In 1993, Gail Sheehy, author of "Passages and Menopause: The Silent Passage,” wrote that “if menopause is the silent passage, ‘male menopause’ is the unspeakable passage. It is fraught with secrecy, shame, and denial. It is much more fundamental than the ending of the fertile period of a woman’s life, because it strikes at the core of what it is to be a man.”
But is there really such a thing as male menopause? According to a new book, "Manopause: Your Guide To Surviving His Changing Life," the answer is an emphatic "yes." Authors Lisa Friedman Bloch and Kathy Kirtland Silverman, who previously collaborated on the book "Dr. Richard Marrs' Fertility Book," argue that the changes men go through at midlife are quite similar to those encountered by women. And what's worse? Manopause collides with the societal pressures many men face to act powerful, be aggressive and suppress their emotions.
"Manopause is a very complex collision between hormonal loss with its attendant physical changes, and our culture’s expectations of what 'a man' is expected to be … strong, powerful and invulnerable … coming at a time when men can be feeling less strong and more vulnerable," Bloch said. "When men become aware their bodies are changing, and they know they still have the second half of the game of life to live, very often they fight their fear and confusion by denying the natural course of events.
"And very often the women who love them and who work with them see this reflected in behaviors such as: irritability, mood swings, hypersensitivity, retreat and depression," she said.
The idea that men go through "the change" is nothing new. In 1944, American researchers Carl Heller and Gordon Myers described symptoms of what they termed "male climacteric," another word for menopause. These symptoms included depression, a loss of libido and even hot flashes. The media later coined the term "manopause" to describe middle-aged male behaviors such as buying a flashy sports car or dumping a wife for a younger woman.
But Silverman maintains that while some very enlightened doctors may have posed the possibility of male menopause as early as the 1940s, they didn't yet have the knowledge to help men travel smoothly through this phase of their lives -- and nor did they need to.
"In 1940, the life expectancy of the average male was 60.8 years. Today it is closer to 80," she said. "In the 1940s, the cumulative effect of men's testosterone decline became apparent at a time of life that was considered to be somewhere between old age and death. Today it comes at a time when men have a full second half of life to live."
The authors, who call their book a secret encyclopedia about men at midlife, argue that new research reveals how a man's brain ages and new knowledge of how men's hormones work can help to smooth the journey. And, finally, they cite new regimens of testosterone supplementation that can benefit men whose testosterone loss puts them at a level that is clearly deficient.
But researchers at the Mayo Clinic argue that while male menopause is a catchy phrase, it's not necessarily an accurate one.
The clinic's staff says that female menopause and so-called male menopause are two very different situations in that women experience the end of ovulation -- as well as a decrease in hormone production -- fairly quickly, while men undergo a more gradual drop in hormone production and testosterone levels.
Mayo doctors use the term "andropause" to describe aging-related hormone changes in men. Other terms for so-called male menopause include testosterone deficiency, androgen deficiency of the aging man and late-onset hypogonadism.
Bloch and Silverman agree that manopause and menopause are different.
"While women's hormone levels drop relatively rapidly during a fairly contained period of time, men's testosterone levels normally begin to decline in their 30s, at the rate of about 1 percent a year," Bloch said. "This means that by the time men begin to feel the effects of their testosterone loss, the gradual process can have been ongoing for anywhere from one to two decades, or sometimes even longer. In that sense, you could indeed say that manopause is a longer process than menopause."
The good news is that Bloch and Silverman write about how manopause can actually improve the lives of men and bring about new opportunities for growth.
"What kind of opportunity? Men should use this time to uncover their authentic selves, to discover their passions and hidden talents, to enjoy greater honesty and depth in their relationships, to become more emotionally aware, to revel in hedonistic and sensual lovemaking, and to confidently share the wisdom they have accrued over the years," SIlverman said.
Even a man's sex life can enter a new era during manopause.
"Usually the more powerful partner is the one who initiates sex. And traditionally, that is the man. But as a man ages and he begins to doubt himself, his partner may feel she needs to be more assertive about what she wants sexually," Bloch said. "Dealing with this shift can be tricky. Even if your man has started to reevaluate other rules about sex, this change may be hard for him to accept because in his mind, the implications are vast."
According to the book, once the sex act is over, a manopause man will not be in as much of a rush to detach from you. No more hopping out of the bed while reaching for his pants. Instead, he may want to cuddle and spoon, talk and caress.
In short, "use manopause as an opportunity to communicate openly and honestly with your man."
Have you experienced "manopause" or had a partner go through 'the change'? Let us know in the comments!