Advancements in health have extended human life expectancy to twice what it was 100 years ago. Yet the tripartite divisions of Maiden, Mother, and Crone continue to be meaningful in women's lives, particularly when we examine female sexuality. Each stage is organized around the blood mysteries: menarche (the first monthly flow of blood); childbirth, which is accompanied by blood from birthing; and menopause, when a woman's "wise blood" remains inside her to give her wisdom. These are still powerful landmarks that profoundly influence women's lives. They function as psychological gateways to the change in consciousness required by each new stage.
Even with all our technology, we really cannot change the course of nature and the powerful hormonal shifts that accompany each blood mystery. Most women will experience the powerful changes caused by female hormonal shifts. The emotions women feel, the psychological meaning they attach to the events, and the transformational experiences of each stage, are outgrowths of the physical timing inherent in the female body.
The developmental task of the Crone Stage is sharing wisdom. In Neolithic times, Crone women were the tribal matriarchs. They were the source of wise counsel for important decisions. Crone wise women are still called Grandmothers in some Native American traditions. Their heightened awareness of human nature yielded great insight. Spiritually, this is the Mastery phase. The Wise Woman teaches knowledge gained from her education and life experience. It is a time of reaching into her spiritual depths, utilizing her powers of intuition, and finding meaning in her visions from the dream world. Some Crone women are masters of healing at the highest level.
The Crone Stage of life, more than any other, is a time of giving back to society the cumulative wisdom of the years. Many women have an urge to speak out, to organize others, and/or to take action. It is often Crone energy that leads to changes being made in society. As the Crone woman moves further onto her life path, she feels the urge to teach others and to cultivate her passions. It can be the most productive time in women's lives.
Sexually, the Crone Stage is a potentially powerful one. It is the stage of sexual mastery. Today, many Crone women are seeking sexual pleasure more assertively than ever before. Crone sexual response has all the potential power that comes from the will of the fully conscious, self-reliant, experienced, sexual self-knowing, wise women. If she chooses, she can use her sexuality to serve a higher purpose by receiving Divine inspiration and connecting to the Source.
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Physical Symptoms & Messages
More than in any other stage, Crone women cannot take their bodies or their health for granted. Women learn to listen to their bodies and respond to their messages during menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. In this stage, they are confronted by new, seemingly mysterious, physical and emotional challenges from another major hormonal shift. The symptoms accompanying menopause can include migraine headaches, weight gain, hot flashes, sleep disturbance, low energy, depression, and poor concentration. Most women find these symptoms impossible to ignore. They serve as a warning to women, enabling them to make intelligent decisions about their bodies.
The medical perspective considers menopause a manageable illness that should be treated aggressively with the best of modern chemistry. Yet, we do not know how to reliably account for each woman's unique response to hormone therapy. Premarin, a form of estrogen, is the popular medical choice because it is assumed that estrogen withdrawal is the cause of menopause. However, dosing the body with this type of estrogen may not always be in women's best interests because we do not know exactly how much is absorbed nor the outcome of long-term use. There is a more balanced formula called "tri-estrogen" that can be prepared at any pharmacy with a doctor's prescription, but few doctors recommend it because they are insufficiently informed.
Other choices are often overlooked. So-called precursor hormones have been recently identified, such as DHEA and a new "superhormone" called Pregnenolone. These hormones occur naturally in our bodies and are capable of producing other desire boosting hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and androgen. They may be especially helpful in counteracting physical symptoms inhibiting pleasurable sex and have shown promising results in contributing to our overall health. With all the alternatives, it makes sense for women to investigate choices, including homeopathic preparations and traditional herbal remedies.
Crone women have started taking their health concerns into their own hands. Because of their body wisdom, they are motivated to pursue alternative methods of treatment and healthy living. They are sharing both their frustration and their triumphs with health regimens that really work. Whatever the choice of medicine, Crone women must add some form of regular exercise and healthy diet for overall robust health leading to abundant sexual desire.
Menopause and Sexuality
Let's examine the role of menopause in the psychology of female desire. Crenshaw cites a London study of women that listed the following problems reportedly starting during perimenopause: loss of interest in sex, aversive reactions to any sexual touching, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, loss of clitoral sensation, decrease in orgasm, and thinning of the skin leading to irritation. Yet, slightly over one-third of the women in the study reported loss of sexual interest, and even fewer women reported the other symptoms. This leaves us wondering about the experience of the other two-thirds. Since the focus was on the pathological problems of menopause, the positive side was not examined.
It is alarming to contemplate the ongoing symptoms of hot flashes, dizziness, heavy bleeding, mood changes, painful joints, drying body membranes, heart problems, and even suicidal feelings. There is no question that perimenopause impacts sexual desire during episodes of these symptoms. Fortunately, they are intermittent in most cases. More important to continued sexual activity is how women and their mates respond to these episodes. Menopause may be unnecessarily perceived as an illness with the assumption that it is "all downhill from here", so couples may unnecessarily relinquish the hope of pleasurable sex. Supportive skills that build intimacy are especially critical at these times.
Rebirth of Sexual Possibilities
The onset of Crone years may be seen as a psychological fork in the road, one path leading to relinquishing feminine sexuality altogether, and the other leading to a rebirth of sexual possibilities. Currently, there is a new recognition of older women's desire for sex. Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of older women defying conventional stereotypes. They may even have younger male sexual partners.
