For years, menopause has been shrouded in mystery. Myths would float down from the ether — your body changes forever; your sex life is doomed; the symptoms are nightmares; forget about your metabolism. But a plot twist has been unfolding in recent years: Menopause is getting a bit of a rebrand. And, turns out, the future isn’t so bleak as the patriarchy might’ve wanted us to believe. (Because you know if men went through menopause, it would have a much sexier profile.)
“Historically, menopause has been identified and quantified by the Western male lens,” says Stacy T. Sims, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist who specializes in revolutionizing exercise nutrition and performance for women. “As early as Hippocrates, women were told that the ‘death of the womb’ meant demons and toxins would build up because they could not bleed.”
Cute. The Puritans weren’t much better: “In the Puritan era of witch hunting, most women who were tried and burned as witches were women in perimenopause, because there was no explanation for hot flashes, night sweats, or mood changes,” Sims says. “The women were seeking natural remedies, whereas the male lens viewed this to be witchcraft.”
Our current culture has only perpetuated the knee-jerk negativity about menopause. But as we’ve embraced women’s health in a new way in the past decade, this life phase has come along as a natural part of the shift. “As global role models continue to work, yet remain in the media, they feel empowered to discuss or mention what they are going through, which then feeds forward to the everyday woman,” Sims says.
Likewise, the symptoms we’ve always been told are lurking in “middle age” aren’t necessarily as depressing as we were once led to believe.
“During menopause, you’ll definitely experience symptoms, like vaginal dryness and fatigue,” says Emily Morse, Ph.D., doctor of human sexuality, founder and host of Sex With Emily, and Playground’s Sex and Wellness Council’s chief sexologist. “But I’ve found that the more women believe it’s possible to keep their sex life vibrant and healthy, the more likely they are to take action — they find solutions and become active participants in keeping their sex lives on track.”
In other words, as long as you’re an active participant in your own sexuality, menopause is no roadblock. “The most harmful thing to a woman’s sex life is believing that it’s over and that there’s no help,” Morse adds.
Similarly, people who menstruate have been made to believe that menopause is a specter hanging over your late 40s or 50s and that you should buckle up because the ride will be rocky. “Many believe that everyone experiences hot flashes and night sweats equally, that these symptoms will last forever, and that hormone therapy is the only way to manage them,” says Dr. Alyssa Dweck, chief medical officer at Bonafide, a hormone-free supplement company.
In reality, the symptoms you experience have a lot to do with “genetic, ethnic, environmental, and lifestyle factors,” Dweck says, and “modifiable factors include smoking, weight management, and avoidance of dietary triggers, like caffeine and alcohol.” And though she calls hormone therapy “quite effective” for the treatment of menopausal symptoms, “nonhormonal alternatives are available.”
Thanks in no small part to the wellness world, there’s more education than ever about menopause out there — and more options than ever for personal care products to help you on your journey, from creams and potions to supplements designed to nudge your hormones and libido along.
The wellness world has already inspired a generation or two to embrace self-care — really, brands like Goop and the Nue Company have put wellness on the map — and now they’re branching out. Millennials are already sold on the spoils of the wellness world. But now the eldest millennials are just about to hit menopause, and brands are waiting with open arms and soothing products.
Just like the Goopification of our world has had unexpected benefits, like encouraging a bunch of stressed-out people to take a (sometimes literal) chill pill, brands and products popping up like mushrooms to support people going into menopause have inspired a new way of thinking about and vernacular around menopause.
“The narrative around menopause is radically shifting, and it's a very recent phenomenon, perhaps the last two to three years,” says Bulbul Hooda, brand creator and CMO of femtech company Vella, one such brand, which launched last year with a topical pleasure serum and just added a lubricant designed for all stages of menopause.
On a practical level, Hooda points out that capitalism is finally waking up to the opportunity. “Twenty percent of the U.S. workforce is in some stage of menopause, with 1.3 million women joining this category each year,” she says. “Globally, this number will be 1 billion women by 2025, which roughly translates into a $600 billion spending opportunity.”
But it’s not just about the Benjamins. “Finally, the moment has arrived when we are changing the narrative by normalizing menopause,” Hooda says. “There are platforms and forums that are driving this systemic change. Women are breaking the shackles of traditional societal framework and leaning into medical, professional resources to seek help in navigating this new life stage.”
