Not Your Mother's Menopause

Two experts talk about menopause symptoms — and what you can do about them now.

By Cary Barbor
Hilda Hutcherson, MD (Photo: Domenica Comfort)

MORE: One of the downsides of being a patient these days is that there is so much confusing, contradictory information out there.

MOORE: I like to quote Mark Twain, who reportedly said, "Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint." It’s very important not to base decisions on the study du jour. The findings may not apply to you. For example, in the Women’s Health Initiative study that showed an increase in breast cancer among women taking hormones, the average age at which the women had begun taking the hormones was 63, which is much older than many of the women who were on hormone therapy who panicked.

HUTCHERSON: There are a lot of half-truths floating around. The best way to get at what’s best for you is to talk to your own doctor. Everyone is different. Your doctor knows you and knows your history. Every woman with breast cancer, for instance, now thinks she can never use estrogen products again; that may not be the case.

MOORE: I agree. Your healthcare provider knows best. Everything else is background. Also, women should always write a list of questions for the doctor. We have no problem bringing a list to the grocery store — why won’t we bring one to the doctor’s office? Prioritize the questions in case time is limited, but absolutely bring them, and ask them. Some women see more than one doctor — an internist and a gynecologist, let’s say — and get conflicting advice from the two. It’s okay to speak up about that. Say, "My other doctor told me something different; would you mind calling her and discussing it?" Doctors are bound to know the most information about their own specialty and less about other fields. Your gynecologist may know more about hormones, for instance.

HUTCHERSON: Yes, get your doctors talking to each other. That’s part of their job.

Menopause and Sex

MORE: What about having sex during menopause?

MOORE: This generation of women has dashed the myth that menopause is the end of your sexuality.

HUTCHERSON: Yes, there’s a huge difference between the generations. In my mother’s day, women weren’t talking about sex, and no one would admit to masturbating. Today, women are having sex-toy parties.

MOORE: And this openness is a boon in many ways. I believe that the number one factor in a healthy sex life is good communication with one’s partner.

HUTCHERSON: Yes, but as men age they may start to have erectile dysfunction or what have you. And when men have trouble, they may not want to talk about it. They may withdraw. Then women may start to take it personally: I’m not attractive enough; he doesn’t want to have sex with me. Meanwhile, the women may be running into issues — vaginal dryness may make sex painful, or they begin to have less intense orgasms and are getting, understandably, angry about that. It’s really unfair: We need our orgasms! But for some women, sex after menopause is better. They’re not worried about getting pregnant anymore. The kids are out of the house. There’s more time and opportunity.

MOORE: And we have treatments if you lose desire — we can do something about that most of the time.

HUTCHERSON: Lots of sex — with or without a partner — is a great treatment for vaginal dryness! It also helps headaches, depression, arthritis, cramps. It’s great aerobic exercise — good for flexibility and circulation…

MOORE: ...and great for sleep problems…

HUTCHERSON: So it’s worth pursuing and keeping up with — with or without a partner.

MORE: Menopause seems to be a real boon for marketers. What do you think about these menopausal products — wicking pajamas, the Chillow, and so forth?

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