed in those almost 20 years since I opened Grand Opening! and many of us baby boomers are grandparents, and our sexual needs are waaaay different than those of you in your 20s (FYI – I missed the boat on childbirth because I wasn’t at the dock – I was out partying and having fun which I continue to do).  Nowadays, aging men and women are more comfortable with talking about sexuality and a lot of that had to do with the birth of Viagra in 1997. ED? Before Viagra, we thought it was the name of the guy sitting at the end of the bar nursing a PBR.

So let’s jump into the education wrinkle in my middle aged noggin’ where I’ll share my knowledge of aging and sexuality, much of which I have gained in my 13 year membership in ISSWSH – the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health which I was asked to join upon its formation in 1998. This fascinating multi-disciplinary group of gynecologists, sex therapists, pelvic floor therapists, urologists and others was formed to find the Viagra for women and after all these years, no one has yet to nail it. But more on that later in another posting.

Probably the first aspect of women’s middle age is menopause. It usually begins at age 35 (YES, 35 and I am sure many of you are shakin’ your panties about this) when female hormone production begins its many-year slide into oblivion. There are other ways to experience the lovely effects of menopause earlier in life and they usually involve hysterectomy: a partial hysterectomy generally means removal of the uterus and/or fallopian tubes but leaving the estrogen-producing ovaries and cervix or complete or radical hysterectomy which usually removes the entire reproductive system but usually leaves the vagina and sometimes the cervix in place.

The reasons for hysterectomy can be plentiful: cancer of different parts of the system (ovarian, uterine, or cervical); endometriosis, which is a disease where the blood-thirsty cells of the lining of the uterus decide to take a trip around the body and swell up and spit blood out during a woman’s monthly cycle which the body reacts with a big WTF?! because those cells usually wind up where they shouldn’t be and the body automatically produces a spider’s web knot of scar tissue around the wayward critters where they land; fibroids and cysts which are a big pain in the abdomen and there are probably a few other reasons that escape me right now.

So don’t assume that you have to be middle aged to be in menopause – it can happen earlier, for sure.

There are other medical conditions which impact women’s sexuality and some of them are physical such as vaginismus which is an unnatural tightening of the vagina that can be caused by vaginal dryness, atrophy from non-use which means these women don’t have or do anything penetrative (perish the thought but it DOES happen), and sometimes by trauma such as rape or incest where the emotional pain of the experience causes “shutting down” of the vagina. Of course, this is a very delicate conversation a woman would have with her therapist, partner, doctor, and, I am sure many of you are nodding about: their friendly neighborhood sex toy salesperson.  Dysparuneia is another condition which translates into painful intercourse, aka fucking (damn, sometimes I get too freakin’ clinical for my own good), vulvadynia which is a painful vulva area and vulvar vestibulitis which may occur when there is inflammation of the mucous secreting glands found in the skin around the vulva. Ouch. Painful fucking is fucking painful.

Back to those middle agers…

Since my blogs have to do with sex and the many wonderful aspects of it especially in the retail arena, let’s say a middle-aged woman walks into your store. It would be wise for you to give this customer some extra attention for many of the following reasons:

  1. She probably has more disposable income than you do
  2. She probably has more sexual experience than you do (MAYBE)
  3. It might have taken every ounce of courage for her to step into your store instead of go on line to buy stuff
  4. She was sent in my her gyno, shrink, partner
  5. She’s fed up with having a shitty sex life
  6. She’s dealing with one or more of the conditions mentioned or
  7. All of the above

A great way to put her at ease is to give a tour of the store and focus on products that may hold some appeal to her like the more slender vibes (dysparunia), clitoral vibes (she might need a little more stimulation because of her hysterectomy), a non-vibrating sex toy (aka dildo) (vulvar vestibulitis), and, get this, a BUTT PLUG for vaginismus. Yep! The shorter size and gentle taper are perfect for this condition but you really don’t want to say “These are usually made to shove up your ass but you can put it up in your too tight pussy, too.” No, no, no, no. She needs to be gently told that the taper of these specifically shaped toys will allow her to gently expand her vagina comfortably and gradually and believe me, with your ever-expanding knowledge and her ever-expanding vag, you’ll BOTH be happy and have a satisfied and returning customer.

And don’t forget the lube. There are many varieties that work especially well and my favorite has always been ID Glide, which is thick enough not to go running off fingers, toys, butt plugs, whoops, vaginal expanders, etc.

Okay, I have to go relax my vagina… see you on the next blog. And I haven’t forgotten about you guys and ED and prostate stuff so hang in there… that’ll be another blog, too.

Greetings from the Middle Ages and other Women’s Sexual Herstory by Kim Airs originally appeared in XBIZ

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