Menopause symptoms are widely regarded as unpleasant. And it’s true, a lot of them are no fun at all, from hot flashes to mood swings to vaginal atrophy. But dramatic headlines can often lead to misunderstandings and misinformation.
Navigating midlife is hard enough on its own. Add to that the chaos of outdated medical information and misogynistic assumptions, and separating fact from fiction can be even more challenging.
So we’ve rounded up some of the most common misconceptions about menopause so that you can focus on the realities of your hormone changes—not the myths.
1. It Happens Suddenly
With so much talk surrounding “the change” and its severity, it can be easy to assume that this transition happens overnight. But in reality, menopause is a gradual process. Perimenopause typically begins between 45 and 55, though it can start earlier.
Menopause itself typically begins between the ages of 51 and 52. Multiple factors affect an individual’s menopausal experience, including pre-menopausal health, genetics, and socioeconomic factors.
2. You Will Be Sweaty Forever
Yes, hot flashes and night sweats suck. But luckily, there are effective treatments and management strategies for these vasomotor symptoms. Some of our favorites include these breathable PJs and this handy-dandy cooling spray.
Even if these solutions don’t work for you, you can reduce hot flash triggers by drinking ice water, dressing in layers of light fabrics, and avoiding spicy foods. For most women, these menopause symptoms naturally subside over time without intervention.
3. Menopause Starts When You’re Old
Our society tends to categorize women as either very young or very old. Misogynistic views on aging lump midlife women in with senior citizens. And as most 50-somethings would attest, that is not a description they identify with.
Perimenopause can start as early as your late thirties and early forties. So you likely won’t feel “old” when you notice your first menopause symptoms. (Psst—that’s because you’re really not.)
4. Menopause Is Misery
Yes, sometimes it can be. However, most people who experience menopause have mild-to-moderate symptoms. Even more disruptive symptoms pale in comparison to the potential benefits of this new stage of life.
For example, menopause means you can kiss PMS goodbye for good. You no longer have to worry about monthly cramps, accidental staining, or being stuck in public without a period product. Plus, you no longer have to worry about unplanned pregnancies or birth control. Speaking of which…
5. Sex Is Basically Over
You know the myth that menopause means no more sex? Yeah, forget that. While some menopausal individuals will experience vaginal atrophy or a loss of libido, multiple treatments are available to remedy these issues.
Moreover, many women find the lack of pregnancy fear sexy and liberating. Dr. Jacqueline Thielen, a women’s health expert from Mayo Clinic, said, “Some of my older patients in their 80s are probably the ones that are most engaged in their sexual relationships. [It’s] about finding a comfort with yourself and the ability to share with someone else no matter what age you’re at.”
6. It Causes Memory Loss
There’s a big difference between general brain fogginess and actual memory loss. Peri/menopause might induce the former, but it generally does not cause the latter. If you are experiencing memory loss, it’s more likely caused by your brain aging, not hormonal fluctuations.
While more research is needed to determine the correlation between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and memory loss, some individuals taking HRT have noticed improvements in cognitive function.
7. It Makes You Moody
To be fair, society tends to criticize women for being moody at any age, and midlife is undoubtedly no exception. But the hormonal transition itself isn’t to blame, the related symptoms are.
Hot flashes, night sweats, and other sleep disturbances don’t just affect us in the moment; they wear the mind and body down, making us more irritable, prone to stress, and impatient throughout the rest of the day.
8. Men Get It, Too
As women age, their estrogen levels deplete. Similarly, as men age, they also experience a drop in testosterone levels. This decrease is a normal part of the aging process for men, but it’s not necessarily “manopause.”
Unlike menopause, testosterone depletion occurs over a longer period of time. It also rarely causes symptoms in men. (Feel free to save this nugget of info for the next time a guy tries to mansplain menopause to you.)
9. Genetics Predict When Menopause Happens
Genetics do play a role in the onset of menopause, but they don’t guarantee you’ll have the same menopausal experience as your mother. Smokers start menopause an average of two years sooner than non-smokers.
Physical factors (level of physical activity, body mass index) and socioeconomic factors (occupation, income) can affect menopause timing, too. Additionally, you might be more likely to start menopause early if you are immunocompromised or have undergone chemotherapy.
10. Hormone Replacement Therapy Is Dangerous
This one is a doozy. The idea that the risks of HRT outweigh the benefits is primarily rooted in a study led by the Women’s Health Initiative in 2002, which has since been discredited for misleading data.
We’ve broken down the bunk science in a previous article. But to summarize, the WHI’s data was found to be deceptive and, according to a more recent study, inaccurate. The North American Menopause Society has even changed its HRT guidelines recently, emphasizing its safety and efficacy for many women under 60 years old or within 10 years of menopause onset.