The 411 on hot flashes, dry vaginas, and whatever is up with your sex drive...

Menopause. The word strikes fear in many women who have heard the horror stories of our elders. Visions of mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats. None of us really know how menopause will play out for us until we are going through it. Some women will have a fairly easy transition, and others seem to be living through an exorcism of some kind. There is no one-size-fits-all tag for menopause. Yet, our questions linger.

Q: How long will it last?!?

A: Menopause is a gradual process. There are three stages, peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause. The length of time depends on the individual. Most people experience the menopausal process during a 2 to 10-year span. The majority of menopausal symptoms fall between the age range of 40-50s, and these generally begin with mild symptoms and gain in intensity until the process ends, usually within the 50s. So honestly, who knows how long it’ll last? Sometimes our transition into menopause can be similar to that of our mothers and other first-degree female relatives. With any luck we’ll hit the menopause jackpot and have a gentle transition over a short period of time. (Fingers and toes crossed). 

Q: What symptoms can I expect?

A: Just like with any other aspect of menopause, symptoms can vary. Many women experience changes in period cycles, hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, insomnia, vaginal dryness and weight gain. Thinning hair and less full breasts are other common symptoms. Good times. 

Q:  How do I deal with hot flashes? And can someone turn the heat down in here???

A: Hot flashes are super duper common. I know, right? Ugh. Two thirds of women experience this lovely furnace effect during menopause. Hot flashes can come and go within moments. Sometimes they last a bit longer than we’d like. Or maybe it just feels that way because it seems as though we might burst into flames at any moment. If hot flashes become severe and impact your life in dreadful ways, there are some ways to manage them that may make them more bearable. Avoiding some of the triggering culprits can help. Alcohol, caffeine, stress, spicy food and smoking can make hot flashes worse. If you’re sipping a coffee brandy, finishing off a taco salad and getting ready to smoke a cigarette before your five minute break is up at the job you hate, you might be having hot flashes. (And where do you work where you can have coffee brandy OTJ?) Using fans, practicing deep breathing techniques during a flash, and exercising regularly can also help. Supplements are an option, but it is best to check with your doctor about potential side effects. 

Q: Will I ever go back to normal?

A: Think of the midlife and menopausal process as your latest stage of development. You’ve been through puberty, think of this as the anti-puberty of your life. The symptoms may be a bit of a pain, but the worst symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings) are going to fade as your body gets accustomed to the changing hormone levels you’re producing. Your “new normal” is emerging every day. There are many gifts that come with the process, even if some of them look more like a flaming bag of dog turd than a true gift. 

Q: But, what about my vagina??

A: The changes in our vaginas during the menopausal process can be less-than-spectacular. The dryness, which often results from a decrease in estrogen, can be accompanied by irritation, thinning walls of the vagina, itching and painful sex. As we face the unique plot twists of the vagina during menopause, we can seek relief for the annoying symptoms. Vaginal creams and moisturizers are helpful, as well as adjusting eating patterns, reducing stress and communicating with one’s partner to resolve tension. (Apparently, vaginal dryness can also stem from emotional causes! The mind-body connection strikes again!)

Q: Is low sex-drive normal during menopause?

A: A decreased sex drive is normal for many women going through menopause. This can be caused by the decrease in estrogen and testosterone that is part of the menopause process, as well as changes such as weight gain, mood changes, depression and irritability. Caring for your emotional health and physical wellness is a good way to gradually regain your sexual drive; healthy communication with one’s partner and building intimacy in other ways can also help. 

It’s no walk in the park (at least not for most of us…), but your experience of menopause is very much in your control. You have lots of options for treatment and support. The first step is to understand and monitor what changes are happening and why. Clio is here to help you do that.

As we face the many changes that menopause brings, don’t forget to have self-compassion, patience and the remember to take one day at a time.

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Written by:
Paula C.
Paula is a psychotherapist and freelance writer. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, and especially her “tweenager” who recently taught her how to “floss” (no, not the teeth cleaning kind) (she may have sprained her hip, send help). At age 46, she doesn’t look a day over 59. When she’s not working and spending time with loved ones, Paula enjoys kayaking and playing around with paint and canvases and other creative endeavors.