Midlife Matters: Menopause, Sexuality and Women's Health" will feature frank talk on topics too often ignored

The theme for this year's Raleigh, N.C. women's health symposium may raise eyebrows. "Midlife Matters: Menopause, Sexuality and Women's Health" doesn't sound like your typical health fair. And it's not. We're discussing topics our mothers didn't discuss. In fact, we'll be discussing topics many physicians don't even know how to discuss.

One big thing we'll be doing at the April 11 symposium is debunking some harmful myths.
For instance, one of every three women in their fifties and older has pelvic floor disorder (PFD). Yet, many women who have it feel alone, ashamed and too afraid to mention it to their doctor.
The myth: that women who have it, brought it on themselves.

Healthcare providers -- and the rest of us -- need to recognize that these very personal health concerns are more common than we think. And PFD issues affect the overall wellness of women and their partners.

As the director of the Women's Health & Advocacy Initiative at Duke Medicine, my job involves talking about the tough stuff. And the Stronger Together women's health symposium I plan every other year gives me a big, public forum to do just that.

I don't know why it's acceptable to talk about male sexuality, but not about female sexuality. (That could be an interesting topic for another seminar.) But think about the prevalence of TV and print ads for erectile dysfunction drugs. Everyone knows what Viagra is and what it does. But Viagra isn't the only drug that helps men with ED. There are more than 40 FDA-approved drugs for male sexual dysfunction.

Guess how many there are for women? One.

The conference will be an all-day event on April 11 at Raleigh's Midtown Hilton. While we're covering topics such as psychosocial and physical health concerns surrounding menopause, sexuality and PFD, we'll be dealing with much more than female sexual health. We're talking about women's health as a whole.

I'm so proud of the panel of A-list experts we've assembled. One of them is Lauren Streicher, MD, a sexologist from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Another is Alison Weidner, MD, associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center and one of two course directors for the forum. She hopes the biggest takeaway from the event will be that women realize midlife -- the time between ages 40 and 65 -- is a great opportunity to take charge of their health.

Dr. Weidner will be among the myth busters on April 11. She says that with PFD, there's usually a lot of self-blame. "Women might say, 'I've been lifting too much' or 'I should've done my Kegel exercises,'" she says. That's not the case. Women are not to blame.

Besides the experts sharing their wisdom, we'll offer free health screenings, art displays, educational breakout sessions and activities that will create an environment where women feel comfortable in learning about potentially uncomfortable topics. There's even entertainment, including a performance by Rhythm & Blue, Duke University's oldest coed a cappella group.

The regional conference is two big events in one day. One is geared to healthcare providers and the other to a general population. Attendees from both events will come together for a seated lunch, which will feature New York Times bestselling author, Iris Krasnow, Ph.D., as keynote speaker. She'll discuss her latest book, Sex After: Women Share How Intimacy Changes as Life Changes.

Middle-aged women are an important, but often overlooked, demographic. Women between the ages of 44 and 65 are, in fact, the largest demographic group in the United States. And, we're vastly underrepresented in clinical trials.

In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't enforce its own policy that new drug applicants include the submission of data by sex, age group and race/ethnicity. So, women are frequently diagnosed -- and even treated -- with devices, drugs and procedures that are effective in men but have not been sufficiently studied or proven effective in women.

April 11 will be a day to break down barriers, enhance communication, build a sense of community and empower women to be their own healthcare advocates. Join us.
Midlife isn't the beginning of the end. It's a new beginning. Be ready for it.
To learn more and register, visit https://www.dcri.org/events/stronger-together-community-event. The registration fee, which includes lunch, is $35.

Kathy Kastan, LCSW/MA Ed, is director of Duke Medicine's Women's Health & Advocacy Initiative and is past president, emeritus of the Board of Directors of WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. Kastan is the past chairman of the Board of Directors and board member for the Greater Southeast Affiliate of the American Heart Association. She has been a national spokesperson for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's The Heart Truth®/Red Dress campaign since 2003. She is currently serving on the Board of Director's of the Triangle's American Heart Association.

Kastan is the author of From the Heart: A Woman's Guide to Living Well with Heart Disease and is frequently invited to blog at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-kastan.