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Is it Menopause Groundhog Day?

Listen, if you’ve lived as long as I have, you too have likely seen a lot of cycles repeating themselves; in politics, music, and fashion (although I’m still anxiously awaiting the return of shoulder pads). 

But lately, I’ve watched as so much of the work I threw my heart and soul into 20 years ago come back around as if new. And I’m feeling a little resentful.

Here’s what I mean. In the late 1990s, I was a newly minted Ph.D., taking my sex, love, and relationship practice out into the world when Viagra catapulted into the market changing our culture overnight.  I watched with joy in my heart as the news and public went from discussing sex as something dangerous, scary, and wrong (HIV/AIDS, homophobia, etc.), to making jokes and celebrating the possibilities with Bob Dole grinning from a race car.  Suddenly sex was coming out of the closet where I was waiting with open arms to greet the public discourse.

But within a month of the drug’s release, I started getting calls from woman after woman asking for help. And they all had the same story: They hadn’t had sex with their male partner for years, even decades.  He had no interest once his penis stopped working and she was fine with that.  Now, suddenly, his penis worked again, and he wanted to get busy, and she not only had no desire, but sex was also painful due to dryness she didn’t even know she had till now. Then came the question…could she take Viagra as well? Would that solve the problem?

To answer that question, I dug into the research on women’s sexual anatomy and physiology, and I was appalled at what I found.  Not only was there little to no research ever done on this topic, but the crucial nerves and blood vessels that are central to female sexual function had never even been mapped! The medical field had already done that for the male pelvis. Hell, they had even introduced robots to carry out intricate prostate surgeries, to make sure they spared all necessary nerves and blood vessels to allow the patient to pursue any erectile pursuits he might have. To make things worse, while there were at least 30 medical treatments, medications, and interventions to treat male sexual function complaints, there was ZERO for women, partly because women weren’t even included in clinical trials until 1993!

Partnering with Urologists, gynecologists, and social scientists from around the country I started diving into discovering and understanding what variables played a role in women’s sexual response, for all women, but in particular aging women.  And that led me to menopause where I found basically the same thing; a few one-size-fits-all synthetic pharmaceutical solutions for menopausal women, but no real options. Further, there was public discourse or education on the topic. It was like it was a taboo subject!

You know me and taboo subjects lol. I have to jump right in. Too many women for too long were being told it was all in their heads, that this was just something to accept about getting older, or (my favorite) to just go home and drink a glass of wine and all would be well. My passion drove me to research, write, and educate, which led to launching my first NYT Bestseller, For Women Only, and the 8 books that came after. For the next several years I helped design endless clinical trials for women, wrote and published over 25 peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters, spoke at medical conferences all over the world, and launched my television career.  It was all based on seeking to bring what was hidden in the shadows into the light and to make viable treatment options available to women. I even opened the first Women’s Sexual Health Center at Boston University, followed by UCLA, then ultimately in Chicago, affiliated with Northwestern Memorial Hospital. 

Then, in 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative study came out, essentially saying that hormone therapy, the only viable treatment for menopausal sexual (and other) function complaints, caused breast cancer.  Upon reading the study it was clear how skewed that narrative was, and how flawed the study was. But despite screaming that from the rooftops, no one listened and women around the country were ripped off their medications and sent back into menopause. I was no longer allowed by my Board of Directors to offer hormone therapy at my multi-disciplinary clinic, ultimately leading to me shutting it down.  

From then on, I focused on running my own therapeutic practice, writing books, and continuing to educate women as best I could through television and radio shows I hosted and helped develop.  

And now I’m watching a whole new generation of women, almost 20 years later, flooding social media, proclaiming the same things about the lack of attention and resources for women. I watch as they debunk the Women’s Health Initiative study in the same ways I did.  

And I find myself (embarrassingly), feeling a little resentful as they earnestly discuss these issues as if they’ve never been discussed before; as if all the work I did never existed.  I watch as they proclaim it’s time to finally bring to light what I was bringing to light on the Oprah show in 2007 and beyond. On some level, it feels like all the work I did was for naught.  

I know it’s just my ego who’s feeling resentful, wanting to be acknowledged, as a lot of the research and information they are spouting as new came from the knowledge and discoveries I helped create. Not that I would ever consider myself in her league, but it occurs to me that maybe this is how Gloria Steinem and the feminists who spearheaded the women’s movement in the 70s feel as they watch the teeny boppers on social media today spouting their ideas as if they are new.  

Listen, on one hand, I am thrilled menopause is being discussed again in such earnest (even though I’m appalled so little has changed). But on the other hand, I want to comment on their posts, “Ummmmm, I said this 20 years ago in the books you’ve been reading to get this information.” 
But that’s just the caddy side of me coming out.  Most of me is cheering them on.  Because truthfully, while I will always support women in my practice, I find myself having moved on from it. It really is their turn now. Maybe that’s part of what it is to become the Juicy Wise Woman I’m becoming. Even if it feels a little bit like Groundhog Day, it’s time to pass the torch…regardless of whether or not those taking it acknowledge where that torch came from. What’s most important is that what is hidden in darkness continues to be illuminated. Only then will we finally be free and menopausal women can live the vibrant, beautiful lives we deserve. 

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