You'll never want to have sex again. You’ll be old and useless. You will turn to dust. You will become a reclusive crone with thousands of cats who scares the neighborhood children. [Note: there is nothing wrong with having many cats.]
These myths take a toll on our hearts and minds at the worst possible time, and society’s lack of support for aging women doesn’t help. Our hormones go haywire during perimenopause and menopause, which can make a particularly tender time in life even more challenging.
It’s time to set the record straight on what menopause is and isn’t.
Myth: Everyone’s menopause is the same.
Menopause can be a bit of a mystery, though many researchers believe that we can look at our mothers for a baseline of how we ourselves may experience menopause. But it’s not just our moms who might dictate it.
Yes, the average age of menopause is 51. But when we dig into the data, we find that Non-Hispanic Caucasian, Black, Chinese, Japanese, and Hispanic women going through menopause each experience intensity and duration of symptoms for different lengths of time, according to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Interestingly, in cultures that celebrate aging as wisdom, the menopausal transition is often easier.
Instead of listening to horror stories from people (who heard it from a friend) who have had a terrible time during menopause, listen to your body. It knows best.
Myth: Menopause hits you out of nowhere.
Menopause doesn’t just sneak up on you like a zombie in a horror movie — your body experiences hormonal changes for years before your period stops altogether. Your estrogen levels can start to change each cycle and each month as early as age 35, and you might start to notice mild symptoms. When you reach your mid-40s you may start experiencing more noticeable manifestations of perimenopause. This is when sex hormones experience the most changes before menstruation stops for good, which is the true sign of menopause.
While there are exceptions that can accelerate menopause, such as having chemotherapy or a hysterectomy, in general the changes take place gradually and over time.
Myth: Your sex life is over.
This is a total myth. Yes, you may experience vaginal dryness, loss of libido, or other symptoms that affect your sexual function. Then again, you may not!
Everyone’s menopause is different, and there are many ways to alleviate the symptoms to make sex feel good. Your sex drive may elude you for months and then come roaring back. That’s because hormonal transition can do a number on your libido, adding an unwelcome layer to an already unsettled time. Feeling sexy is very much a mental thing as well.
Once the obstacles of vaginal change are overcome (whether with estrogen cream, lubricants, or laser treatment), sex can be great. The worry of pregnancy is gone, but the elements you need for sex are still there. Confidence and caring for yourself can go a long way toward making you want to do the deed and keep doing it forever.
Myth: Menopause symptoms are something you just have to suffer through.
This is a dangerous myth. If your menopause symptoms are interfering with how you live, work, and enjoy life, you should absolutely speak to your health provider. They may be able to provide options that address and relieve symptoms including (but not limited to) hot flashes, depression, sleeplessness, thinning hair, and urinary symptoms. Your doctor may offer a variety of treatments including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or laser treatments
While it’s normal to experience changes in your body and mind during perimenopause and menopause, you should NOT have to suck it up and deal with any symptoms intense enough that they affect your everyday function.
Myth: Menopause makes you “crazy”
Read our lips: You are not crazy. These hormonal changes are normal and common, and they include mood swings, anxiety, rage, and depression. They can be bad, and that doesn’t make you “crazy” or “a maniac.”
Let’s face it, midlife is a crazy time. We may be caring for teenagers, helping our elderly parents, or working stressful jobs or have other worries that keep us up at night. When your estrogen levels drop, it can (but may not always) have an effect on your mental health.
But repeat after us: You are not crazy, and no one, especially you, should belittle your symptoms in a way that makes you feel small or out of control. Whether it’s time with friends, time alone, or time with a therapist, there are ways for you to reduce your stress and get support on days that are hard on the heart and the mind.