Published October 2019
How far have we come and what’s next on the Menopause agenda?
As Menopause Month comes to a close, we thought we’d round up the month by examining ‘the bigger picture’. We asked Trudy Hannington (Sex Therapist), Jane Lewis (Author of Me & My Menopausal Vagina), Katie Day (Director of RDP International Ltd) and Katie Usher (Menopause and Relationships Coach) to tell us how far they think society has come in regards to our attitudes towards menopause, and what’s up next to tackle on the menopause agenda.
Trudy Hannington, Sex Therapist
“As a sex therapist working in a medical setting I receive a lot of referrals for women suffering with menopausal symptoms! Many women that I see are suffering horrendous symptoms due to the menopause and remain unaware of what their options are! What I am pleased to see though is a real shift in that partners of women suffering with menopausal symptoms are coming to appointments with them. This is great to see and really helps the women to feel supported, helps them feel that they are understood and listened to! It’s a couple problem not just a female problem! Whist the menopause is a difficult time for many women, it is also difficult for their male partners. Often the male partners feels rejected, doesn’t know what to do or say to make things better. They feel like they are a “sex pest” as their partner rejects their advances all the time and avoid intimacy at all cost! This is often because she has not only lost her libido but often sex has become extremely painful; throw in the mix the lack of sleep due to night sweats, anxiety and loss of confidence and sex is going to be the last thing on their “to do” list.
However, the good news is, help is available!
There is much more information available regarding HRT, localised oestrogen and testosterone; as well as natural remedies or options for those who for whatever reason can’t or don’t want to take HRT. The following website is particularly good for patients to enable them to make an informed choice regarding their menopausal symptoms. menopausematters.co.uk. Sex and relationship therapy can be very helpful so that the couple can get a better understanding of what is happening for them individually and as a couple. Therapy can also help restore a sex life that is satisfying for both parties or even if it’s to improve solo sex! Changing routines, introduce better and or more foreplay, bring back the fun in to the bedroom, introduce sex toys, lubricants, erotic fiction and or films are to name but a few ideas. Many couples focus a little too much on penetrative sex when there is so much more you can do to create good and satisfying sex. You may not be able to do what you once did but that doesn’t mean your sex life has to end. Embrace the changes and see it as the next era of your life!
I have seen a huge increase in women being referred and self referring to our clinic with regard to menopausal symptoms. This is often done through word of mouth due to women not knowing where to go for help! They often present with low libido and vaginal dryness and how this is causing a huge problem in their relationship. This can be devastating for couples but they often feel embarrassed to talk about it. Believing that they just “have to live with it” and that this will mean the end of their sex life! This is an ever changing situation and patients and their partners often need a lot of support during this time. This is difficult to do in an everyday GP practice. Women are often put on an antidepressant believing that they are depressed or suffering with anxiety, rather than it being explained that depression is one of the most common menopause symptoms! We need to see more publicity, adverts in the media, specialist menopause clinics widely available.
Let’s encourage women to talk about what is happening to them and their partners and let them know that it doesn’t have to mean the end for their sex life!”
Jane Lewis, Author of Me & My Menopausal Vagina
“I think we all agree that menopause is the new buzz word, reported on weekly and sometimes daily in the press at the moment (it would seem). However, opinions on treatments and information on the effects of menopause on work, relationships, mental health and sexual heath are coming from all directions, sometimes with opposing messages (is HRT good or bad?) and it’s leaving women more confused than ever. Not to mention, the medical profession seem to be more divided than ever. Different opinions are great, but only when backed up by correct medical evidence. Plus, not one method for easing symptoms, fits all – everyone must respect a women’s ability to make an informed choice for herself.
Without a doubt, the conversation around vaginal dryness as a symptom of menopause, is becoming more prevalent. I make as much noise about it as I can on social media, in my support group and when I’m invited to talk at events. Ladies who were once suffering in silence due to shame and embarrassment, are now talking about it amongst friends and family, even politely demanding the correct treatment from their GPs. This has all come about by a group of women supporting each other. No one person can bring change on their own. A few years ago, I never thought I would have gone public like I have about my vaginal problems, but with the support of others (too many to name, and wouldn’t want to leave anyone out) change is happening and I believe will continue to do so long, as these women keep pushing forward for change.”
Katie Day, Director of RDP International Ltd (Realising Dynamic Potential)
“Having been involved in the area of gender diversity with organisations for over 20 years now, our experience of working with clients around menopause and midlife is that many are where they were all those years ago when we were discussing maternity leave and the promotion of women. They know they need to do something, however are at a loss as to what and how! The intention to make positive changes in terms of the menopause is there (for many, some have clearly a way to go). It is with open discussion, clear communication and working in collaboration that progress can be made. This is true with everything in life and matters of the menopause and midlife are no different.
What we witness is that our corporate clients who are willing to face the issue directly without embarrassment or hesitation, are the organisations that move forward with more ease and less stress, and create sustainable change. It is important that everyone is onboard with any changes, so including men in the conversation is paramount. This means that looking at midlife as a whole, and not menopause in isolation is crucial. Our sessions for men at midlife are as popular as our sessions for women on the menopause, as are our supporting people at midlife sessions which are open to everyone.
Being able to recognise the potential impact on staff and colleagues is an enormous first step. Then taking personal, and organisational, responsibility to open the conversation in a way that is non-judgemental and supportive becomes easier to navigate. Taking the time to be aware of how to signpost, both internally and externally, ensuring there are HR guidelines in place as a point of reference, and being willing to be a champion for midlife issues, all ensure this topic becomes a part of normal conversation rather than something that is whispered in small groups around the coffee machine!”
Kate Usher, Menopause and Relationships Coach
“The biggest change for me is the social acceptance that this phase both exists and can be devastating, drawing it out of the shadows and into our everyday consciousness. Our wider social perspective on the Menopause has seen considerable change, with open discussion on prime-time TV, in the broadsheets and the weekly magazines displacing salacious tit-bits.
In the workplace, organisations are starting to recognise the enormity of the impact of this phase of life, on their female employees and those they work with, which in turn has ensured its inclusion in many wellbeing budgets.
All of this is a great start, and one which needs to be built on and quickly. Women are arriving at this phase of life with very little detailed information about what the Menopause is, how it could affect them and what treatment options are available to them. This must change.
Women’s relationships come under strain as does their career, as they wrestle with the changes imposed on them by their declining hormones. For our social structures to be maintained there is a very real need for us to see the Menopause as a part of all of our lives. We need to develop an open and empathetic narrative that normalises this phase, so that women, those they love and those they interact with, feel comfortable discussing this topic. Only then will we have achieved real and lasting change. #MakeMenopauseMatter ”