Crone women with strong self-esteem, who have internalized a sense of permission to be sexual, survive the physical and emotional changes of menopause by continuing to access their life-afffirming sexual desire. At first, they may be surprised by the fact that they are not sexually responding in familiar ways. Once such women realize that perimenopause is not fleeting, they utilize the sexual body wisdom they have gained, in order to function well under the new circumstances.
As a way of coping with the perimenopausal symptoms that affect sexual functioning, you will need to expand your sexual self-esteem. You can begin by accessing a deeper level of permission to be sexual, so that your image of "sexy" is not synonymous with "young". You need to rework your concepts of physical readiness in order to respond to the changes in your body sensations. Learning to make adjustments to different physical timing and touch requirements will enable you to retool your sexuality. The coping skills you need include sharing information with other women and learning from their experiences. Women's wisdom has always been a matter of collaborative sharing, and there is certainly a lot to share.
To gain a feeling of sexual empowerment, Crone women need to view the physical changes as a necessary process. Its purpose is to strengthen and add insight, which facilitates the emergence of the "wise woman". Perimenopausal symptoms are preparation for the transformation of the last of the blood mysteries. Women are meant to go through this challenge, as they were destined to go through the childbirth process. Both initiations are powerful, natural processes.
Germaine Greer shakes up conventional notions about older women with a very thoughtful book called The Change. Greer's message is that the climacteric, as she calls it, is an opportunity for a woman to examine her life. It may be that the reduction of estrogen in the female body allows women to find their sense of self outside their caretaking roles. She points out that estrogen is the "biddability hormone", which mediates women's submissiveness. Crenshaw confirms that estrogen is the source of the receptive sex drive. When women no longer play the role of self-sacrificing caretaker or "contented cow", as Greer writes, no one seems to appreciate their newfound assertiveness. As Joan Borysenko puts it in A Woman's Book of Life, "Ballsy behavior is supported by ballsy hormones".
Shedding the caretaker role may be difficult, and you may need to work through personal issues about both your assertiveness and your aging process as an ongoing part of your growth toward positive sexual interaction.
Sexuality and Aging
The current panic over medical solutions to menopause derives from a profound fear of growing old and especially looking old that has reached paranoid proportions in our times. Our culture is so aversive to aging that the new wave of chemical solutions to menopause seem like a response to the scare tactics from our childhood: "The bogeyman will get you". The message is: If you don't take this or that pill, you will have serious bone loss, heart disease, and you will look old. In contemporary society, old is synonymous with sexually unattractive.
What is even more alarming is that women sometimes choose to overdose by taking four times the recommended amount. Perhaps they think that if estrogen will keep them looking young and feeling sexy, more is even better. If you have considered all types of estrogen and have discussed the possible alternatives assertively with your physician, you have made an informed choice.
Since initially, the crisis of aging sets off a panic in most women, they must resist the immediate reaction to deal with the fear by blindly taking the latest and greatest chemicals. These may be desperate measures. Such women are going to need to directly confront their psychological issues with aging.
The Aging Crisis
At the Crone Stage of life, we revisit our body-image issues of the Maiden years. Yet even women who were confident in their Maiden body image and managed to survive the Mother years with a continued sense of beauty are vulnerable to an emotional crisis. They become alarmed by the loss of elasticity and the pull of gravity that will eventually defy the most rigorous beauty regimens. If a woman has been a slave to society's concepts of beauty, she may avoid sexual activity, unable to tolerate the painful thought of a lover's rejection. For some beautiful women, the only choice is to become a recluse, as did Greta Garbo.
Since our feelings about our attractiveness influence our sexual desire, the more we dwell on negative feelings about how we look, the worse the effect on sexual desire and responsiveness. Some women never realize that they can feel sexy at any age. There is at least one psychological crisis to be found lurking around the 50th birthday. The moment of realization that: "Oh my God, I don't look young anymore". You become aware that the image in the mirror is older and more wrinkled. Yet many women tell me that they still feel 19 inside their 50-year-old bodies, and it comes as a surprise to see an older woman in the mirror.
A woman's crisis of aging is the loss of her illusions about her once-youthful attractiveness. Even with the miracles of plastic surgery, she cannot ignore her aging. Sadly, some women can never accept the loss or find a way to expand their sense of beauty beyond the norms of our culture. They may remain eternal princesses, always chasing after the next expensive treatment. Their style is a copy of youthful fashion, and at times, these aging princesses look downright silly. Some women go through a period of yearning to return to their youthful look, but grow to accept a new, unique sense of self.
Crone women should never give up their basic pride in their appearance, but beauty at 50 or 60 or 70 is a mature erotic beauty. Once women appropriately mourn their previous self-image and come to terms with a new stage, they begin to get a second wind and pursue a new ideal. Only then will they attain beauty that reflects a sense of feeling at ease with themselves.
This article was excerpted with permission. Book published by Hay House Publishing (www.hayhouse.com)
About the Author
Linda E. Savage, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and sex therapist who has been exploring the mysteries of sexual healing for over 25 years. A Diplomate of The American Board of Sexology and a member of The Institute of Marital and Sexual Therapy, Dr. Savage specializes in working with couples a wide variety of sexual issues. She teaches at National University and lives California with her family.