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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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.

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.

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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.

Northrup's Rewiring Plan

Northrup gives plenty of commonsense suggestions on how to find the secret pleasures of menopause, the kind of stuff everyone has heard before -- eat a balanced diet, take supplements to get enough vitamins, find a workout you enjoy and stick with it, reduce stress.

But the new message is the importance of maintaining -- even expanding -- sexuality. Out goes the idea that a woman in her 50s and 60s and beyond can't be sexy -- or have plenty of sex. For the doubtful, she offers ideas on how to go from feeling frumpy to sensual first by changing your mind-set. Among the suggestions:

  • Buy great underwear, even if you're without a partner. Quiet the voice that says, "But no one but me will see it."
  • Redefine yourself. (If your grown-up kids balk or snicker, ignore them.) After she got divorced at midlife, she jazzed up her wardrobe with a bit of leopard print, which her youngest daughter initially balked at -- a reaction Northrup ignored.
  • Learn to love yourself. Buy yourself flowers every week. Get a massage. Or offer to trade foot rubs or massages with your partner.
  • Get to know yourself up close and personal. In a section subtitled "To Know Thy Clitoris Is to Love Thy Clitoris," Northrup talks about how to explore and find out what specific area of the clitoris is most a turn-on for you. (Hint: she says to try your 1 o'clock position, as you look down).
  • Rewire negative thoughts. Instead of "Ugh, my thighs are heavy," Northrup suggests focusing on more positive facts about them, like they are soft and smooth and your partner likes to caress them.

Sex after menopause can be the best ever, Northrup insists. She offers her "7 secret keys that will open the door to wonderful sexuality and sensuality after menopause."

Among them: she advises women to explore their own pleasure, learn to turn themselves on, release negativity, and live in a way that motivates others to be at their best and their healthiest.

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Second Opinions

"The advice is good," says Wulf Utian, MD, PhD, a consultant in women's health for the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and executive director of the North American Menopause Society, who tells WebMD he is not speaking on behalf of either organization, rather offering his own opinion.

But whether nitric oxide can be given all the credit, he is not so sure. "We know nitric oxide is extremely important in bodily functions," he says. "The advice [in the book] is good, but there is nothing new about the advice. She is trying to add a scientific hook."

"If her book is successful at getting people to develop a positive attitude and improve their quality of life, than I say more power to her," he says. But he says research on nitric oxide has a ways to go before proving that it is as important to well being as Northrup contends.

For most women, feeling better about menopause may be enough, he says. How it happens is probably irrelevant.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 15, 2008

Sources

SOURCES:

Christiane Northrup, MD, Yarmouth, Maine.

Wulf Utian, MD, PhD, consultant in women's health, Cleveland Clinic; executive director, North American Menopause Society.

Northrup, C. The Secret Pleasures of Menopause, Hay House, 2008.

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