On nights out with my girlfriends, there comes a point in the evening where I consciously keep quiet: that moment, after a couple of glasses, when the floodgates open and they animatedly discuss hot flushes, sleeplessness, lethargy and night sweats.
I can’t join in with all this menopause-related chatter because, despite being 59, I’m yet to go through the dreaded change.
I still have periods and have never experienced a hot flush, never mind any other symptom of hormonal change.
It has long puzzled me why I’ve seemingly dodged the bullet. So, last week’s research, which said regular sex might help to defer the menopause, was nothing short of a revelation.
Vicky Rhodes, 59, (pictured) who hasn’t experienced menopause, revealed her intimate relationship with a younger man as research suggests regular sex could deter the menopause
At last, I think I know what’s been going on, because the years when I might have expected to go through the menopause were taken up with a passionate affair.
For ten years, I was intimate almost daily with a handsome man a decade my junior. I can only guess that’s what has kept my hormones seemingly unchanged — and the menopause at bay.
The basic theory, scientists say, is that if you have a full sexual life, you’re keeping your body and hormones active, so you stay fertile for longer.
Experts asked nearly 3,000 women — who were tracked for ten years — how often they had sex. Women of any age who had sex each week were 28 per cent less likely to have been through the menopause by age 51, compared with those who had sex less than once a month.
Scientists postulated that, if a woman is not having sex and there is no chance of pregnancy, the body ‘chooses’ to stop investing energy into ovulation, and enters menopause.
The menopause is diagnosed when you haven’t had a period for 12 months, and usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age being 51.
Back in 2009, when I first met the man, Jack, I was 49 and he was 39. Although I was yet to have any symptoms, I was sure the menopause was firmly on the horizon.
We met by chance in a country clothing store he owned in Epsom, near a friend I was visiting.
Vicky (pictured) was age 49 when she met Jack, 39, at his country clothing store in Epsom while shopping for a Barbour jacket
I wanted to buy a Barbour jacket and, from the moment I walked in, he couldn’t take his eyes off me. As I left, he said with a cheeky grin: ‘Perhaps I can take you out for dinner some time?’
He was far from my usual sporty, dark-haired type. Blond, with bright blue eyes, he seemed a typical ‘suit’ — corporate, buried in paperwork. After having terrible luck with men, I was flattered, so scribbled down my number.
I never dreamed it, but this first meeting would lead to the most profoundly caring and fulfilling relationship I have ever had. And in my 50s, too!
Jack and I were very passionate. Every time we met, I would be on a high. I felt like a teenager, with a bounce in my step — sometimes quite literally, as I’d leap into his arms when I saw him.
In the years when many women are felled by the menopause, I was having the time of my life with a fabulously caring man.
But surely, I would think, The Change will be coming soon, and everything will be different?
Twice divorced Vicky, said she and Jack would spend passion-packed long weekends in France, Holland, Scotland and Ireland (file image)
Still, time went on and nothing happened, despite my fears. Jack and I spent passion-packed long weekends in France, Holland, Scotland and Ireland. When we were apart — which was rare — we kept in constant contact by text and phone.
Jack made me feel sexy whether I was in wellies or a negligee. And while some of that was sheer chemistry — I could almost feel the air crackle when we were together — part was surely down to how thoughtful and attentive he was from the moment I met him.
He phoned me within days of swapping numbers and our first date was in a pub he chose in Amberley village, West Sussex, with spectacular views over the South Downs and the River Arun in the distance. ‘I want to know everything about you,’ he said as we held hands across the table.
I felt so comfortable I did all the things they say you shouldn’t do on a first date — sharing my hopes, fears and details of my previous car crash relationships.
Up until Jack, my relationships had been disastrous. I had never felt loved or special.
My first marriage, aged 23, ended badly not long after I’d had my daughter, Naomi, now 36. And my second marriage, aged 29, also failed acrimoniously — the only good thing to come of it was my son, Josh, now 29. Really, then, Jack was the first man to wake me up sexually, just as the love lives of other women my age hit the doldrums.
Vicky (pictured) said she’s convinced that the regular sexual activity she had throughout her 50s has kept her from any sort of midlife change
I don’t know whether my friends’ sex lives have suffered because of the menopause — it’s not really something we would discuss — but I do know they have been through hell because of its symptoms. Many have had to fall back on HRT. Truly I feel for them, and consider myself blessed to have escaped so far.
As for how they feel about my midlife renaissance, well, my good friends are just happy I found a loving relationship — one not only based on physical attraction, but a bond cemented by trust that allowed me truly to enjoy being with a man.
I haven’t been to see a doctor about my non-existent menopause — would you seek medical advice if you felt as wonderful as I do?
My periods have always been erratic and remain so. But, to this day, I haven’t had a sniff of any sort of midlife change, something I’m now convinced must be to do with the years of regular sexual activity I’ve had throughout my 50s.
You might well think that perhaps the reason I feel so sexually contented is because I’m yet to experience some of the more troublesome side-effects of the menopause — from joint aches to moodiness — which, let’s face it, are hardly the recipe for sexiness. That it was because I didn’t have any menopausal symptoms that I felt so happy in the bedroom, rather than the action of love-making itself delaying the menopause.
