Menopause isn't sexy...at least not to the media. Suggest a story about menopause, and editors run in the opposite direction or invoke the "news hook" clause. When the topic finally did make it to the cover of Newsweek on January 15, 2007, readers were treated to a sidebar of on how to create an emergency kit comprised of moist towelettes, perfume, and a change of bra and panties.
Currently, 46 out of 50 states have awakened to the issue and declared September Menopause Awareness Month. Rhode Island, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Utah are the four lagging behind (all are red states except Rhode Island).
On September 17th, The American Menopause Foundation hosted the 13th Annual Menopause Symposium at The New York Helmsley Hotel. The program focused on sexual health in the second half of life. Prior to the presentation, I had the opportunity to speak with a range of people working to make a difference in the field. James Frame, CEO of Natural Health International, was a standout. I was impressed that a man in his early 30s could rattle off so much data about estrogen, bone density, calcium absorption, and clinical studies without missing a beat. His belief in the strategy of educating the consumer, and his commitment to empowering women was evident. Frame explained his goal as "bridging the gap between the 'standard' medical approach and the 'natural' one." Once he connects with the large demographic of women who are unwilling to travel the traditional path, he will have a ready-made constituency.
After the buffet reception, Robin Strasser, Emmy Award Winning actress of ABC's One Life to Live, kicked off the program by introducing AMF President and Founder Marie Lugano as "the hardest working woman in menopause." Lugano, previously employed in the financial sector, established the AMF in 1993. Her mission was to advocate for the 50 million American women in menopause, at a time when there was virtually no research being done.
The evening featured two speakers. The first was Dr. Elizabeth Stewart, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and author of The V Book: A Doctor's Guide to the Complete Vulvovaginal Health. When I spoke with her, she emphasized that women were desperate for information, and that The V Book should "be on every bedside table of women and their partners." When I referenced the fact that many women find themselves without sexual partners at some time in their lives, she responded, "Enjoyment of yourself is important." Dr. Stewart was clear about the "veils and shrouds" that society casts over the female lower genital tract. On a humorous note, she clarified that Eve Ensler's groundbreaking The Vagina Monologues, was in reality about the vulva.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher PhD, author of Why We Love, tackled where women are going sexually. She stated that the divorce rate was falling; men were more eager to marry; and that there was greater time to express love and sexuality. In keeping with the "neurochemistry of love" concept that she presents in her new book, she spoke about the impact of antidepressants on sexuality (she feels that it numbs the romantic impulse and sexual functioning). Dr. Fisher also commented that, "Casual sex is almost never casual" and reiterated that the older woman can definitely be sexual. That point is currently being borne out by the unprecedented rise of sexually transmitted diseases (HIV and STDs) in women over 50 years old.
You have to wonder why heterosexual women over 50 don't feel entitled to ask their partners to wear a condom and engage in safe sex. Then again, I'm still trying to figure out the new cosmetic surgery procedure of "vaginal rejuvenation," billed as enhancing the appearance of the female genitals to "a more youthful state."