More than one million women go through menopause in the United States every year. Given this statistic, you might think that we’d be able to talk openly about menopause, but this fundamental part of women’s lives is still stigmatized. Much of this comes from our culture’s shame around aging: the belief that once women lose their fertility and youth, they must be dried up and devoid of sexual attraction or vitality.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural and normal process that occurs as the ovaries age and produce less reproductive hormones. The usual age for naturally-occurring menopause is 52, with the normal range being between 40-54.
In response to lower hormone levels, the body undergoes physical changes including:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Discomfort during sex
- Heart palpitations
- Sleep problems
- Stiff joints
- Reduced muscle mass
- Recurring urinary tract infections
Changes in your physical health during menopause also drive mental and emotional changes — too often, these symptoms aren’t spoken about or are misdiagnosed. According to a Harvard Health Publishing article, “changes in your physical health at the time of menopause may also drive mood changes. For example, anxiety may be triggered by an overactive thyroid gland, which becomes more common with age. In addition, anxiety and depression may be triggered by a lack of sleep, which also becomes more common at the time of menopause, as hormone shifts cause nighttime hot flashes or other sleep disruptions that make it more difficult for women to get the rest they need.”
Social and cultural differences in menopause symptoms
Cross-cultural studies have found that women’s menopausal experiences are far from universal. Dr. Sandra Thompson, professor in rural health at the University of Western Australia has said, “If menopause symptoms were due solely to hormonal changes then the menopausal experience would be more homogenous.”
“In societies where age is more revered and the older woman is the wiser and better woman, menopausal symptoms are significantly less bothersome,” says lead study author Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a professor in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive health at Yale Medical School.
Women from different cultures may use different words in referring to symptoms, and may have different approaches to symptom management. Menopause should be regarded within the context of the local views of aging, women’s social status, the significance attributed to the end of menstruation and the individual experiences of women.
Treating the symptoms of menopause
Cultural stigma makes it difficult for many women to seek help, and it also creates a knowledge gap. Menopausal women aren’t educated on symptoms, doctors aren’t confident in treatments, and there’s less medical research in the field. But that doesn’t mean menopausal women don’t have options.
Great products exist to help relieve the most common symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes. These range from topical estrogens and vaginal moisturizers (like the Enchanted Rose Organic Feminine Balm from Intimate Rose, the Ah! Yes Vaginal Moisturizer or the Intimina Feminine Moisturizer) to medications prescribed by your doctor. Find a doctor that will take the time to decode your symptoms and explain all of your treatment options as well as the pros and cons for each one.
Lifestyle changes like meditation, yoga and exercise can also help relieve some symptoms. Choosing the right attire can be one of the first and best lines of defense against hot flashes — avoid wool, silk and most synthetic fabrics, and opt for clothing made of cotton, linen, or rayon which breathe better, release heat, and help keep your body cooler. These robes by The Fox and the Mermaid and this hooded robe by Aylin Coleri are great for lazy Sundays around the house, a day at the pool, a beach vacation, or even just to enjoy Netflix and a glass of wine. We also carry many educational resources, including Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause, What Fresh Hell Is This?, The Menopause Book and The Menopause Manifesto.
Changing cultural opinions is hard work and won’t happen overnight, but the first step is embracing menopause as a natural and NORMAL part of our lives. We can work together to change the narrative: menopause isn’t scary or shameful, it’s a new beginning that brings many opportunities for growth and positive change.