Saturday, May 19, 2012
There was a time not so long ago when women never talked about menopause and never used the word, even with close friends or even an intimate partner. They regarded it as a condition that was inevitable and generally considered that, once they reached menopause around the age of fifty, they were “over the hill” – especially in the area of their sexuality. With the flowering of the feminist movement, menopause came out of the closet. Books about menopause became best sellers and it was a popular topic on radio and TV talk shows. Even the pharmaceutical industry became involved offering new formulas to ease severe symptoms from which some women suffered. Gradually, women began to believe that there was life possible after menopause – even an active sex life. Recently, some of the attention focused on female menopause has shifted to men. The question has been asked, “Is there a male menopause?” In the true sense of the word, the word menopause means the end of menses and men do not menstruate. On a hormonal level, females experience an abrupt ending of estrogen, which causes many of the symptoms that women sometimes experience. Men don’t have this abrupt ending to the production of testosterone, the hormone responsible in the male and female sex drive. There may be a gradual decline over the years, but this decline doesn’t occur in all men. But like women, men do age as time goes by. At about the same age as women experience menopause, they start to lose some of their strength and vigor, lose some of their hair and they, too, develop wrinkles. Of course, exercise and a healthy diet may do a lot in both sexes to postpone signs of aging – their sex drive may diminish, but there is no scientific evidence that is tied to a decrease in their hormonal decline. But many men do report what we might label a mid-life crisis around the same time as women experience menopause. There may be many psychological reasons for this state – often tied to awareness that life is passing them by, they haven’t realized their dreams, the nest is empty, and life has lost some of its possibilities, its promise. Women, too, experience some of these feelings; but in recent years, many women feel a new sense of freedom and opportunity – that Margaret Mead described as menopausal zest. It seems to me that we are now into a New Age, that the mid-life crisis may still occur, but perhaps not in the fifties – but, with our increasing longevity, many years later. I often remember that a century ago women died in their late forties – they probably never experienced menopause and men’s’ lives were much shorter then too. With the possibility of an extended lifespan, we need to not only focus on enriching our personal lives but making the world a better place in which everyone can live a fulfilling life.