Menopause. It may not be what you think it is. Some people call it the “change of life,” and it certainly is a change, but it’s probably not nearly as bad as you’ve been led to believe. For some women, it’s downright liberating.
Menopause is when you reach the point of going a full year without a period. The years leading up to menopause, when you’re likely to notice changes and have a few symptoms, is called perimenopause. The average age for menopause is 51, but it can happen earlier or later.
Before you had your first period, you probably heard a lot of things that turned out to be bogus. The same holds true of menopause. Exaggerations and generalizations can leave you feeling fearful of a perfectly normal life transition. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What you’ve heard: You’re no longer sexually desirable and your sex life is over
The reality: Menopause means your ability to get pregnant is over. It doesn’t make you any less sexy. Sexuality is so much more than our reproductive parts.
You may have heard that your sexual desire will wane, but arousal is affected by a lot of things, including your overall health, stress levels and your relationship with your partner. Sometimes, menopause is just a convenient scapegoat for other problems.
Some women find sex more appealing and much more pleasurable after menopause. One key reason may be because you’re free from periods and stress about birth control.
According to the Mayo Clinic, decreased estrogen production can cause vaginal atrophy, making vaginal tissues drier and more fragile. Not all women experience this. Vaginal dryness can be remedied with lubricants. The really good news is that regular sexual activity can help maintain healthy vaginal tissues.
At middle age and older, you probably have more confidence than when you were younger. You know what you want and you’re less likely to feel inhibited about expressing your desires to your partner. It can be a liberating and sexy time of life.
What you’ve heard: Menopause means hot flashes from hell for the rest of your life
The reality: You hear a lot about hot flashes, but not all women get them and they don’t always last a long time. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, about 75 percent of all women have hot flashes. For most, hot flashes last two years or less.
Hot flashes feel like a sudden increase in body temperature. They can be mild or quite intense and usually last for a few minutes. Some women perspire more, and some have trouble sleeping due to the night sweats. You might also have an increased heart rate.
Hot flashes are by no means pleasant, but there are coping mechanisms, and they’re temporary. You’ve probably been through worse things.
I’d been having sporadic hot flashes for about a year before my cancer diagnosis. Going through perimenopause during cancer treatment certainly put things in perspective.
What you’ve heard: The fix is in — menopause equals weight gain
The reality: Sure, you might gain a little weight as you age, but you can’t blame it all on menopause. According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), while menopause may affect metabolism to some degree, lifestyle plays an important role. As is true for the younger generation, the less active you are, the fewer calories you burn. A healthy diet and regular exercise go a long way toward weight control and vibrant health.
What you’ve heard: After menopause you’ll pee in your pants when you laugh or sneeze
The reality: It’s true that you’re more likely to have urinary incontinence as you age, but there are often other factors involved. The NAMS lists other potential causes as: diabetes, obesity, weight gain, depression, family history, hormone therapy and disorders of the pelvic floor.
Before you pin it on menopause and call it day, see your doctor. Treating an underlying condition may resolve the problem. Your doctor can also give you some tips on how to manage leaky bladder. Because you never want to stop laughing.
What you’ve heard: Menopause is miserable and you’ll make people around you miserable
The reality: It’s simply not true for most women. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, several studies showed that menopausal women don’t have more anxiety, depression, anger, nervousness, or feelings of stress than women of the same age who are still menstruating.
Like pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause is often used for comedic effect, but most women segue into this next phase of life without turning into stereotypical characters to be feared and avoided. It’s doubtful your family and friends will need to run screaming for the hills.
What you’ve heard: Menopause means it’s time for hormone replacement therapy
The reality: Menopause is not an illness. It’s a perfectly natural part of life that doesn’t necessarily require intervention. For some women whose symptoms are severe and long lasting, lifestyle changes and natural therapies may help. If not, medical treatment may be an option. The National Institute on Aging says that menopausal hormone therapy has risks, so be sure to discuss the potential benefits and risks with your doctor.
What you’ve heard: Men have menopause, too
The reality: You hear a lot of couples these days saying, “we’re pregnant,” and that’s a nice way of showing you’re in it together, but the fact is, it’s the woman who’s carrying the baby. And only women have menopause.
As the Mayo Clinic explains: “The term ‘male menopause’ is sometimes used to describe decreasing testosterone levels or a reduction in the bioavailability of testosterone related to aging. Female menopause and so-called male menopause are two different situations, however. In women, ovulation ends and hormone production plummets during a relatively short period of time. In men, hormone production and testosterone bioavailability decline over a period of many years and the consequences aren’t necessarily clear.”
Aging-related hormone changes in men are called “andropause.”
What you’ve heard: Menopause makes you an old lady
The reality: So not true! Look around. Middle aged and older women are living active, productive lives. I like to think I’m one of them.
The bottom line? You weathered your first period and other pubescent changes, and you’ll weather this, too. There is life after menopause, and how sweet it is.