Men's Role in Menopause

by Zach Charles

Men may not be able to prevent perimenopause or menopause symptoms such as hot flashes or night sweats but we can help our partners navigate the hormone rollercoaster.

It’s in the best interest for men, too–perimenopause may last for more than a decade for some women. (We men ride our own hormonal rollercoaster called andropause, and don’t think for a moment our better halves don’t notice.)

In this article I’m going to use perimenopause and menopause interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

Technically, MENOPAUSE occurs when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 months.

PERIMENOPAUSE refers to the years leading up to menopause when the ovaries produce less estrogen. For some women those years are no big deal.

For about ten-percent of women, their bodies put them through sheer hell. When I say hell, I mean everything from migraines that feel as though your brain is exploding and hot flashes so strong they make you vomit several times a day. And because the world (and the medical professional) is what it is, these women get no relief or help, or get ridiculed when they do.

So yeah, OFFICIALLY perimenopause and menopause are two different things, but this is a global app and some countries use PERIMENOPAUSE and other countries use the term MENOPAUSE more to refer to this life stage. (As if this wasn’t confusing enough already!)

In a survey, 38 percent – more than a third – of men said menopause-related night sweats and insomnia affected intimacy (aka sex) with their partner, citing the partner’s lack of sleep or poor sleep as the reason why, reported recently.

Recognizing that menopause can be a bear for women isn’t enough. We also need to recognize that women – while they can be stoic or seemingly tight-lipped about anything menopause related – want and need understanding, empathy, a sounding board. In other words, they need us to ‘show up’ for them during this time.

**What’s that? You’re not trained to deal with ‘lady things?’ ** Get the fuck over yourself.

*If we’re smart enough to run countries, fly airplanes and conquer outer space, we can figure out how to support the women we care about most in this world. *

I don’t want to be one of those husbands who’s the last person his wife would ever turn to when she feels like shit.

I want to be her first line of defense against whatever’s bothering her, even if it’s her own body and she doesn’t understand it herself.

ESPECIALLY if it’s her own body and she doesn’t understand it herself!

If that’s the kind of husband/partner YOU want to be–and if you are, it will bring the two of you closer than you can ever imagine, and isn’t that point of being in a relationship?–here’s MENOPAUSE 101 FOR MEN:

**When does menopause begin and what causes it? **

*That’s really an imprecise question that will get a more general answer. * A woman in a Westernized country, on average, begins menopause at age 51, although many women show symptoms in their early 40s (or perimenopause). These symptoms – hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, pain during intercourse – can begin up to seven years before a woman’s final period and can last as least five years afterwards.

OK. But really, what is menopause? Menopause is a point 12 months after a woman’s last period. The twelve month time period (see what I did there?) was chosen by a group of doctors. I’d say ‘chosen at random’ but I’m sure they had a reason, although I can’t find it.

A woman can still get her period after those twelve months. Don’t go thinking there’s a period law or anything. One woman didn’t have a period for two years and then it started up again.

Apparently it’s more common to go eleven months without a period then have a period one month out of the blue and then maybe another period the next month or maybe not for several months and then one day the period starts and goes on and on and on for WEEKS and then there’s no period until some big life event and then the period shows up and makes her feel like shit at her class reunion or her daughter’s wedding or some such thing.

Seriously, it’s some weird shit, for her as much as you. Just STFU and get the tampons and pain killers and throw in some chocolate and flowers or whatever else she likes and be glad it’s not you bleeding all over the bathroom.

But that’s not all! That time when women’s menstrual cycles change and they experience symptoms such as hot flashes or brain fog, are called the MENOPAUSAL TRANSITION, or PERIMENOPAUSE.

Perimenopause typically begins between the ages of 45 and 55. Notice the word TYPICALLY. Millions of women enter perimenopause in their 30s.

Children who are treated for serious illnesses such as cancer may enter perimenopause in their teens or 20s. Some women still have regular periods in their 60s. (Fun fact: until a woman goes through menopause, she can get pregnant regardless of her age. ‘Change of life’ babies are common. Keep that in mind when you unzip for, uh, romantic moments.)

During this transition, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones made by a woman’s ovaries, fluctuates, resulting in any number of changes to her body, including a greater susceptibility to fractures because bones become less dense. Also, during this time the body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily.

Women react differently to the lower levels of estrogen and progesterone. Some have very few symptoms. Others have symptoms that can be addressed by natural means. And some women employ hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to counter the symptoms.

What does she want from me? Beats the hell out of me, so I asked woman who is an expert on women, sex and menopause.

Be empathetic. “Try to imagine yourself reaching some biologic milestone that changes your body – and how you might feel about it,” Dr. Gail Saltz, author of “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life,” told WebMD. “By standing in her shoes, you’ll be better able to be supportive about the changes.”

Talk about it. Push aside any feelings of discomfort you may have when discussing menopause, Saltz says, because talking about what’s happening to your significant other can lead to better understanding on your part. Which, in turn, means you can work with your spouse to help relieve her symptoms AS A TEAM. (The team thing sounds like a good opening line for a conversation actually.)

Keep romance alive. Intimacy during menopause shouldn’t be avoided. Embrace it! Enjoy it! As long as your partner feels comfortable and intercourse isn’t painful, there’s no reason to dial back the romance or letting her know that she’s still the one.

“A romantic dinner or holding hands on a walk can make a big difference in her view of both herself and the two of you as a couple,” Stalz said.

As mentioned earlier, pregnancy can still happen during perimenopause. As long as your partner is having a period – even if it’s an erratic cycle – she can still become pregnant. Birth control should still be used for at least a full 12 months after her last period.

If intercourse IS painful for her–which it turns out is pretty common for women in perimenopause (I’ll spare you the details. You’re welcome.)–don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you. Repeat…IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. It’s called vaginal atrophy. (Seriously, don’t make me go into detail.)

This is not the time to pull away like a rejected school boy. Step up your game and learn some oral skills. (Not from porn. Hate to break it to you, pal, but that shit’s not real.)

A note on your partner’s morphing body. Aging is an equal opportunity phenomenon. You’re no longer the stud you were a decade ago, either.

Share the changes you’ve seen happening to your body with her to let her know she’s not alone on the aging cycle, said.

**Also, keep telling her she’s beautiful and terrific – because she is. **

While this may sound redundant, remember, women experience perimenopause and menopause for years. These phases, after all, are part of the aging process. It took years for women to reach these stages of their lives, so it’s going to take some time for them to adjust.

“We can’t gloss over it,” Mary Esselman, 54, a Charlottesville, Va., writer and author of “How Did This Happen? Poems For The Not So Young Anymore,” told “Aging is not an abstraction, it’s a real thing.”

And, Esselman said, that means including “menopause and other perfectly natural (but pretty disruptive) aspects of growing older as a woman.”