Menopause Facts for Men
Questions This Article Answers:
- What symptoms do women have during menopause?
- How does menopause affect sex for women?
- What emotional changes do women experience during menopause?
Menopause can be a difficult transition for women, both emotionally and physically. It can be confusing for men, too, as the woman you love may now need your support in different ways. Here’s what you need to know about how her body is changing–and how those changes might affect you and your relationship.
Menopause is the end of menstruation. It’s only diagnosed in hindsight: a woman is said to be “in menopause” or post-menopausal when 12 months have passed since her last period. The average age of menopause for North American women is 51.
The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause, and it can begin up to 10 years before a woman’s periods cease. During perimenopause, a woman’s hormones shift and the functioning of her body changes.
A woman can still become pregnant while she’s in perimenopause. Doctors recommend using reliable birth control until a full year has passed since the last period.
As a woman’s hormones shift, her periods change too. They may become heavier or shorter or longer. She may skip periods, or the time between periods may change. All of this unpredictability takes a toll on women. Because a change in menstrual periods can also be a sign of pregnancy or of a medical problem, it’s common for women to wonder if the changes they’re experiencing are normal. And logistically speaking, irregular and unpredictable periods make it more challenging to plan ahead and manage feminine hygiene.
Because irregular vaginal bleeding can be a sign of a medical problem, it’s a good idea for women to check in with their healthcare providers. A healthcare professional can rule out any problems and share information about what to expect during perimenopause and after menopause.
Up to 40% of women experience hot flashes, brief, unpredictable, sudden sensations of warmth. A woman who is experiencing a hot flash may complain of being hot, appear flushed and perspire. Most hot flashes last from 30 seconds to a few minutes, and women who have hot flashes will likely experience them over a number a years. (About 80% of women are done with hot flashes after five years. Some experience them for as long as 10 years.)
A woman can’t control hot flashes. Fans may help. Cool beverages may, too. If hot flashes are particularly troublesome, a prescription antidepressant may help. The active ingredients in certain antidepressants control hot flashes in up to 60% of women.
Hot flashes can interfere with sleep. It’s not uncommon for women in perimenopause to wake up drenched in sweat. Sleeping in breathable sheets and night clothes may help.
Some women experience problems falling asleep or staying asleep, and may be tired and frustrated during the day due to a lack of sleep. The most helpful thing you can do: express empathy and support her efforts to get enough rest.
As a women’s hormones decrease, the lining of the vagina becomes thinner, drier and less elastic. You can counter these natural physical effects with lubricant and understanding. Be observant of your partner’s reactions, and ask how she’s feeling and if she’d like you to do anything differently.
It’s normal for couples’ sex lives to change around this time. Some women (and men) are more interested in sex when the possibility of pregnancy no longer looms over their heads. Others report decreased libido. But working together, it’s possible for men and women to have highly satisfactory sex lives during perimenopause and after menopause.
Remember the mood swings of adolescence? Those occur, in part, because your hormones are rapidly changing. That happens during perimenopause as well. Mood swings (and a rollercoaster-ing sex drive) can be hard for women to deal with, so be as understanding as possible.
Menopause can affect also a woman’s self-concept. We live in a culture that values young women but often pushes older women aside. Reaffirm your partner’s value. Let her know she’s loved and important—and that you find her as sexy as ever.
You may have heard of hormone therapy for menopause, and it’s true that replacing hormones will alleviate menopausal symptoms. But because hormone therapy can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer, it’s now only recommended as short-term therapy. A doctor will likely only prescribe hormone therapy if other treatments aren’t able to sufficiently control symptoms that interfere with a woman’s quality of life.
Perimenopause and menopause are normal, natural parts of life. With understanding, you’ll both weather this transition and enter the next phase of your lives as happy and healthy as before.