Susanna Petitpierre, BACP Registered, is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor, providing long and short term counselling. Her approach is primarily grounded in existential therapy and she works with individuals. Susanna is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Susanna Petitpierre
Schools will soon have menopause on the curriculum. Largely due to the efforts of psychotherapist Diane Danzebrink and her #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign. In 2019 Education Secretary Damian Hinds confirmed menopause will
become part of the Sex and Relationships curriculum for teenagers in the UK in Autumn 2020 alongside periods and pregnancy.
With the recognition that menopause needs to be better understood in the broader context of sex and relationships perhaps now we can begin to talk about men’s experience of changes in their hormones. Testosterone is the main sex
hormone (androgen) in men and the symptoms that men can experience as a result of reduced testosterone are called andropause. The hormone testosterone plays a role in the production of sperm, in the drive to have sex, in building muscle and bone mass, in the way fat is deposited around the body, in the facial and body hair patterns found in males and their deeper voices.
Men will experience hormonal changes as they age, levels of testosterone will start to decline from around 30 at approximately 10% every decade. It is important to note that testosterone reduction can also be affected by other
factors such as injury, cancer treatments, medication and chronic conditions including diabetes, obesity, kidney and liver disease. Symptoms include a lower sex drive, loss of body muscle and an increase in body fat, decrease in bone
density, fatigue, insomnia and difficulty attaining and maintaining erections*.
From research by the Centre for Men’s Health Clinic in Manchester, looking at men over 50 in the UK, Dr Malcolm Carruthers says: “Of the ten thousand men surveyed actually 80 per cent had moderate or high levels of symptoms suggesting they had testosterone deficiency. This shows that its not the rare condition that some doctors claim but actually its very common and almost totally untreated.”
Symptoms described by two patients attending the clinic and suffering from low testosterone, defined as Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome, share features with women’s accounts of menopause.
“Well I was 55 or there abouts and I was getting perspiration in my shirt and was getting really wet, I’m talking serious perspiration, tiredness and I had a lot of muscle aches particularly in my legs”.
“I was a fishing skipper for 23 years and was the type of person that woke up in the morning and rolled out of bed and was on the job, something to do” … Then when I reached the age of 55 I began to feel that I was flagging and I got all sorts of strange to me symptoms, aches, pains, horrendous sweats and uncontrollable temper.”
What about the mental and emotional aspects of andropause? We need to acknowledge and better understand andropause and the impact on men and their lives and relationships. Symptoms of andropause include mood swings,
irritability, low-self esteem, memory and concentration problems and depression. These are familiar menopausal symptoms for women, however it may be harder for men to acknowledge these symptoms and to ask for help
because they are associated with female menopause.
Further reading by Angela Rogers –
Centre for Men’s Health Clinic
Associated Press Television 11.3.2011
*See an earlier blog about men’s use of Viagra here.
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For many women in the 21st century, the menopause leads to a sense of freedom, independence and creativity. Of course, I want to celebrate this, but I also want to talk about less welcome aspects. Culturally, the menopause is still somewhat feared and is something of a taboo. It is also open to derision and often referred to with euphemisms or jokes.
Sharing the experience
Things might be changing. Recently, a few women celebrities have used the media to share their physical and mental struggles through several years of the menopause. I believe that sharing these experiences publicly is especially important in a culture that does not take the reality of the menopause seriously. Think about the photographs of post-menopausal celebrities on the front pages of women’s magazines, looking glamorous with their obligatory bobbed and highlighted hair, subtle yet sexy make-up and carefully co-ordinated outfits. I do not want to dismiss women’s aspirations for wanting to look good at any age, but the demands for women to look sexually attractive can be punitive. The hostility Mary Beard received for appearing on television apparently unmade-up and with her hair worn long and grey is telling.
Physical symptoms and emotional wellbeing
Physiologically, the menopause is the cessation of menstruation and is medically defined as one year with no bleeding. Other physical symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia, dry skin and hair and weight gain. We are likely to feel less sexually attractive, whatever our sexual orientation. There may be a drop in libido and physical changes in the vagina can make sex difficult or painful.
Fortunately, there are hormonal and medical interventions that can treat these physical symptoms with some, but not complete, success. Along with the physical changes in our bodies, psychological symptoms related to the menopause can affect our emotional well-being and leave us feeling vulnerable. Changes in how we experience ourselves, such as being unusually grumpy or depressed, voicing our frustrations or losing our temper can be disconcerting and make us wonder if we are going a bit crazy. This is especially so in a culture where women are rewarded for being nice, kind and caring.
The menopause, life events and relationships
The physiological and psychological effects of the menopause coincide with inevitable life events for women in their 40s and 50s. These include decreasing fertility and the end of child bearing or the hope of ever giving birth. In an age of increased life expectancy, the hope of having time in later to do what we have always wanted may vanish as we see ageing parents need care and support. It is also a stage in life when children leave home, another kind of painful loss that can throw the focus onto the dissatisfactions of a marriage or partnership. Long-held resentments towards a partner can be a factor in a lack of sexual desire. If both partners feel less interested in sex, a less active sex life is part of growing older together. However, clinical research tells us that a decrease or cessation of sexual desire and sexual activity is one of the most pressing and distressing concerns for menopausal women (Kolod 2009). It is probably the most difficult to talk about because of a sense of shame and a feeling the situation is hopeless. Depression is an understandable result. For women not in relationships or without children, or affectionate children, the menopause may be an acute reminder of the lack of an intimate or physically loving relationship.
How counselling and psychotherapy can help
Exploring these questions in a safe and supportive environment is a chance to think about and express the experience of the menopause without judgement. In this setting, losses, regrets and unrealised dreams can be grieved without recrimination. Working with a counsellor or psychotherapist can help us come to terms with these physical and social changes and lessen the emotional distress and negative impact on daily life. It is an opportunity to look at what getting older means for us and the choices and freedoms we have to live our own futures.
Reference: Susan Kolod (2009) Menopause and Sexuality, Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 45:1, 26-43, DOI: 10.1080/00107530.2009.10745985