Review on September 17, 2009
Without a doubt, vaginal dryness and loss of libido are two signs of menopause. However, women should not despair that their sex lives are over due to these signs. Cultural and social variables play a big part in how these signs of menopause are perceived and dealt with. For example, women of the Lakota tribe have a positive view of menopause and thereby fail to report those menopause symptoms. This is partially because they gain social status and power with-in the tribe after they have gone through menopause. In contrast, women in the United States view menopausal symptoms negatively, since they are devalued by society once they begin aging.
This does not mean that suffering these symptoms isn't problematic. Julie A. Winterich surveyed many American women for her article "Sex, Menopause and Culture" (2003), to find out how they experience menopause symptoms. Here is one problematic account about signs of menopause that Winterich recorded from a woman named Mary:
"Your interest really wanes when it's painful... With me they [orgasms] are less intense and when it's painful, they're nonexistent."
Before one gives up in despair over the suffering of vaginal dryness and loss of libido as signs of menopause, it is important to take into account how Mary's husband reacts to these signs:
"He is frustrated. When he realizes that he's causing me pain that doesn't make him happy either... He'll make little comments about he wishes I'd soon get through this and become a normal person again."
What is important to keep in mind is that Mary will not refuse to stop having painful sex or make adjustments to her sex life in an attempt to make it less painful (such as increased foreplay to stimulate arousal or the use of lubricants.) White, American, middle-class culture has conditioned her into believing that she should not speak up for herself while suffering from signs of menopause because her discomfort is not important in comparison to her husband's enjoyment. Her husband feels the same way in regards to her menopausal symptoms: he makes no attempt to help her or even sympathize with her plight. This is a poignant illustration of how women can be devalued by men in American society while experiencing their signs of menopause.
This example points out that suffering from vaginal dryness and loss of libido, is influenced by cultural values and relationship dynamics. Other couples have dealt with these signs of menopause head-on and continued to enjoy their sex lives. One husband became alarmed that his wife was suffering from this signs during sex and encouraged her to talk to her nurse practitioner about it. Now the couple enjoys sex the same way they always have. The woman's husband is happy that she is no longer in pain.
Women should treat their signs of menopause in a matter-of-fact way. The vaginal dryness and loss of libido that accompany menopause do not have to spell the end for their sex lives. If women are part of a culture that values women, the elderly and the expression of a woman's sexuality, then they can deal with these signs of menopause directly. Hopefully, women will have a partner who is willing to do that with them.
- Winterich, Julie A. Sex, Menopause, and Culture: Sexual Orientation and the Meaning of Menopause for Women's Sex Lives. (2003). Gender and Society.