Tabu founder and CEO Natalie Fretwell was almost 30 years old before she had a real conversation with her mother about sex. She had just learned that up to 90% of menopausal women experience symptoms that can make sex unpleasant, and that almost half of all women stop having sex in their 50s.1,2
“The numbers were so big that they really caught me off guard,” Fretwell says. “I immediately texted my mom and, believe it or not, I asked if she or her friends had discomfort during sex. She just laughed at me for what felt like minutes before we had a really sobering conversation.”
Fretwell’s mother explained that what she was going through wasn’t just physical but also deeply emotional, and that it was affecting her self-esteem and her relationship with her husband.
“Quite frankly, I was stunned,” Fretwell says. “I talk to my mom at least once a day and I had no idea something so meaningful was going on that was clearly affecting her confidence, her relationship — and, ultimately, her health.”
From this revelatory conversation between mother and daughter, the idea of Tabu — a wellness company dedicated to supporting women’s sexual health as our bodies change over time
— was born.
“Use it or Lose it” — the Importance of a Sexual Wellness Routine
Having committed herself fully to supporting sexual health for older women, Fretwell has learned how important the “use it or lose it” mentality is for women when it comes to sexuality. That’s why she and her team at Tabu are such firm believers in the benefits of a sexual wellness routine.
“Like any other area of wellness, you have to be an active participant to reap the benefits, which is why we at Tabu really obsess over this idea of routine,” Fretwell explains.
“Your 50s (and beyond) have the potential to be the hottest time of your life, but only if you’re willing to experiment and keep at it,” says Julie Bottarini, a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor therapy who also serves as a medical advisor to Tabu. “If you don't, yes, it is possible that you can numb out!”
Bottarini explains that as we age, sexual desire becomes less spontaneous, when previously, it seemingly came out of nowhere, and our bodies were more responsive. “Responsive desire is when we have to put in more mental effort to get our libido kickstarted,” Bottarini says. “It’s more mind over matter.”
Establishing a sexual wellness routine is an excellent way to put in the work of kickstarting responsive desire. “When people make sex less of a priority over time, the more they steer away from it, and that lack of prioritization in and of itself can lead to a decrease in desire,” Bottarini explains.
“As a professional who works with people’s bodies, I believe sex to be an important part of our health and wellbeing and think it should be prioritized like diet and exercise,” Bottarini continues. Just as we make time for regular exercise, she says, we should also pencil sexual activity (with a partner or alone) into our schedules.
“Being intentional about your sexual wellness, just as you are about these other areas of your life, contributes to your overall wellbeing and how you feel about yourself,” Fretwell adds.
What Does a Sexual Wellness Routine Look Like?
There’s no wrong way to incorporate a sexual wellness routine, as long as you are intentionally engaging in some form of sexual activity on a regular and consistent basis. For you, a sexual wellness routine might involve scheduling intimacy with your partner every week — and sticking to the schedule. For someone else, a sexual wellness routine might center around self-pleasure – and that’s okay too!
“I encourage my clients to be comfortable having an intimate life by themselves first, meaning self-pleasure,” Bottarini says. “This is your chance to re-claim and redefine your libido on your terms!”
“Typically, we suggest being sexually active by yourself or with a partner a couple times a week, but there's no magic formula,” Fretwell continues. “What matters is that you’re intentional about regular sexual activity in the same way that you're intentional about what you eat, how you exercise, your skincare routine and the like.”
Benefits of a Sexual Wellness Routine
According to Fretwell, regular sexual activity offers a broad range of benefits for women of all ages, including during and after menopause — and experts agree. Progressive health systems such as the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School, as well as leading gynecologists around the globe, say regular sexual activity – with or without a partner – can help address and even prevent many of the symptoms that accompany menopause. Some benefits can include:3
- Reduced stress
- Increased libido
- Stronger vaginal (and pelvic floor) muscles
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased body confidence
- Better sleep
- Improved vaginal lubrication
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Reduced incontinence
One study spanning 10 years found that women who had sex at least once a week were 28% less likely to experience menopause symptoms than women who had sex less than once a month.4
Breaking the Silence Around Sex
Beyond a sexual wellness routine, Bottarini believes one of the best ways to improve your sex life is to open up about it. “There’s such a stigma around discussing sex past child-bearing age, and that’s a disgrace, because women tend to live about half their lives past child-bearing age,” Bottarini says.
“On a positive note, though, it's a fact that women who talk more about sex tend to have better sex lives,” Bottarini says.5 She adds that you don’t have to talk to your partner about sex, (though that would be helpful); you can choose to talk to your friends, or even more open-minded medical practitioners.
No matter your age or circumstances, it’s never too late to make sexual wellness a priority. “We have so many women in our community who have found Tabu and – after decades and decades of ignoring this part of their life – all of a sudden are dating for the first time at 70,” Fretwell said. “There’s always a way to improve your situation and help you get this part of your life back.”
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