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Let's Talk About Menopause: What if We Had Viagra for Women

Yesterday I went to our neighborhood farmer’s market to set up a menopause booth with my friend Kate. I had gotten there early and had all the things I needed to set up, but I’d waited for Kate because I was too embarrassed to set up the table myself. Though I am the self-proclaimed menopause spokeswoman, I still feel vulnerable talking about it in certain spaces. A big public market felt like one of those.


For the last six years, Kate and I have been on a quest to bring menopause into the light. Any woman in her 40s or 50s knows that this natural life event, while it happens to all women, is veiled in secrecy and shame. Kate and I have been on a mission to open the curtains, take the topic out of the dark and let the sun shine in.


Every year we host a three-day retreat where we learn about menopause, share stories, support each other, and ritualistically honor this significant life change. We’ve been doing the retreat for several years now and many women know about it, but most still shy away from committing. Understandably, they don’t want to lean into this time of life.


Our society, starting with the medical system, has all but ignored the study of menopause. In medical school, students get a cursory review of hormonal changes in menopause and even practicing OB-GYNs seem to have inconsistent information about the subject.


The media shares primarily negative images and ideas about older women in general, and specifically about menopause. Menopausal women are angry, hysterical, unattractive, and asexual. So, I understand why women are not racing towards our retreat.

Kate and I, in better understanding our own menopausal experiences, listening to other women share their stories, and reading research by the smattering of researchers (all women) who are studying the topic, have developed a more complete understanding of menopause.


Yes, there are multiple physical, mental, emotional changes that occur during menopause. They are all real and they can be really difficult, often life-changingly so. But menopause is also a time for self-discovery and bullshit clearing. What Kate and I hope to offer is a forum for understanding the hard things and connecting with the good ones. We do this by bringing women together at a retreat and offering opportunities to engage in supportive conversations throughout the year.


Once Kate arrived, we set up our booth with a placard that said, “Let’s talk about menopause.” We had a question jar, postcards about our retreat, and temporary hot flash tattoos. As you can imagine, our booth was not very popular. Every once in a while a woman would stop by and we’d have a meaningful conversation about her experience with menopause, but mostly people b-lined away from us, afraid to be associated with the hormone witches.


At one point, Kate left me alone at our booth while she went to get water. I was comfortably lounging in a beach chair next to our booth, trying to make eye contact with women my age when a man in his 60s approached me. He reminded me of the Big Lebowski aged 20 years. He wore black gym shoes with white socks, long, loose shorts, and a big saggy tank top. “Back again?,” he bellowed with a smile as he walked by, referring to our weekly presence at the farmer’s market.


“Yup,” I smiled back.


Then the old guy turned around and walked towards me. He leaned down close to my lawn chair and took his voice from the “here again?” holler to a creepy whisper. “Can I ask you a question, and I hope it’s not too personal a question?”


Fuck, I thought to myself, there is no way this is going to be good.


But, instead of harnessing my menopausal righteousness and saying, “No personal questions,” I smiled tightly and said, “Sure.”


Leaning in even closer, he said, “Is it true that when women reach a certain age, they lose their desire to have sex?”


I turned my head sideways to get away from his red face and said, “Nope.”


I was incredulous. Of all the people who felt llike approaching our booth, of approaching me, it was this guy? When Kate got back, I spewed and shook my fist in anger. No wonder no one wants to talk about menopause! This guy knew what he was doing. He was trying to humiliate me, to shame me! I vented for a while and not long after we packed up.


It was a funny story when I recounted to the women (all my age) in my painting class the next night. But it’s really not funny. It’s not funny at all. The truth is that I actually do have way less sex drive than I used to. But that’s not something to be ashamed of, nothing to be whispered about. It’s just a biological part of this hormonal change that I’m experiencing. What I wanted to say to that guy was, Is it true that you need Viagra to get a boner? But I didn’t. I would never.


Viagra, and ads promoting male sex-supporting drugs pepper prime time television, the internet, and all other forms of mass media. It’s normalized that hormones change things for men, and there is a vast body of research helping them through this change. Men have people throwing little blue pills their way like confetti, a celebratory recognition that they need a little help in the bedroom. There’s no shame in that.


The New York Times recently published a few articles on menopause, which is great. And there is new research studying dementia in menopause. An exploratory drug that might help hot flashes has just been released. We’re definitely making progress.


But we need to do more. The attitude that the geriatric Big Lebowski shared with me needs to change. Menopause, instead of a simple biological phenomenon, has been relegated to a shameful secret that women have to bear alone. Male sexuality is popular news, funded by millions of dollars of research and promotion, and women need to put up a card table to talk about ways to keep our shit together at midlife.


Of all the things that happen to women during menopause — brain fog, hot flashes, sleep changes, joint pain, things that truly affect our work and home lives — the fact that one of the few people who stopped at our booth was a dude asking about how sexual we are is discouraging.



But he’s only one guy. Of the other people who stopped, there was a husband and wife who shared that her menopause symptoms were so bad, and the care she received so substandard, that she had to leave her job. Her husband commented that on the positive side, menopause helped his wife change careers and find work that truly mattered to her.

After that guy asked his question about menopausal women’s sex drive, I felt embarrassed and humiliated. I wanted to pack up the table right then and there and never come back. But then I thought about all the women who walked by, averting their eyes, afraid of the topic, or the few women who drove or biked by with a honk or a thumbs up. They’re not ready to stop and talk, but they’re getting the message that their experience is universal. There’s even a booth about it at the farmer’s market!


So, look for us next week. We’ll be there in our lawn chairs with our table and our sign, ready to talk about menopause.

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