The United State of Women “Healthy Women. Healthy Families.” summit in Washington D.C. didn’t focus specifically on perimenopausal and menopausal women, yet my conversation with attendee Marta Hill Gray naturally circled around to the topic of women, aging, and sexuality.
Marta, a women’s health advocate, worked behind the scenes to promote “pink viagra,” and she continues to be an insightful observer of women’s issues.
What have you observed about society’s view of women beyond the childbearing years?
As women age, society says we are supposed to suck it up and get on with it, but that doesn’t mean we are healthy and actually taking care of ourselves. For so many women, when you get to menopause no one has taken time to tell us what to expect.
After attending the event, what advice do you have for my readers?
Younger women need to know the time will come to a time when their bodies are going to change. As older women, we need to talk to daughters, sisters, nieces, and friends about the changes that are coming. Let them know that once you have your babies, it’s not over. We should really mentor them in being diligent about their bodies, so they ask better questions and they’re smarter than we were.
Your mom may tell you about having their period but not about menopause… It is a big deal. And women need to know there are doctors like you, menopause providers, who can make it manageable, who can give you treatment options and care and guidance so you move through it gracefully.
Not all doctors are comfortable with women in menopause.
That’s true. And if you don’t have health care providers you can talk to you, you need to fire them and find one you can talk to. Yes, you can fire your doctor, it’s all right! Just because they wear a white lab coat doesn’t mean they know how to help. You should be able to comfortably discuss any topic including bowel movements, urine, sexuality … all of that is important.
There seems to be more openness to talking about sexuality and sexual health today than when I began my practice.
I agree. The fact is that we’re living longer, we look better, and we are more involved than previous generations of women our age.
It is such a life-affirming thing to be a sexual creature, yet so many women have painful intercourse, and then they shut down, which can hurt relationships. I think that women going through menopause should definitely be able to depend on their health care provider to give them information and tools to overcome the challenges. It is different for everybody and, just as it is when you’re younger, it is very personal. A lot of women don’t know they have options and choices.
Women’s health and women’s sexual health isn’t behind the curtain anymore. It is being forced out on the table partially by the fact that our world is smaller and we know so much about girls as slaves, genital cutting, sexually transmitted diseases... everything is discussed and it will continue to be so discussed because these are facts. It’s an open discussion now, and the word vagina can be said. Women make up 50 percent of the population, and we are full citizens.
Younger women are leading the charge and they will not be denied. They have no fear. I think it’s fantastic, and it’s going to get better and better.