Vicky revealed her mother went through the menopause around age 51 (file image)
When the NHS reviewed the latest research, it said: ‘The study only shows a link between how often women had sex and their age at menopause. It cannot prove that having more sex directly causes a later menopause.’
You also might wonder whether there are other reasons why my menopause has not yet happened.
Genetic factors are known to influence the time you experience The Change: what age your mother had it is said to play a part.
But my mother went through the menopause around age 51, so hers was not delayed at all.
Lifestyle factors are also said to be important. The menopause is inevitable when our oestrogen and progesterone levels drop, but diet and exercise can delay it.
Doctors believe exercise may postpone the menopause by boosting blood flow to the ovaries. I still get up at 6am to go to the gym, and at the weekends I cycle for miles.
I’ve never smoked and only indulge in the occasional gin and tonic; I have a breakfast of porridge and blueberries and always cook simple, fresh food, such as grilled salmon or chicken, and lots of salad and veg. I still feel sexy, confident and proud of my size 10 figure, but, then, I work hard to keep myself fit.
Vicky and Jack ended their relationship last year, she admits being curious if it will herald the arrival of her menopause (file image)
When my daughter gives birth in a few months’ time, she’s jokingly said I’ll be nicknamed ‘Granny Go-Go’.
So all this may have delayed my menopause, but surely the delightful romance I enjoyed throughout my 50s must have played its part, too.
Sadly, Jack and I are no longer together. We split up last year after his workload increased and I got elected as a district councillor for my local Bognor Regis and Littlehampton area, which took up a lot of my spare time. Slowly, we drifted apart. I’ve yet to have another relationship.
I’m now wondering whether the end of my passionate romance with Jack will also, finally, herald the arrival of my menopause.
All I can say is that if making love is key to staving off The Change, then I’m all for it.
How to keep passion burning after 50
Rowan Pelling, former editor of Erotic Review, offers the following advice . . .
Like many who write about sex and relationships, I’ve long promoted a ‘use it or lose it’ mentality — believing healthy sexual function can be optimised by regular physical intimacy.
Now comes this study suggesting regular sex may play a part in extending menstruation. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this.
When I had my second son aged 40, I engaged an independent midwife who brimmed over with folk wisdom. When she told me she was still having periods aged 58, I expressed surprise, but she said late menopause was normal for midwives as they were surrounded by babies and hormones — before adding that keeping sexually active did the trick, too, as it made your body hope it might squeeze in one more pregnancy.
I noted that my friends who were still having periods in their mid-50s were often the ones who seemed most loved-up with their partners. So I told my own beloved that he was duty bound to keep making love to me ‘for the sake of my wellbeing!’
Now, here I am, aged 52, with no significant signs of the menopause. I had my hormones checked recently and my levels of oestrogen and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), both essential biological ingredients for pregnancy, were high — which surprised me as my mother had stopped menstruating by 50.
Was this down to me having regular sex? It’s hard to say. But here are some practical ways to keep your sexual function firing in midlife . . .
Rowan Pelling who is the former editor of Erotic Review, advises taking HRT early to make the transitional stage smoother (file image)
TAKE HRT EARLY
If you feel any changes in your cycle, sexual desire or general wellbeing in midlife, it’s useful to ask your GP to take a blood sample to assess your hormone levels.
Many women report suffering from depression or insomnia and are prescribed antidepressants when the true cause is fluctuating hormone levels.
Such symptoms can be addressed by cutting down on irritant factors, such as caffeine, alcohol and a lack of exercise, or taking HRT.
Earlier intervention can make this transitional stage far smoother.
NATURAL VA VA VOOM
Last year, when my energy was flagging and I wondered whether my hormones were to blame, I visited the London Hormone Clinic.
My oestrogen was high, but they suggested I take a DHEA supplement. Also known as the ‘hormone of youth’, DHEA is produced naturally by your adrenal gland, but levels drop after the age of 30. Menopause experts believe it boosts energy levels.
A couple of friends also swear by testosterone gel for boosting libido — but you should consult your GP before trying this.
Rowan suggests telling your partner that regular sex is likely to help stave off The Change (file image)
TRY HORNY GOAT WEED
Herbal experts recommend some natural remedies, such as black cohosh root, dong quai and red clover, for menopausal symptoms.
If you just want to address libido issues, try epimedium, also known as Horny Goat Weed, which comes in tablet form. It’s also taken to help with fatigue and depression.
SQUEEZE AND LIFT!
As you get older, pelvic muscle tone tends to decrease, which can lead to prolapse and incontinence — factors in women rejecting sex.
Do pelvic floor exercises daily. There are many gadgets to help — ask in a local Boots.
Your other half has a vital role to play in your menopause.
You could start by telling your partner regular sex is likely to help stave off The Change. It’s good for them to know fluctuations in libido are about hormones, rather than you feeling turned off by them.
Interview by Sherron Mayes