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Margena Christian: Include men in conversations about menopause

Approximately 1 million women experience the onset of menopause each year, yet many are so surprised and bewildered by its arrival that they can’t even help themselves. According to a 2021 survey of 1,000 American women, more than 70% of women don’t treat their menopausal symptoms because they don’t even understand what’s happening to their own bodies.

It sneaks up on even the most resourceful people. Oprah Winfrey and her longtime friend, journalist Maria Shriver, opened up about the silence surrounding menopause during a conversation on the Paramount + series “The Checkup With Dr. David Agus.” Both described being unprepared for the “life change.”

The fact that resourceful people like Winfrey and Shriver didn’t know what was happening to them shows how little we talk about menopause. To combat this ignorance, experts argue that we should “normalize” it. Australian obstetrician Martha Hickey and three women’s health professors from the UK, US and Australia advocated doing just that in The British Medical Journal. Winfrey and Shriver also used that word.

You are wrong. If there was some normalization to do, women would be discussing this now, but we’re not. Only 9% of those surveyed in 2021 reported having had a conversation about menopause with their mother.

Instead, we need to start these discussions about menopause. And the best way to do that is to include men in these conversations.

One of the reasons why menopause remains culturally hidden is that it has been identified as an exclusively female problem.

It is not. Andropause, also known as male menopause, is characterized by an age-related decline in testosterone levels. Changes in sex hormones occur gradually in men, unlike women, who experience a more dramatic drop during menopause. Still, around 50% of men will experience symptoms, and this will attract the attention of the medical community; there is significant research on the male menopause, or climacteric, which becomes a new conversation about manhood, but it never enters the discussion as an analogue of the female menopause.

ought. Middle-aged and older men not only experience decreased testosterone production and plasma concentrations, but also experience mood swings, occasional night sweats, upper body weight gain, and irritability.

It’s compelling enough that researchers have examined how pharmacists, the healthcare professionals people most frequently interact with, can help men experiencing these problems. Pharmacists are ultimately more effective in managing men’s symptoms than primary care providers. As a result of these demonstrations, guidelines on how pharmacists can test men were released in 2021.

This same idea was proposed for women as early as 2005, but it did not gain as much traction. In fact, treatment for menopause has declined considerably since the 1990s, largely because the side effects of hormone treatment were publicized and scared women. As a result, they have been denied the effective treatment that is available to women, and have been asked to suffer when it has not been necessary.

It should be hoped that men can get more relief for similar but less important problems and not just because society can be sexist. However, that is not the whole explanation for the abandonment of women in menopause. It’s because we as women have intentionally left men out of the conversation about women’s reproductive symptoms.

Menopause is just the end of menstruation, and we keep boys and men out of reproductive health discussions from a young age. Health and sex education classes are often segregated by gender. Children learn more about menstruation from their parents, siblings, and classmates than from sex education.

This extends into adulthood, when men report being aware of their partners’ menopausal symptoms but unaware of how to access treatment for symptom control.

But there is potential here. In a 2019 study to assess men’s perceptions and attitudes toward menopause, 75% reported that they perceived themselves as a major influence on their partners’ lifestyle and medical choices. If they knew more about accessing medical management for menopause, there might be fewer surprises for women.

Of course, there’s another reason we don’t talk about menopause, and it’s not a medical one. It is about how the value of women is determined by their ability to bear children. Men don’t experience that kind of devaluation; They can make a woman pregnant for her entire life.

That conversation involves reversing misogyny, a far more important mandate than giving women the help they need and deserve when menopause hits. That’s something we can start now.

We need to start the menopause conversation by extending invitations to men to join.

-Margena Christian, Ed.D., was the health and wellness editor for Ebony magazine. She is currently a tenured professor of English and professional writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a member of the Public Voices of the OpEd Project.

Submit your letter, no more than 400 words, to the editor here or send an email to letters@chicagotribune.com.

—To read this story in English, please click here

This text was translated by Leticia Espinosa/ACT

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