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Unlocking the Secret Pleasures of Menopause

Physician-author Christiane Northrup tells women that midlife can be a good thing, especially for those who boost their nitric oxide and foster their sexuality.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

As an obstetrician-gynecologist, Christiane Northrup, MD, of Yarmouth, Maine, has spent years caring for women when something went wrong with their bodies.

These days, she doesn't see patients anymore, devoting her time instead to speaking and writing. At midlife, she has a new plan and a new mission: teach women everything that can go right with their bodies when they reach midlife.

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What she is proposing may seem nonsensical to some and like a breath of fresh air to others. She wants midlife women to discover the secret pleasures of menopause. She's convinced that menopause -- traditionally viewed as the signal a woman is washed up and over the hill -- is overdue for a brand new spin.

"The truth is that women over 50 are just hitting their stride," she writes in the introduction of her new book, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause, published this month.

The new book is meant to be "fluffy," she says, much less serious than her previous books, including The Wisdom of Menopause and Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom.

Northrup is well aware that women going through menopause often focus on hot flashes, hormonal and mood swings, and viewing themselves as washed up.

She actually had to do a bit of talking to herself along those lines, as she admits in the book.

Slowly but surely, she came to view the transition as a good thing -- to see and appreciate the secret pleasures of menopause.

Look at the benefits of menopause, she suggests. "You become far more intuitive, you are no longer satisfied with the status quo, and you find your voice in a different way," she says.

The Nitric Oxide Connection

One of the points of Northrup's chatty new tome is getting women to say yes to pleasure.

"You can turn yourself on," she tells women approaching midlife. "You can rewire your brain and your body to feel more pleasure. The brain is the biggest sex organ in the body."

Getting to all this pleasure, she says, depends on paying attention to your nitric oxide levels, which she'll bet are probably too low.

Nitric what? Many midlife women may never have thought about -- or heard about -- nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is a colorless, odorless gas that tells blood vessels to relax and to widen, in turn resulting in a lowering of blood pressure. Discoveries about nitric oxide that led to the development of the ED drug Viagra earned three scientists a Nobel Prize a decade ago.

Although it's the stuff by which erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs work, it's not the exclusive domain of men, Northrup says. (Indeed, one of the 1998 Nobel recipients, Ferid Murad, MD, co-wrote a book, The WellnessSolution, published in 2006, promoting a regimen of diet, exercise, vitamins, and antioxidants that works by increasing nitric oxide levels.)

Northrup says it's time midlife women discovered the benefits of boosting nitric oxide levels as their own gateway to better sexuality and sensuality at midlife and beyond.

"Most of us don't produce enough to keep us vibrantly healthy," she says.

Practicing her suggestions will boost levels, she says. Simply thinking joyous thoughts can boost it, she claims. "A joyous thought would be: 'The best times of my life are yet to come.'"

Boosting nitric oxide can also be accomplished by exercising regularly, meditating, and having sex regularly, she says.

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