Not too long ago, I met with Dr. Michael Krychman, Executive Director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine in Newport Beach, California. Recently, he was involved in a study that demonstrates how women are often too embarrassed to discuss the vaginal and sexual symptoms of menopause with their health care professionals and their partners. Why the silence? As I always say, don’t hide your vagina under a bush! I thought I’d catch up with him to discuss how being shy about our symptoms can be detrimental to our health. This is what he had to say:
Q: You recently consulted on a survey that demonstrates a stigma that women have about their menopausal symptoms. What do the results indicate?
A: The survey results show that many postmenopausal women believe there is a taboo associated with topics related to their sexual health. In fact, almost half of the postmenopausal women surveyed who reported experiencing painful intercourse (48 percent) and 38 percent who reported experiencing vaginal dryness agreed that it is still taboo in society to acknowledge experiencing symptoms of menopause such as vaginal dryness or painful intercourse. These women also feel that their sex lives are not a medical topic to be discussed. And unfortunately this carries over insofar that four in ten women (41 percent) who experience pain during intercourse and more who experience vaginal dryness (45 percent) have not spoken to their health care professional about their condition.
Q: There can be a lot of misunderstandings about perimenopause and menopause symptoms – simply because there are so many (just check out the menopause symptoms chart)! Can you tell us, what are the most common symptoms of sexual dysfunction for women in perimenopause and menopause?
A: Common symptoms of female sexual dysfunction include difficulty reaching orgasm and low libido, which frequently occurs among women during menopause. Additionally, many postmenopausal and menopausal women experience vaginal dryness as estrogen levels begin to drop during menopause.This decrease in estrogen may cause tissues of the vulva and vaginal walls to become thinner, less elastic and less lubricated. For some women, this vaginal dryness may cause dyspareunia; another common symptom of female sexual dysfunction, as is represented by one in four women (26 percent) surveyed who reported experiencing painful intercourse.
Q: Perimenopause and menopause is tough! If I’d known all of this about my future in menopause, I would have requested a sex change! Why is there a difference between how men and women deal with these sexual issues?
A: Many women have unfortunately come to accept the uncomfortable vaginal symptoms of menopause as normal, instead of talking about them with a health care professional. In fact 41 percent of survey respondents believe painful intercourse cannot be treated medically. When it comes to men’s issues, however, this is not the case. The majority of women surveyed (54 percent) think there is more awareness to openly discuss men’s physical sexual problems compared to women’s. And eight in ten women (80 percent) agree that there are medicines available for men’s physical sexual problems, like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but the same do not exist for women’s physical sexual problems. I think this comes back to the issue of the taboo surrounding these symptoms. Women should feel empowered – not embarrassed – when it comes to standing up against the bothersome symptoms of menopause and protecting their sexual health.
Q: The struggles of perimenopause and menopause can often put a lot of strain on a couple and I hear so many stories of women who often find themselves divorced at the same time they are going through menopause. How do you see these issues affecting relationships?
A: Currently, communication barriers between postmenopausal women and their partners surrounding these issues still exist. According to the survey, the majority of women experiencing vaginal dryness or painful intercourse have not discussed these symptoms with their partners, and nearly all said the vaginal symptoms they experience have had a negative effect on their frequency of intercourse, with 69 percent having less sex now than before menopause. As for the effect of this on the overall relationship, seven in ten women who experience painful intercourse and more than half who reported vaginal dryness (54 percent) say their condition has put a strain on their relationship.
Q: It’s so important to get help. Can you tell us more about how you help women reach out and achieve hormone happiness?
A: The first thing for women to know is that they are not alone in experiencing these symptoms. Vaginal dryness and painful intercourse are both common symptoms of menopause, and, for some women, arousal and orgasm may also be blunted in menopause. None of this should be left untreated. Above all, women who experience these symptoms should speak up to their health care professionals to find the treatment right for them.
Thank you Dr. Krychman for your tremendous expertise and continued devotion to helping patients and their partners overcome sexual health challenges and experience a higher quality of physical intimacy. It is wonderful to know that there are solutions to these difficult and often embarrassing symptoms.
Remember our motto: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
For more on Dr. Krychman, visit http://thesexualhealthcenter.com/.