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Every month in Sex at Our Age, award-winning senior sexpert Joan Price answers your questions about everything from loss of desire to solo sex and partner issues. Nothing is out of bounds! To send your questions directly to Joan, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a 64-year-old woman, and I have two issues. After orgasm, my clitoris is hypersensitive, and I can’t stand to be touched for quite a while. This isn’t a new problem, but it’s worse now that I’m older.
I also have an odor problem: Oral sex and manual clitoral stimulation used to be my favorites, but now feminine odor — which my gynecologist says is normal — has me too embarrassed to even engage at all.
My gynecologist says that the natural changes after menopause cause changes in pH that lead to odor. She reassures me that I don’t have an infection. I haven’t been in a relationship for over a year because I’m so embarrassed about the unpleasant change in my genital odor. Oral sex is no longer an option. And why would anyone put their hands in there? What am I supposed to say? “Don’t touch me there!”
For the odor problem, I’m now trying a vaginal gel called RepHresh that eliminates odor for three days at a time. It’s working so far. Is there anything else you recommend? —Embarrassed
Let’s address the easy question first: It’s common for a woman not to want her clitoris touched right after orgasm. I suggest you let go of expectations that you need to be ready to go again right away and, instead, bask in the afterglow. Many of us need a recovery period before we want more stimulation. When you’re with a partner, cuddling, sweet talk and attending to your partner’s body or your own can keep you connected without direct stimulation to your already happy clitoris. If you’re flying solo, just relax into that lovely sense of well-being.
Your second question is more complex. It’s hard to know from what you’ve told me whether your odor is strongly unpleasant or just unfamiliar — not what you used to know as your scent. Since I don’t know which is the case for you, I’ll cover both possibilities.
A Really Bad Genital Odor
If your genital odor is strongly unpleasant, it can be a sign of a medical problem that your gynecologist missed. Get a second opinion from another doctor who specializes in post-menopausal women. Dr. Owen Montgomery, a nationally certified menopausal practitioner, told me this: “Yes, changes in a woman’s hormones after menopause — mostly diminished estrogen production — affect her vulvar and vaginal environment and can change sensation, lubrication, friction, smell and even the types of normal bacteria present in her vagina. However, there should not be a foul odor as a normal change of menopause.”
Dr. Montgomery says that unpleasant vaginal odor may be due to a number of causes:
1. A bacterial overgrowth called bacterial vaginosis that causes a vaginal discharge and odor
2. New bacteria from a new sexual partner
3. Concentrated urine due to dehydration
4. Urinary tract infections
5. Mild urinary leakage
It’s never a good idea to try and clean your vagina with soap or perfume, or by douching. “This is likely to make the situation worse, as it causes additional irritation and washes away the natural protection of the vagina,” Dr. Montgomery says. He recommends washing the vulva (your external genital area) with gentle soap and water only. If you feel the need to wash internally, use only warm water — no chemicals or soap -— and do this infrequently. Drink plenty of liquids and eat foods with vitamin C to improve the PH balance in your vagina and urine, which will help reduce bacteria counts.
“Most important,” Dr. Montgomery says, “Any woman who feels her symptoms are not being addressed needs to be assertive with her provider about getting better treatment or being referred to a different provider for consultation.”
Just a Different Genital Odor
If the odor is just different, what you’re experiencing is probably normal, natural and nothing to be embarrassed about. Sexual health educator and counselor Ellen Barnard, co-owner of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center, explains: “The change in odor is due to the change in pH that happens after menopause, Some women describe it as a change from a ‘sweet’ odor to a more ‘musky’ or ‘sweaty’ one. The way to address it is to restore the vaginal pH through a combination of healthy eating, exercise and internal vaginal massage. This could be the Vaginal Renewal program or some other internal massage that promotes blood flow to the vaginal skin and encourages skin cell turnover.
Although a product like RepHresh gel doesn’t treat the underlying cause, it can be a quick fix, as long as you have no irritation or sensitivity to any of the ingredients, Barnard says.
I was struck by your adamant refusal to let a partner give you oral sex or even touch your genitals because of the odor that you’re concerned about. You can always use a Glyde scented dam — a latex barrier that covers the vulva but lets sensation through — for cunnilingus. It seems unlikely that your partner would notice your odor through manual stimulation unless there really is a medical problem. In fact,
I wonder if you are overestimating what your partner might experience because of your anxiety about the smell. You say you’re not in a relationship now because of this. Get yourself checked out by a second doctor, and if, indeed, there is no medical problem, I hope you’ll try Barnard’s suggestions and open yourself to the pleasures of a future relationship. —Joan
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Joan Price is the author of the new “Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life”; the award-winning self-help book “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex”; and the sexy memoir, “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty.” Visit Joan’s blog, “Naked at Our Age,” and her Facebook page.