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Patricia Yarberry Allen Headshot

Want a Major Economic Indicator? The Sex Shop Uptown

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The loss of sexual interest among menopausal women has clearly become no longer newsworthy in this time of falling stock prices and rising unemployment. Otherwise, why wasn't it big news when the uptown vibrator store had to close down because of the recession?

Myla, a British lingerie, swimwear and sex-toy line, opened its shop doors just off Madison Avenue at 16 E. 69th St. in September 2004. This was very expensive real estate, and the shop was quite nicely done up. The New York Times did a big piece for the opening. Curious middle-aged women, after lunch at one of their favorite bistros in the neighborhood, came to air shop -- to oooh and twitter -- and then sneaked back later to buy the goods. A little sexual novelty was good for her and good for him.

Long-term monogamous relationships often run low on libido, especially when the wife has reproduced twice and then flies into the frightening 40s. During the good times, there were trips and spa weekends with the girls; Prada bags and fashion openings; gala events, and summers often spent separated during the week. It was easier, then, for certain wives to initiate sex and work at the orgasm thing, and a vibrator often came in handy. Intimacy, for many of these relationships, was never part of the package, and hot, easy sex that lasts needs some of that elusive spice.

Menopause, with its well-publicized symptoms of volatility and loss of libido, has always been convenient for those women who maybe never liked sex all that much, and for those who married someone with neither great knowledge of female anatomy nor the capacity to be a thoughtful lover.

Many women did find, though, that they missed the girl they once were, or else wondered if they could ever be the sort of woman whose orgasm is easily achieved. The booksellers' shelves were filled with manuals on how to do it.
  • Pole-dancing classes were sold out two years ago.
  • Goddess tutors helped women find their sensual selves.
  • Physical therapists taught women how to improve their love muscles.
Partners were delighted if women showed any interest in doing it, and unless they were real cads, really wanted to be part of a woman's orgasmic event.

And up there on 69th Street, just off Madison Avenue, Myla was having a boom time in the good times, with its sweetly sexy lingerie and vibrators that weren't purple with multiple prongs.

Women, those of us who grew up after the sexual revolution in the late 1960s, if we were interested in sex, generally had a vibrator tucked away, somewhere where the cleaning woman and the kids couldn't find it. But for the shy and somewhat inhibited woman, a vibrator was often a subject never discussed or acknowledged. I must confess that I visited Myla after The New York Times article -- purely for professional reasons, of course. Then I began to give their name and address to patients who were having trouble re-starting the mid-life sex engine, as part of the general conversation that should be part of every visit to a gynecologist. You know, "Any pain in the abdomen? Is the bowel function normal? Any bladder problems? And, how often are you having an orgasm each week?" I am sure your gynecologist asks that question!

Women who complained that they had no libido and could no longer have an orgasm when there was no emotional or physical barrier to successful sex often just needed a bit of genital rehab with local estrogen, coaching and cheerleading and some new ideas to consider. Throw out those nightgowns or T-shirts you sleep in, buy some new lingerie, and how about a vibrator? Practice, practice, practice was the motto, and motivated women did indeed get their sex lives back for themselves and their partners.

Then the recession slammed households and relationships all over the country. But especially hard hit were many of the relationships that were based primarily on commercial and reproductive transactions. Women who were anywhere near "The New Menopause" grabbed the menopause label; they effectively said, "I am in menopause, honey, and I am done." Unless these relationships can be reinvented....

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