Many women in their 20s try their best not to get pregnant during their decade of personal fulfillment and growth. Then in the next decade, many try to have children—to mixed results. I’ve had a lot of friends who had children in the past several years, and some who struggled to conceive in their early to mid-thirties. It was shocking for all of us to come to terms with the fact that after fighting off unplanned pregnancy, infertility might be the next issue—and when we’re “still young.”
This has led me to be more curious about the next phase in a woman’s life so that I’m not caught off guard. Interestingly, sex ed was all but completely silent on the topic of menopause. Older women haven’t initiated me into this topic, either, unlike the way pregnancy and childbirth knowledge are so commonly passed down from friends and family. Fortunately, the stigma around menopause is slowing fading—thanks to menopause activists like the actor Naomi Watts.
What is menopause?
Contrary to popular misconception, menopause is the day when you haven’t had a period in 12 months. The symptoms we associate with the word indicate perimenopause, the period leading up to the actual termination point.
When do people experience menopause?
Most women arrive at menopause at age 45–55, with an average American woman experiencing it at 51. About 5% of American women reach this from 40–45, which is called early menopause. About 1% of American women reach menopause before 40, which is called premature menopause.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause?
Symptoms include mood swings, irritability, hot flashes, brain fog, night sweats, changes in libido, dry and itchy skin, hair loss, and vaginal dryness. These can be not just uncomfortable but highly invalidating, because doctors often do not take women’s health concerns seriously. It can be even harder for women who experience early or premature menopause because of misdiagnosis and lack of support.
Surprisingly (to me), you can experience premenopausal symptoms for 3–10 years before actual menopause. In comparison to pregnancy (9 months), this is such a big part of a woman’s life. Why aren’t we talking about all these so much more??
Naomi Watts menopause experience
Belying her blonde bombshell image, Watts actually suffered from premature menopause with her symptoms starting at just 36. She was dealing with symptoms without any support.
“If I’d known more, if I had knowledge of what was going on, I wouldn’t have been spiraling out of control,” she told TODAY show. “The mood swings, the night sweats, the migraines, all of these things converging, and (you get) no information and no community and no real help from your doctors because they don’t prepare you. It’s not until you’re desperate (and) in the middle of it.”
From that experience, Watts founded her own wellness brand Stripes, which supports “aging comfortably” with vegan, natural, eco-friendly skincare, haircare, lubricants, and supplements. Each product, like the hyaluronic acid serum or thickening hair mask, is designed to address symptoms and make this natural part of a woman’s life more healthy, comfortable, and authentic.
Menopause is something roughly half the population will experience at some point in their lives. It needs to shed its veil of shame and secrecy, and become a part of our conversation. With preparation, it doesn’t have to be met with fear.
A final note of encouragement from Watts, the older sister/ cool aunt I never knew I needed? With regards to sex beyond menopause, she says, “I’m closed for business, open for pleasure.” Well, when you put it that way…
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