Susan Hardwick-Smith, M.D., is an award-winning, board-certified obstetrics and gynecology physician, author and life coach based in Houston. She has also started one of the largest all-female OB/GYN groups in the country, so it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about sexual wellness. We got a chance to pick Dr. Susan’s brain about all things sexual health, self-care and why doctors recommend you have at least one orgasm a week for optimal health.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Of course! My name is Dr. Susan Hardwick-Smith and I am a board-certified obstetrics and gynecology physician, author and life coach based in Houston. I started one of the largest all-female OB/GYN practices in the country in 2002 called Complete Women’s Care Center, and I recently started a new medical practice dedicated to women in midlife.
I’m passionate about midlife wellness and sexuality, which led to the research behind my book Sexually Woke and to me starting AGIL, a line of skincare and certified organic transdermal hormones that support optimal aging. AGIL is directly partnered with a nonprofit called Child Legacy International that I am actively involved in and that is close to my heart.
On a personal note, I grew up in New Zealand and still have a love for the ocean and being near water. I have teenage children who I love spending time with. I am a marathon runner and Iron Man triathlete, and believe that if I can do it, anyone else can!
Congratulations on the launch of your first book. What inspired you to write this particular book?
Thank you! As an OB/GYN, I would often hear from my patients in midlife that they were struggling with their libidos and relationship intimacy during and after menopause. As I went through menopause myself, I was able to empathize with them. Unfortunately, there is very little training and education around menopause in medical school. I began to search for answers for how women can restore their health, wellness and full aliveness in midlife.
At the same time, I had a handful of patients who were in midlife who would tell me during their appointments that their sex lives were better than ever. This really inspired me to take a deeper look into unlocking their secret.
At the time, I was personally unhappy and in a relationship that was not thriving or sexually satisfying. As I began to conduct research on more than 1,000 women in midlife, I discovered that 7 percent had vibrant sex lives, and I dubbed them the “sexually woke.” They inspired me to reawaken and start over. I left my marriage, ended up remarrying and am telling my story and research findings in my book so that other women can feel hopeful and reclaim their full aliveness again.
What does it mean to be “sexually woke”?
Being sexually woke means to be awakened both spiritually and physically, and to find your full aliveness again. When you go through menopause, it can feel like you are losing part of yourself. You are undergoing physical changes, and also entering a new era of your life that can feel depressing as you move from your younger years into midlife. All of this at once can lead to feeling like your libido and relationship intimacy are lost forever. What I’ve found through my research and personal experience is that you can find your full aliveness again and restore your sexual self and your relationships.
Your findings link vibrant sex lives in midlife with spiritual wellness, can you tell us more about that?
We can’t have vibrant relationships or sex until we are content with ourselves. In Sexually Woke, I explain how the path to finding your aliveness includes personal reflection, self-acceptance, letting go of past grievances and putting in the necessary effort to revive your relationships.
Can you tell us more about your newest venture, Complete Midlife Wellness Center?
Absolutely! I opened Complete Midlife Wellness Center in July 2020, and it is dedicated to women in midlife. After women have babies, they have a whole new set of needs and it can be frustrating to sit in a baby-filled OB/GYN office or to have a doctor who misses appointments because they are delivering babies. While I loved working with pregnant patients and delivering babies, my passion now is to help women in midlife find their full aliveness again. At our office, we offer life coaching and relationship therapy to ensure you are spiritually healthy, and we also offer annual wellness exams, hormone consultations and a variety of top-of-the-line sexual wellness treatments, like vaginal rejuvenation, the O-Shot, hormone pellets, Thermiva and Cliovana. I also perform labiaplasty and vaginoplasty surgeries for patients who are uncomfortable or unsatisfied physically. We also offer cosmetic surgery and optimal aging procedures, so that patients can address every age-related issue in one visit. Our office has a no-wait-time policy for patients, and is decorated with a sophisticated, older woman in mind—we have fine art on the walls, a chandelier and an overall luxe environment.
How do you think sexual wellness plays into our world’s current obsession with self-care?
I think it’s fantastic that we are bringing attention to the importance of self-care, especially in the midst of the global pandemic. Your sexual wellness is inherently a part of taking care of yourself. Doctors actually recommend having an orgasm at least once a week to support your immunity. Whether through self-stimulation or with a partner, it’s important to take time to prioritize this. If you are in a relationship, maintaining that intimacy and physical connection—whether through intercourse or through cuddling and touching each other—is incredibly important to the wellbeing and happiness of the overall relationship, and also an expression of self-care.
If you could go back and tell your teenage-self what you know now about sexual wellness, what would you tell her?
When I was a teenager, I thought of sex as a way to get people to accept and approve of me. While I believe sex is a beautiful and healthy expression, even in teenage years, I would tell my teenage-self to reserve it for someone who truly loves me and to respect myself by not using my body and sex as a commodity. I would tell her to find love and respect from within, instead of seeking it from meaningless sexual contact.
Who are some of your favorite thought leaders in the sexual wellness space?
I highly recommend listening to Esther Perel’s TED talks; Emily Nagoski, the author of Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life; and of course, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a renowned sex therapist who started her career with the radio show Sexually Speaking in 1980.
Are there any podcasts you’d recommend for our readers who want to learn more about their own sexual wellness?
I love podcasts and have my own, which is hosted on my website, where I discuss everything from sex and intimacy to being pregnant during the coronavirus, and codependece in relationships. Be sure to tune in to The Wellness Collective Podcast where I will be speaking about sexual wellness.
I also love Brené Brown’s podcast and I listen to Tara Brach’s podcast every week, which is about spirituality and being well.
Flower Abstraction by Georgia O’Keeffe
What are some of your favorite books you’ve read on the topic?
There aren’t too many books on this topic, which is why I was especially motivated to write one, but I do recommend Emily Nagoski’s book Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.
How about books in general, do you have any all-time favorites?
- Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown about connection
- Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff about finding and loving yourself
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach and illustrated by Russell Munso
- Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright
How can women be looking after their sexual wellness during this time in the midst of a pandemic?
Take your sexual wellness into your own hands! Only four out of 10 women regularly have an orgasm with vaginal intercourse. Based on my study, the most reliable way to have an orgasm is by yourself with a vibrator or toy. If you do have a partner, be sure to communicate what you like or things you’d like to try. Bring a toy into the bedroom and spice things up. While we have all of this time at home, it’s a great opportunity to try new things.
What is next on the horizon for you?
Sexually Woke is officially being released on September 29, and I’m excited to ramp up seeing patients both virtually and in person at Complete Midlife Wellness Center. While we focus on women in midlife, we can see women in their thirties as well. I’m also constantly publishing new content on my website blog and podcast, and on my Instagram to provide a free resource for women who want to have their most personal sexual wellness and health questions answered, so be sure to follow along!
Photos of Dr. Susan by Kristi Zontini
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