This is the fifth post in our occasional series inspired by the results of a survey we co-sponsored with PrevaLeaf, makers of natural products for intimate wellness. You can read our first post here and browse back to this one from there: You spoke. We’re listening.
We’ve already established that the women who took our survey tend to talk openly and regularly with their doctors and partners about their issues with vaginal dryness (and, presumably, about other menopausal symptoms as well).
This is excellent!
But I was puzzled by your responses to one of the survey questions. Over half (54.55 percent) of you never talk with your girlfriends about your desert vagina, and again, presumably, you don’t talk with them about other sexual menopausal issues, either.
I understand that it’s embarrassing to talk about vaginal dryness, but I’m sure you discuss other embarrassing menopausal topics with your BFFs, right? Maybe you joke about hot flashes and weight gain and mood swings and insomnia. Why avoid very common yet troubling sexual problems?
After all, who else (besides Mom) would really understand what you’re going through? Much as your spouse may want to be loving and supportive, it’s hard to really walk a mile in your menopausal shoes without being on the same biological journey.
So, why aren’t we talking? Why do we continue to soldier on in silence? Isn’t it time to reach out to the sisterhood? “Create a support network to sustain you through the experience,” writes Ellen Dolgen, author of Menopause Mondays: the Girlfriends’ Guide to Surviving and Thriving During Perimenopause and Menopause. “From my experience the menopause support I received from close friends has been invaluable.”
Amen to that, Sister!
I don’t mean complaining (although some griping is in order), or a revisiting of old wives’ tales and menopausal home remedies. I mean creating an emotional space in which we feel safe to talk about what we’re experiencing, whether it’s a bone-dry vagina or hair-trigger emotions, either of which may be wreaking havoc on our intimate relationships. And then to share credible information and to seek solutions.
In the interest of jump-starting some good BFF conversation, here are a few ideas:
- Start a small group. It could be a Grumpy Girlfriends Club, a “book” club (lots of good menopausal books out there; my own offers plenty of food for thought), or just a plain-vanilla support group. (Author Ellen Dolgen promotes Menopause Mondays parties) The idea is to invite a few compatible souls to share, discuss, and offer solutions to menopausal issues in a comfortable, safe environment.
- Gather resources. Menopause is a topic fraught with myth and hearsay. But treatment options are changing fast! The advantage of a group is that you have more brainpower and eyeballs to cut through the nonsense and find solid, credible information.
- Lay the groundwork. Obviously, you have to decide on the where and when as well as the format of the gatherings, but the nature of the discussion also dictates a need for privacy, sensitivity, and discretion.
- No topic too touchy. The point of this support group is to air menopausal issues, such as sexual changes, that women don’t normally talk about. This demands a level of trust, acceptance, and confidentiality within the group. What’s said in the group should stay in the group. Critical or judgmental comments not allowed!
- Not a gripe session. Gather a clutch of menopausal women, and the group could devolve into a litany of symptoms and complaints. While an honest exchange of the menopausal experience is critical, the point is to share information and seek solutions, not just to gripe. How can you cope with crippling hot flashes? What are the treatment options for vaginal dryness? For loss of libido?
- Schedule something active occasionally. Good health habits are more important than ever at this time of life. Maybe schedule an occasional meeting that involves a walk in a park or a Sunday bike ride. You’ll get to know each other in a different way, and you’ll all experience the benefits of being outdoors and moving your bodies.
Breaking the shroud of silence surrounding the sexual issues of menopause empowers us to seek and share solutions. Along the way, we discover that a lot of other women are in the same boat. The message is the same, isn’t it? You are not alone.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.