Menopause Myths: Fact or Fiction
Unfortunately, there are many myths surrounding menopause. And, like with most myths, many of these stories are not rooted in facts. But, because menopause is still an uncomfortable topic for many women to discuss, even with their trusted medical providers and close friends, these myths continue to proliferate and cause stress and anxiety for many.
In an effort to set the record straight, we explore three of the most common myths, as well as the often more reassuring realities, below.
Myth #1: Menopause Means the End of an Active Sex Life
Many women fear that their sex life will decline or disappear entirely when they go through perimenopause and menopause. The truth, however, is more complex than the fears, and as with many issues, there is significant variation from person to person.
Some women note a dip in their sex drive as natural estrogen levels and other hormone levels decline. Along with this drop in libido, which may be temporary or permanent, some women note that sex may be less enjoyable. This is generally due to a condition known as vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy. Again, because of changes in hormone levels, some women note that their vaginas are less lubricated than before. This lack of lubrication may make sex irritating.
There Are Treatments For That
Fortunately, the problems mentioned above can be addressed. A wide range of lubricants and moisturizers are available on the market, and a healthy diet, coupled with supplements, can also mitigate dryness and boost your lubrication levels. Changes in hormone levels can also be addressed with hormone replacement therapy. And although hormone replacement therapy may have certain side effects and not be an appropriate choice for women with an increased risk of certain types of breast cancer, there are local vaginal HRT such as creams, pessaries, rings and tablets that are less risky and can help on the advice of your doctor.
Natural alternatives, such as supplements and healthy food choices, can also help balance your hormone levels. Many of these supplements are soy-based, but there are other herbs that can be helpful. For example, Black cohosh, an herb traditionally used by many indigenous communities, can help alleviate many menopause symptoms. Another great herb choice can be Dong Quai, a type of ginseng. This herb is said to assist with hot flushes associated with menopause, but more research is needed.
Thinking Outside the Sexual Box
In addition, medications are not the only way to help build a healthier sex life. It is crucial for women to communicate with their partners about what is or is not working for their changing bodies. Healthy exploration with masturbation and sex toys may be another great option to get you over any bumps in the road. Also, it is worth noting that some women see a boost in their libido following menopause since sex can be more spontaneous without needing to worry about family planning. For women struggling with their libido, it can also be helpful to focus on foreplay. Extended foreplay can also help alleviate symptoms of vaginal dryness.
Myth #2: Menopause Means that I Will Gain Lots of Weight
Many women worry that they will gain large amounts of weight during perimenopause and menopause and that their bodies will change for the worse. These concerns can lead to anxiety and depression and damage a woman’s self-esteem, which may already be taking an unhealthy hit as they age.
The truth is that yes, some women may gain moderate amounts of weight during menopause, again likely due to changes in hormone levels. These dips in estrogen may also mean that weight accumulates in areas in which the woman never experienced weight gain before, such as around the waist and abdomen. But, weight gain in mid-life can be due to factors other than menopause. For instance, some people may become more sedentary as they age. Also, a reduction in muscle mass can slow metabolism. Genetics also plays a significant role in weight gain.
There is a Solution for This, Too
So, instead of throwing your hands up and saying that weight gain during menopause is inevitable, it is important to take proactive steps. Get moving! Activity will help you minimize weight gain. It is also important to make healthy diet and nutrition choices, including cutting back on empty calories found in junk food. These choices will help boost your self-esteem and confidence. They will also build long-term health, decreasing your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions that often appear during middle age.
Myth #3: Menopause Starts at 50
Many people mistakenly assume that menopause starts at 50. But, there is no defined clock for menopause, and every woman and her body is unique. Some women begin experiencing perimenopause symptoms in their late 30s, whereas other women still have regular periods into their late 50s and early 60s.
Statistics do indicate though, that, on average, menopause tends to happen at 51 in the United States. There is no right or wrong age for perimenopause and menopause. Still, if you are concerned about where you are in your perimenopause and menopause journey, it can help to have a conversation with your PCP or gynecologist to discuss these concerns. They may also order lab work to answer any questions or give you peace of mind.
It is also important to remember that women are not the only ones who may have bought into this myth. Often, doctors are uninformed that menopause can start much earlier than 50 and they may not be tuned into recognizing some of their patients’ symptoms.
Keep A Journal to Track Changes
Another tool that could potentially reassure you would be a perimenopause and menopause journal or diary in which you can reliably chart your symptoms and note any dramatic changes. It is also important to track your period in this journal. Remember, menopause is formally defined as happening when it has been more than 12 months since your last period. But, this does not mean that some perimenopause symptoms may not have started years before.
Menopause Myths Explained
For years menopause was considered a taboo subject to talk about, and because of this, many women suffered in silence. This silence also allowed myths, many of which were at best loosely rooted in reality, to proliferate. Three of the most common myths are: (1) your sex life ends with menopause; (2) menopause weight gain is inevitable; and (3) menopause starts at 50.
These may be true for some women, but they are most definitely not universally true for all women. Even when they are true, medications and lifestyle interventions exist to help address some of the most troubling symptoms.