Throughout my career, I've realized the importance of women joining together to support each other. And especially now that I am entering my 50s, menopause and postmenopause is a natural and important progression in that ongoing network of female support.
50 is a major milestone in a woman's life: from physical changes to becoming an empty-nester, to new careers and homes. It can be a time to re-focus on one's self and experience a new sense of freedom. But there can also be challenges. One change women may not anticipate, or be informed about is postmenopause!
With that, I wanted to share some insights from my journey to help women embrace this time of their life with wisdom, grace, and of course, a little humor.
1. You're in very good company.
Did you know that this year, nearly half (45.25%) of all women in the U.S. will be approaching menopause or menopausal? I was surprised by that statistic. I was also surprised to learn that many women are uncomfortable or even embarrassed to discuss the symptoms of postmenopause, and therefore, suffer in silence. That's why I recently created a video, "The Other Talk" with Pfizer to encourage women to start a conversation about postmenopause and aging. I think it's time for women to take charge of the conversation and begin discussing what they're experiencing.
2. There is no age limit on sexuality.
Sexuality and sex are important throughout our lives. Our culture tends to promote the idea that our sex lives fizzle with kids and aging. But really, there is no age limit on sexuality. We need to loosen up and own our human desires throughout life! In fact, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that 62% of women aged 57-64 are sexually active and have sex at least two or three times a month!
3. Sex is different at different stages in life.
While there's no age limit on sexuality, sex itself changes throughout our development. Specifically, sex at 50 and beyond may not be like it is at 20 or 30:
- As an older adult, many women may feel wiser than in their earlier years, and know what works for them when it comes to their sex life.
- Once past menopause, women aren't concerned about pregnancy.
- Couples who are retired or working only part time often find that they have more time and energy for sex as well as pursuing other shared activities.
- After 50, children likely are not interrupting time in the bedroom or waking couples up in the middle of the night.
Sex after 50 may take place less often, but some women may find it becomes more gratifying. When it comes to sex, quality is as important (even more so) than quantity!
4. Educating yourself about menopause and postmenopause is key.
Menopause is a time of natural change in a woman's life when her body stops producing estrogen, typically around age 51. While many postmenopausal women have heard of, or experienced hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings, fewer have heard of the symptoms of postmenopausal vaginal atrophy, which include vaginal burning, itching and dryness, increased urgency in urination and painful sex.
5. Don't suffer in silence.
Although it can be challenging, it's important to be open and honest with your healthcare professional and describe symptoms in detail so you can find the treatment you need. Here are a few ways to initiate the conversation with a healthcare professional:
- I have some questions about symptoms that I have been experiencing lately.
- I've been experiencing vaginal discomfort since menopause. Is there anything I can do about it?
- Sex with my partner is painful. Is there anything that can help?
Communication between partners around sex is always essential. But especially during this time of change, women need to talk to their partners about what they're experiencing specifically. Some conversation starters are:
- My body is changing. Can we talk about this so that you understand what I'm going through?
- I can feel my body changing, and I want to talk with you about how I am feeling.
- I know our sex life has changed; let's talk about what I'm experiencing.
6. Keep your sense of humor.
Postmenopause is a normal, natural event -- not a disease or life-threatening condition and in fact, at least one-third of women experience some vaginal symptoms after menopause. So why not have a little fun with it?
Laughter has been shown to be a form of stress relief and may help improve your mood and well-being. Everyone has moments when they feel embarrassed or self-conscious, but laughing can help turn a negative into a positive.
7. Embrace this time in your life.
With the average age of menopause at 51 and women living into their 80s, women are living nearly one third of their lives in postmenopause. Women need to start talking about their sexual health at this age in order to fully embrace and enjoy this time in their lives.
So let's all start talking! Change is hard for anyone, so let's not make it harder with silence.
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