From a male perspective, we have all heard of menopause, and most men understand this is a loss of a women’s ability to bear children, but other than that, its impact on health and wellbeing is not commonly discussed or recognised.
This is for several reasons: when we are trying to increase awareness of a medical condition, the idea is we target education at the patient so they can recognise their symptoms and hopefully seek medical advice. A voluntary educational session for men on menopause, a condition they will never suffer with, is unlikely to have a great turnout. In a similar way, my uptake of women attending my erectile dysfunction talks has tended to be very low indeed. Secondly, there is a cultural trivialisation of menopause for both sexes that often follows: “my wife’s 50, we’ve been married 20 yrs anyway, so we don’t want to have sex, we don’t really get on that well, she’s always throwing the sheets off at night, but she’ll get through it, after all, it’s just menopause”.
Until we appreciate how menopause affects women differently, in particular how devastating it can be for some women, we cannot expect men to know how to support their partners during this time.
But ironically, there is actually an easy way for many men to understand menopause better. And this is to just look at themselves.
There is a cultural narrative that says if you’re a guy 40+ you should not want to have sex as much as you used to, your job is busy, you have kids and a family, time is tight, so you don’t eat as well, you don’t exercise, and you spend your time in the car travelling or sitting at a desk. Life pressures stop you doing those things you used to enjoy and kept you healthy. The result is your body changes, you get fatter, you lose any interest in sex, you’re tired all the time, work is harder and you don’t seem as happy with life. You’re told you’re a classic “grumpy middle-aged man”. This is just a normal part of getting older.
But is it? These symptoms are remarkably similar to the way many women present during menopause, and just as women who lose oestrogen, men lose their primary sex hormone, testosterone, as they get older. The difficulty is that for men, this loss in hormone production tends to be a much more gradual and progressive condition that starts at the age of 30 and drops by about 1% a year. Other medical problems, even mild ones such as asthma or high blood pressure can affect testosterone production, and while some people are lucky enough produce sufficient levels that they never feel a drop in hormone production, other men may become symptomatic even in their 30s.