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Menopause Myths, Lies, and Misconceptions

Marygrace Taylor

Written by Marygrace Taylor

Marygrace Taylor

Written by Marygrace Taylor

You don't have to think about menopause until you hit 50. But once you do, you can say hello to hot flashes and weight gain and say goodbye to your sex life.

Just kidding.

If there's one thing we've learned from women in their 40s and 50s, it's that many of us are missing out on key facts about perimenopause and menopause. And in some cases, the information we've been led to believe is true isn't quite accurate.

In fact, some of the most commonly held beliefs about menopause are actually false. Keep on reading to learn more. Here's a look at 6 things you might have assumed to be true about the menopause transition that don't actually hold up.

Myth: Menopause symptoms start at age 50.

Fact: Your period may stop completely sometime around age 50. And the average age of menopause, when a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period, happens at 51 in the U.S.1 But symptoms of perimenopause, the transitional time between a woman's reproductive years and menopause, which occurs as the body's production of the hormone estrogen starts to decline, typically start much earlier.

Most women start to notice signs of perimenopause in their early to mid-40s. For some, these signs can begin in their late 30s. You might start to experience irregular periods along with symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, pain with sex, mood changes, or decreased sex drive. It's normal for transitional symptoms like these to last for years before you officially reach menopause.2

Myth: Everyone gets hot flashes.

Fact: Hot flashes, those brief, uncomfortable bursts of warmth and skin flushing, are the most common symptom experienced during perimenopause and menopause, affecting about 75% of menopausal women. So, while there's a good chance that you'll experience them, it's not a guarantee.3

That said, the intensity of hot flashes can vary from one woman to the next. While some women do experience severe hot flashes, many others find that the episodes are relatively mild.

Also? There are ways to cope. Lifestyle changes like losing weight, avoiding trigger foods (like spicy or hot temperature dishes), and keeping cool with a personal fan or by drinking cold water, can make a difference. If those aren't enough, you can talk with your healthcare provider about trying a supplement or taking a prescription medication, like hormone replacement therapy, or non-hormonal options like fezolinetant or certain antidepressants.4

Myth: Menopause kills your sex drive.

Fact: The truth is that shifting estrogen levels may make it harder to become aroused during menopause. Hormonal changes can also lead to vaginal dryness, which can make sex uncomfortable or even painful.

These issues are common, but they don't affect everyone. Around a third of women report having sexual difficulties during or after menopause.5 If you're among them, there are ways to increase your desire and make sex more pleasurable. Being open with your partner is one of the best places to start. When they're aware of how you feel, you can work together at finding ways to make intimacy more enjoyable for both of you. Additionally, during postmenopause, there’s no need for hormonal contraception (birth control pills), and the fact that you’re no longer experiencing menstruation may actually result in improved sex drive (if you have a new sexual partner or multiple partners, condoms are still recommended.

Myth: Weight gain is an inevitable symptom of menopause.

Fact: The average woman gains around 1 pound per year during the menopausal transition, and many notice an increase in belly fat. Experts can't say for sure whether the scale increase is directly related to hormonal changes, but they do know that other factors, like diet and more sedentary lifestyles are at play.6

That means that, to a degree, weight gain may be in your control. You just might have to work a little harder than you did in your 20s and 30s; you may also need to switch up your workout routine. Eating a healthy diet, being active every day, and making an effort to get enough sleep can all help you maintain a healthy weight, experts say.7  

Myth: If you aren't getting your period often during perimenopause, you can't get pregnant.

Fact: The odds of getting pregnant during perimenopause are low. Still, they're not zero. Declining levels of estrogen can lead to unpredictable ovulation cycles and irregular periods, making it harder to conceive as you move towards menopause. But if your periods haven't yet stopped for a full 12 months, it's still possible to get pregnant.8

You should still plan to use a form of birth control to avoid an unplanned pregnancy until you've officially reached menopause.9 Also important to keep in mind: You're still at risk for STIs even after your periods have stopped completely. So, if you're having sex with new or multiple partners, you should continue to use condoms.

Myth: Mood swings and irritability aren't real symptoms. They're all in your head.

Fact: Mood changes during perimenopause are real. Around 4 in 10 women report feeling irritable, sluggish, teary, or have trouble concentrating. Many also report experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.10

Hormonal shifts are partly to blame for these mood changes. At the same time, many perimenopausal women are likely navigating major life transitions that can also impact their emotions. Think grown children leaving home, caring for aging parents, navigating financial challenges, or going through a divorce.

If you're having trouble managing your emotions, start by talking with your healthcare provider. They can refer you to a mental health professional who can help you find ways to cope. Try to take care of yourself too. Things like getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising regularly can have a big impact on your mood.

In short, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about menopause. But once you’re armed with the facts, you can start taking charge of this natural life transition – and take steps to help you feel more like yourself again.

Resources

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20353397#:~:text=Menopause%20is%20the%20time%20that,is%20a%20natural%20biological%20process
  2. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-menopause
  3. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/introduction-to-menopause
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hot-flashes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352795
  5. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/how-sex-changes-after-menopause
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8373626/
  7. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-can-i-do-to-avoid-weight-gain-at-menopause/
  8. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/pregnancy-still-possible-during-perimenopause
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/perimenopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20354666
  10. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/the-latest/mood-changes-during-perimenopause-are-real-heres-what-to-know

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