The ‘Dr. Ruth of a New Generation’ Shares Sex Tips for a Sophisticated Valentine’s Day (And Beyond!)
“Our brain is our largest sex organ.”
With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, relationships, romance, and love are the talk of the town. But what about sex? Though women’s sexual needs and desires tend to be under-discussed, with conversations around sex centering on men, even the shyest among us have opinions on the matter. Historically, mature women have been pushed even farther downfield of these conversations than their younger female counterparts, as the longstanding presumption was that women’s sexual appetites waned and altogether died out after menopause. Thankfully, that narrative is slowly but surely being rewritten.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the outspoken, straight-talking Dr. Ruth was the most visible champion of women’s sexual health. Her petite stature, thick German accent, and no holds barred manner of speaking made her a household name, often uttered in whispers and giggles by curious women eager for knowledge but not yet bold enough to ask for it out loud. Dr. Ruth discussed sex openly and honestly on radio and TV, and in so doing, shattered notions of women as non-sexual beings. At 94, she’s still going strong, and her legacy of normalizing conversations around taboo subjects lives on.
Today, a new wave of advocates has emerged. Among its most notable is Emily Morse, a 52-year-old Doctor of Human Sexuality who The New York Times recently likened to a hipper version of her iconic predecessor, Dr. Ruth. Beloved by her podcast listeners and 500,00 Instagram followers for her sassy best friend approachability, Dr. Morse is emphatic when she says “the notion that menopause is the end of your sex life is such a myth.” Candidly, we couldn’t agree more.
Below, Dr. Morse shares her expert tips for feeling sexy and tuned into your most intimate desires this Valentine’s Day — and beyond.
Look at sexuality holistically.
You might not think about sex as part of your overall wellness — but Dr. Morse believes that sex is just as important in leading a healthy lifestyle as diet and fitness. “We may be exercising and taking supplements,’ she says, “but if we’re not feeling sexually healthy, it will impact us.” Among the possible effects are flagging self-confidence and feelings of frustration in our relationship. Dr. Morse recommends expanding your definition of sex to include things other than penetration; here, all types of connection are relevant. While more research on female sexuality is needed, studies show many women don’t experience orgasm from penetration alone, instead requiring more nuanced forms of touch, like oral or manual stimulation. In fact, a 2016 study found that just 6 percent of women surveyed had orgasms through penetration on its own, and less than half of women included in the study had an orgasm every time they had sex. In other words, the orgasm gap — or the tendency of men to climax more easily and more often than their female partners — is real. “To be sexually healthy [is] about having conversations about what sex looks like,” Dr. Morse suggests. “Maybe it’s sexual connection through mutual masturbation. It doesn’t have to be a whole production. It could be holding hands, cuddling, connecting, and finding intimacy in other ways.” Every couple, she points out, is different.
Dr. Morse also wants people to know that sex has proven health benefits. “Orgasms release chemicals like adrenaline, oxytocin, and dopamine, which help with our moods and cognitive functioning,” she says. Orgasms can also strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, dull pain, reduce stress, and make you feel more confident, notes sex educator Logan Levkoff, PhD. Orgasms may have specific perks for menopausal women, since they typically help with blood flow and getting a good night’s sleep. Ultimately, prioritizing intimacy can yield significant health benefits. Better still, “sex begets sex,” says Dr. Morse, who likens the early stages of practicing this type of intimacy to going to the gym: the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Embrace change and the aging process.
Whether you’ve been in a decades-long marriage that’s now missing a spark, or you’re single and struggling to express yourself sexually, it’s good to keep in touch with your needs and accept that they evolve as you age. “Our sex lives change over our lifetimes,” Dr. Morse emphasizes. “What we want in our 20s and 30s isn’t always what we want in our 40s and 50s. A lot of [older women] say sex isn’t important to them anymore,” she continues. Indeed: by embracing whatever changes in sexual impulse you experience with age, you’re being honest about your own desires — and an honest place is the best one to start from.
So what else can we do? Dr. Morse believes women should reframe the aging process as a period of empowerment. “We can have orgasms at any age,” she points out. She thinks that as we get older, we can feel more liberated in our sex lives. A 2012 study of mature women, with a median age of 67, found that participants reported increased sexual satisfaction as they aged. Even when they reported low sexual desire, they still experienced arousal and climax. While menopause can lower your libido, it may also offer liberation, as women no longer have to worry about pregnancy or periods; plus, you likely have greater self-knowledge later in life and may know more about what you want in bed than you did as a younger woman. “We can use this time of life to do all the things we’ve never done before,” Dr. Morse says of embracing sexuality in your later years, particularly if you’ve struggled with repression in the past. Self-awareness, which only deepens with age, is the key to sexual intelligence.
Don’t be afraid to have a conversation.
Dr. Morse calls the brain “our largest sex organ.” Her upcoming book Smart Sex: How to Boost Your Sex IQ and Own Your Pleasure (out in June, pre-order from Amazon, $32) advocates for boosting our sexual intelligence through open communication and self-discovery. “We all get turned on and have desire in different ways,” she says, so it’s vital to keep an open dialogue with partners.
Dr. Morse suggests “reverse engineering our arousal” — that is, thinking back to times when we’ve felt genuinely turned on and in touch with our sexuality, and considering how we may recreate these sensations. Maybe it’s when you and your partner took a long overdue, child-free vacation, and the change of scenery — sipping champagne in a swanky hotel room and luxuriating in a spa-like tub — spiced things up; perhaps you tried a new and exciting position that worked for both of you.
“It’s really about talking to your partner about where you are right now with your sex life,” Dr. Morse says. Depending on your relationship, it may feel a little awkward to discuss this stuff directly at first — but give yourselves the time and space to get into it, and you’ll eventually feel more comfortable. Dr. Morse encourages talking about turn-ons and reminiscing about memorable sex the two of you had in the past. Not only can this be fun, it can also put you and your partner on the same page. She even has resources to facilitate these conversations on her site, including a “yes, no, maybe” list that encourages couples to discover mutual turn-ons.
Find things that work for you.
Dr. Morse is happy that menopause isn’t quite the taboo it once was. While some of the changes that come with this time can feel embarrassing, taking action to make ourselves feel better is vital. “You’re going to have a loss of estrogen and you’re going to feel [vaginally] drier, similar to what you may have experienced after childbirth,” she says. “My dream is a lube on every nightstand.” She works with the brand Playground, and recommends their products, though you may also want to consider a brand of lubricant known to be specifically good for menopause, such as Gennev Intimate Moisture or Stripes Oh My Glide.
Dr. Morse also believes most menopausal women can benefit from estrogen treatments, which can ease hot flashes and vaginal discomfort whether in pill, suppository, cream, or patch form (though of course, you’ll want to talk to your doctor before pursuing this route).
Feeling comfortable with sex during (or after) menopause may take some time, but it’ll be easier if you follow Dr. Morse’s philosophy around open communication: “It’s so important to understand the steps that you require to be turned on,” she says.
Have a Sexy Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to boost your sexual IQ. Following Dr. Morse’s lead, use this holiday as a time to speak directly with your partner and embrace intimacy in all its varied forms. Reclaim your sexual spark by taking control of your physical and mental needs, and kickstart a sexier and more romantic lifestyle in 2023.
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