What My Mom Never Told Me About Menopause
There was a time in my life when jeans and money were tight, and I was proud to be called, or at least thought of, as a hottie. With the onset of menopause, my jeans are again tight but my hotness is not the attractive kind.
Which brings me to the middle chapters of my lifebook. Why, I ask, is the term "menopause?" Isn't "womenopause" more accurate? "Menopause" sounds like women are supposed to be taking a break from men, which can indeed be an offshoot of all the sweating, bloating, drying out and sleep loss women on said "pause" are going through.
To be honest, the only man I'm currently interested in is a little grand one who just turned 1. His presence reminds me that, although I cannot bear more children, that's probably a good thing, seeing as I forget at least once a week where my car is parked. Were women my age to give birth, we would need a "Where did I put my baby?" phone app.
I accept that my eggs are dead or dying; however, I don't see why they have to fry. Why must the transition, with its hot flashes and insomnia and memory issues, be so brutal? Change is hard, and uncontrollable change within one's own body is even harder.
There has to be a way to manage this change with grace, and I sense that it's by not sweating it out alone. Entering "menopause support" online turns up innumerable chat rooms and support groups, a phenomenon that didn't exist for my mother. We didn't talk about our bodies or women's things in my family, so the concept of commiseration and maybe even occasional celebration is new to me.
My mother and grandmothers all lived in the same small town and, although I grew up nurtured by excitedly whispered gossip in their kitchens, the words "sex" and "menopause" were never uttered. My mother was barely able to hand me the menstruation booklet that came free with pads; mentoring my menopause journey was nowhere in her library.
The best support has come from the women friends with whom I have grown older. My book club has been together since our now-grown children were kindergarteners. We shared child rearing, school choices, college hunting, parent funerals and grandchildren stories. Now we share estrogen creams and soy additives, sources for fans and waterproof makeup.
My mentoring advice? Talk and talk and talk to the women in your existing circles: your tennis partners, yoga buddies or baristas.
Menopause needs to be a natural discussion we have with our friends, partners and, especially, our daughters. A generation from now those online websites will be just one of many forums for discussion and support. A healthy acceptance plus a record of how and when and what one's mother went though during menopause should be a part of family health records, not an unspoken secret.
So, womenpausers, speak up and speak out.
Where do you turn for information about and support for the "pause?"
Female Teens to 30-Somethings: The Young and the Vigorous
While women’s fertility is at its highest in their early- to mid-20s, their libidos don’t necessarily peak at the same time. The female sex drive is a mercurial force, affected by hormones, life circumstances, relationship status and self-image. Add technology to the list, too — as in the ready and not always responsible use of camera phones and the flirty thrills of sexting.
Male Teens to 30-Somethings: The Young and the Vigorous
Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, peaks in males around the late teens and remains in abundant supply through the 20s and 30s. This is the stuff that gives the fellas their mojo and helps the, er, rocket achieve lift off. Men in their teens to late 30s generally have enough of this love potion coursing through their veins to ensure a robust libido.
Female 40 to 50-Somethings: Ripe and Ready
Conflicting forces have at the female libido in the midlife. Balancing motherhood and a career can have a dampening (or shall we say non-dampening?) effect on the sex drive. On the other hand, a study by University of Texas psychologist David Buss found that women in their 30s and 40s have both more sexual fantasies and actual sex than their younger counterparts, perhaps because of a subconscious evolutionary drive to conceive as many children as possible before the onset of menopause.
Male 40 to 50-Somethings: Ripe and Ready
Though testosterone levels begin to wane in the 40s and 50s, most middle-aged men still regularly desire sex. The main difference, according to Saul H. Rosenthal, M.D., author of the book Sex Over 40, is that erections are less spontaneous and require more physical stimulation. Men in their middle years may also find it more difficult to “get it up” again within 24 hours of orgasm, making it all the more important to observe the chivalrous rule of “ladies first.”
Female 60-Somethings and Beyond: Seasoned and Sensual
As women approach and pass through menopause, estrogen levels decrease significantly, sometimes resulting in vaginal dryness or thinning of the vaginal walls, making intercourse uncomfortable. On the bright side, the clitoris is located outside the vagina (let’s hope we’ve figured that much out over the years!) and is the main player in female orgasm. With corresponding changes in their mates’ sexual response, mature women can find themselves enjoying some of the most communicative, intimate and imaginative encounters of their lives. And aren’t those things the key to better sex at any age?
Male 60-Somethings and Beyond: Seasoned and Sensual
For a man, trying to have sex at 75 can be like trying to hit a dartboard with a noodle. The Mayo Clinic puts it more directly: “The penis may take longer to become erect, and erections may not be as firm.” Tomato, tomahto. The fact is that, while a man’s sexual desire often remains ardent, his body’s interest in cooperating may change once he’s past his 60s. The good news? As the tried-and-true methods decrease in effectiveness, couples have all the more reason to communication and creatively experiment. (There’s more than one way to pop a champagne cork, after all.) The pharmaceutically inclined also have a small arsenal of tools at their disposal.