Dread has long been associated with menopause, but with this normalization should come a sense of enthusiasm, says Morse. “As part of the rebrand, we need to talk about the benefits,” she says. “Not having a period. No more PMS. Women can take time to reassess their life, and, if they have children, the children are getting older, so mothers have more time and freedom to pursue things they may have put on hold.”
Rather than the beginning of the end, menopause is simply a beginning. “There’s great wisdom in this life stage and more confidence, too,” Morse says. “Really, women get to rebrand their entire lives during this time. It’s true liberation.”
Morse points out that we’re more open as a culture in general around sexuality (in some respects) of late, and with this openness comes a better understanding of our bodies and how to discuss them. “We’ve had so much fear and misunderstanding around sex and sexual health that honest conversations have been discouraged,” Morse says.
“Women just assumed there was something wrong with them. They were told, dismissively, to just have a glass of wine for symptoms,” she says. “We’re now witnessing a sea of change in sex as an open topic of discussion, and that includes menopause.”
And with this shift comes more honesty about what we want, menopause be damned. “Turns out, women want to have sex throughout menopause and beyond,” Morse says. “They don’t need or want to suffer anymore, and companies are realizing there’s a golden opportunity to serve them.”
In the breaking-down of myths — and taboos — around menopause, there’s also a sense that people experiencing menopause don’t have to suffer in silence. “There are so many options available to alleviate symptoms that allow women to thrive,” says Dr. Shyama Mathews, OB-GYN surgeon at Princeton Medical Health and Playground’s Sex and Wellness Council’s medical adviser.
In addition to hormonal and nonhormonal medication, she shouts out meditation, acupuncture, diet, exercise, and the use of personal lubricant to “easily and pleasantly relieve vaginal dryness and pain.”
We weren’t hearing much about easily and pleasantly relieving much of anything menopause-related 10 years ago. And while it’s a refreshing change of pace, what’s next for this phase of life? Have we pushed the boundaries as far as they go already?
Not even close. “With the continued education and grassroots push of changing the narrative, I see — I hope — that the entire timeline of menopause just becomes part of normal life, and normal conversations, and is not just a ‘woman’s thing’ to be discussed only in certain circles,” says Sims.
“I want the Western idea around menopause to reflect the Asian idea: That it’s revered to become an elder and a position high in society,” she adds.
Though the shift is real, it’s gradual. “This is the first time in almost two decades of working in human sexuality that I’ve been interviewed by a news outlet about menopause, which says that we’re much more invested in this life stage,” Morse says. It also underlines how slowly the investment is transpiring.
This is all good news for younger millennials and Gen Zers. “We’re seeing more conversations, treatments, and products geared towards women in perimenopause and menopause, and by the time the next generation experiences symptoms, there will be even more treatments readily available,” Morse says. “The future is looking better than ever. This is the last generation of women flailing around looking for solutions.”
And it’s not just about a surface rebrand: The science of menopause is also advancing. “We’re learning that inflammation is the root cause of many symptoms, which we can combat with anti-inflammatory nutrition, supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and magnesium,” Morse says. “Sleep hygiene is critical for this purpose as well. And aside from treating inflammation, women now understand that lube is their friend, and that they can use it for every sexual activity. Culturally, it’ll be more normalized to talk about menopause and treat it.”
Mathews agrees. “There’s been a tipping point in the conversation around menopause,” she says. “The shift is occurring because women are speaking up, speaking to each other, and supporting each other.”
“There was a very recent time when women didn’t talk about sexual wellness,” Mathews adds. “All topics that involved a woman’s body [were] frowned upon: periods, postpartum, menopause. Women have been private about these issues because we’ve been trained that it’s an impolite topic. ”
No more, she says: “Women are starting to talk openly about menopause and sexual health.” It’s time for a new paradigm around menopause — and the world is ready.
“With conversation comes education and awareness, and this is opening up a whole new dialogue and ideology that allows practitioners, patients, and women everywhere to seek out and embrace new views and solutions around menopause,” Mathews says. “I mean, isn’t that the definition of wellness?”