We live in a world where youth is desirable and aging is often frowned upon, especially for women, and this can mean we avoid topics like menopause, which is an inevitable reality for us. Reaching such a milestone in womanhood can trigger an influx of emotions ranging from relief to grief. Both feelings are valid as menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. That said, it doesn’t mean the end of womanhood – it may just mean getting accustomed to a new version of our bodies.
October 18 was World Menopause Day, and a good time to talk about the topic seeing as over one million women in the United States go through menopause annually. By definition, menopause happens once you’ve gone 12 months without a period. It typically takes place between the ages of 45 and 55 and can last anywhere from seven to 14 years. While this milestone affects each woman differently, there are shared fears of going through menopause and one fear of getting old, says Dr. Aisha Zakia Rush, an OB/GYN located in Brooklyn, New York.
“They fear losing that youthful aura. This is often secondary to societal pressures women face as they age,” she tells ESSENCE.
A 2022 survey by women’s health supplement brand, Bonafide, talked to 2,000 menopausal-aged women in the U.S. and found that 94% felt unprepared for the symptoms that come with menopause. These include hot flashes, night sweats, challenges sleeping, anxiety, depression, and stress.
Rush says these symptoms also happen to be common fears and worries for clients she works with.
“When most women present to the office to discuss menopause, it is often due to symptoms relating to difficulties with hot flashes, sex, mood, and irregular menstrual cycles,” she shares.
Aside from the mentioned, women going through menopause could also experience a loss of bladder control and body changes such as weight gain, loss of muscle, thinning skin, and memory issues.
Another common fear is the loss of their sex drive or libido, which is a valid fear considering what happens to the body during menopause. Both during the period leading to menopause–also known as perimenopause–and during menopause, your estrogen declines. Estrogen helps with vaginal lubrication and can also increase sexual desire. So, a lack of it can make getting aroused more challenging. Women may also find their vaginal canals don’t have as much stretch during menopause, causing dryness and painful sex. Rush says this can make women reluctant to have intercourse.
“Many women are fearful of losing their ability to please their mates,” she explains. Just know that while these symptoms can feel like roadblocks to your sexual pleasure, it doesn’t have to put an end to your sex life. A 2022 poll by the Institute of Healthcare Policy and Innovation on the impact of menopause and other health issues on women’s sex lives found 43% of women ages 50-80 were sexually active in the past year. Even more, 62%–more than half–were satisfied with their sexual activity.
You can also lean on science to help you with your transition–there are treatment options like hormone replacement therapy, which can help boost your estrogen levels. Not everyone is keen on this form of treatment, and if that’s the case for you, there are alternatives.
“Not all treatment options include hormone replacement therapy. Some treatments may only relieve hot flashes while others help regulate mood or relieve vaginal dryness,” Rush says. She advises women to speak with their physician about their experience so they can receive personalized treatment options that address their symptoms.
“Relieving these symptoms will allow women to traverse this somewhat challenging time with grace and less frustration,” she tells ESSENCE.
For those who haven’t gone through menopause yet, it’s important to know that not everyone will experience the above symptoms.
“Not all women will have mood changes. Some women don’t experience mood changes at all,” Rush explains. “Not all women will have irregular menses prior to reaching menopause. As a matter of fact, some women will actually just simply stop having periods altogether but have regular menstrual cycles prior to reaching menopause. Not all women will require hormone replacement therapy to “feel normal”.
That said, no matter what symptoms you do experience, it’s good practice to talk through anything that feels emotionally or mentally heavy for you. This could look like opening up to your physician and getting clarity about things that are causing worry or confusion.
“Always remember, no question is a stupid question if you don’t know the answer. If there are things that you want to know, ask your physician. We’ve heard it all before,” Rush says.
She also recommends speaking to other women in your life who have worn the shoes you’re wearing now. Knowing someone has a shared experience with you can make you feel seen and provide comfort.
It’s also imperative we as a society continue working towards removing stigmas around women aging. Continuing to have open conversations around menopause and women’s health generally is one way to help shift our mindset as a society. Rush says topics around women’s health aren’t discussed enough.
“Increasing knowledge about these things also increases the likelihood of people developing empathy and willingness to understand what women experience. It can also lead to all of us embracing the normal but yet complex trajectory of women’s lives,” she tells ESSENCE. She also says more research on women’s health that isn’t from a male perspective is necessary. Unfortunately, sex inequalities in medical research as well as underfunding for women’s health issues are still pertinent issues.
Nonetheless, we as women must remember that we don’t lose value as we age. Our value isn’t tied to our ability to reproduce or how ‘young’ we look. Every version of our body is worthy of love and acceptance.