A Historical Perspective on Menopause
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Medical research into menopause has a relatively short history. The term menopause was coined in 1821 by the French physician Charles Pierre Louis De Gardanne, who studied the biological and mental effects of menopause in women ages 40 and older. Unfortunately, with De Gardanne's study of menopause, there were also many negative perceptions formed about the condition.
How did these perceptions change over time as medical technology and research methods advanced? How have these perceptions shaped our understanding of menopause today? What can we do to dismantle these negative connotations surrounding menopause?
The Birth of Menopausal "Hysteria"
The term hysteria has existed since the days of the Greco-roman empires. Hysteria comes from the Greek root, hystera, which translates to the English word "uterus." The condition of hysteria, historically speaking, has been used to describe extreme changes in mood, emotion, and behavioral response in women. It has only been used in reference to women, not men.
As doctors and physicians turned their attention toward understanding and treating menopause, they began to form increasingly negative opinions on the subject. Early
treatments of menopause prior to the 19th century included bloodletting as a form of therapy. Other physicians were speculated to practice treatments that would now violate many ethical codes of conduct between doctors and patients.
Shocking Procedures and Wild Theories
Clitorodectomies became a widely accepted form of menopausal treatment in the early 19th century, a surgical procedure that sought to decrease the effects of menopause by removing the clitoris. English physician Baker Brown made claims that the removal of the clitoris decreased the likelihood of epilepsy (which he believed was caused by masturbation). It was later revealed that Brown had performed these surgeries on his patients without their consent or knowledge and was later dismissed by his fellow physicians.
Even a society of physicians, who had little to no understanding of menopause, believed Brown's practices to be too extreme. While he was not imprisoned for his unethical medical procedures, he was expelled from the Obstetrical Society of London.
The Death of the Woman
As the 20th century began to unfold, the continuation of menopausal misconceptions increased. Menopause gained a reputation for being the "death of the woman." As women approached 40, their male counterparts (partners, colleagues, family members) began to refer to them as being dead women on the inside, as they exhibited sexual withdrawal, lack of focus, and extreme fatigue. The death of the woman slogan became a term to describe the lack of desire men felt toward their older female counterparts. This became a popular expression well into the mid-20th century.
21st Century Misconceptions and Misinformation
The information age that sprouted from the creation of the internet has provided women with an immense amount of tools at their disposal. However, it also comes with a mountain of misinformation that can make it difficult to pinpoint the truth from fiction. Additionally, with so much information out there, it can be overwhelming for people attempting to educate themselves on the subject of menopause. As a result, many people don't even bother trying to find the answers to their questions and simply make assumptions on the subject without having all the facts.
It's important to identify what misconceptions people have about menopause and break them down. Look for information backed by clinical research and educate yourself on the biological processes that take place during menopause.
What are some of the misconceptions about menopause that are still perpetuated in today's society?
Menopause Is Not a Disease
People, by and large, view menopause as an illness or a disease. Menopause is not a chronic illness; it's a state of transition. The body does not become terminally weakened; it loses the ability to menstruate. This means that the body can longer conceive in the later years of a woman's life. Therefore, referring to menopause as a disease is inaccurate and harmful to the women that experience it.
Menopause Does Not Impair Judgment
While mood swings may have a profound impact on how women handle stress in the later years of their lives, menopause itself does not impair reasoning or logic. The imbalance of hormones in the body makes it more difficult to filter and manage emotions during stressful situations. However, it does not affect the areas of the brain responsible for problem-solving. When situations become stressful for women, it doesn't help alleviate the anxiety they may feel by having challenges taken away from them.
Employers, work colleagues, friends, and family members should be mindful of when to offer help and when to step back. As estrogen and progesterone levels begin to fluctuate during menopause, it becomes more difficult for the body to regulate its response to stress. However, once this phenomenon is recognized, women going through menopause can create and implement systems that help them overcome these bouts of mood swings. It may take more time to reach a state of calm, but once there, menopausal women can follow-through on problem-solving just as they normally would.
Menopause Does Not Eliminate Attraction
Women who experience menopause cite the most issues regarding sexual intercourse with their partners. As estrogen decreases, it becomes challenging for women to experience immediate sexual arousal. Often times, women feel a sense of fatigue and withdrawal before entering in sexual activity with their partners. This kind of withdrawal can create tension in a romantic relationship and cause partners to drift apart.
While it may be difficult for women to experience immediate sexual arousal, this does not mean that they are not invested in that aspect of their romantic relationships. In fact, many women over 50 report that they still wish to feel close to their partners and engage in physical intimacy with them despite the discomforts they may feel. Menopause does not eliminate a woman's attraction to her partner.
If you and your partner are experiencing obstacles in your sex life, talk about the discomforts or challenges that you are experiencing. Talk to sex and relationships experts on what you can do to help your partner reach sexual arousal as they go through menopause.
Education is the first step to overcoming these obstacles. If you're looking to gain a better understanding of what to expect from menopause or how perceptions of menopause have changed over the centuries, check out these clinical studies.