February 21, 2011

One day, back in the fourth or fifth grade, my class was split up by gender for a very special class. Boys went to one room and girls to another. We girls saw a film, sponsored by the Kotex company, if I remember correctly. I don’t know what the boys saw. {What did you see?}

The class was taught by “health” teachers and it was a well-established rite of passage in elementary schools. For some kids, it was the first time anyone had talked to them about the changes their bodies would go through at adolescence.

Fast forward 30 years: Our bodies begin to show signs of the next big changes. Yet, no one pulls us aside to talk about what to expect.

My mother slid through menopause, never missing a beat.

I never saw her break a sweat, although I remember an aunt who would perspire buckets during hot flashes. It looked like an anomaly to me.

So I expected to have just as easy a time, and I did.

Actually, I had no expectations at all, it just happened, naturally, part of life. Oh, I had a couple of hot “flushes” but maybe no more than a dozen total in the entire process.

Yes, I know I was lucky.

However, I was unprepared for the way my body would change at this stage of my life.

Yes, I know, there are dozens of books on “The Change of Life.” And articles galore, especially as my Boomer generation aged. But reading type on a page isn’t the same as your body becoming a stranger.

It started in my early 40s when I couldn’t get a full night’s sleep. Back then, there was far less publicity about this stuff, or maybe I just didn’t relate to it. I didn’t realize there was such a thing as perimenopause and that sleep disruption is one of the symptoms.

As the years went by, I noticed other changes, as well. My skin was dryer. I needed drops to lubricate my eyes. And there were very noticeable changes in sexual response: the spirit was willing but the flesh was definitely weak. And dry.

I remember showing up at my gynecologist’s office, telling him “Something is really wrong.”

Of course, nothing was wrong. It was just menopause. Until the huge women’s health study revealed serious issues with the use of hormones under some circumstances, we’d simply pop a pill to treat the symptoms. I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid of even short-term use of oral hormones.

But here’s the deal. No one talks about it.

If you’re lucky, like I am, you have girlfriend who discuss ways they’re treating these symptoms. Rubbing cream on their arms (testosterone). Inserting plungers of cream into their lady parts (estrogen) several times a week. Lubricating gels and suppositories. None of these are fun, frankly.

Men have their own issues. Besides concern about prostate cancer and how some of the treatments make male sexual functioning a thing of concern, they have to worry about their own sexual response. It’s harder to get hard, for most men. It takes more to get off, for both sexes.

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