Now that I’m in my 50’s and frankly still not sure if I’m menopausal, I find that I am very aware of every change, tweak, pulsation, twinge and ache in my body. My vaginal health has become important in a way it never was before. I feel as if I am on the edge of a very large cliff about to drop me into a melee of symptoms which could affect both my mental and physical health. And it’s scary.
I’ve never been a particularly brave person. I once tried abseiling at 13 and spent 20 minutes screaming my head off swinging in and out of the arches on the Merthyr Viaduct when I missed my footing. Later, I managed to fall off a galloping horse in a Bridgend horse-riding centre and got kicked by the horse as it came back around the ring, almost breaking my arm.
Canoeing? Took chunks out of both my thumbs. Hiking? Got blisters you could see from space. Swimming? When I take my glasses off I can’t find the pool and I find the volume so loud that it gives me a tinnitus spike for days.
Such experiences have left me with a severe dislike of anything ‘outward bound’.
But, the result of being so physically ‘flaky’ when it comes to organised activity (or indeed sport in general) left me with an awareness of what my body was, and was not capable of. And so it is today.
I watch Caitlin bouncing around and practising her ballet. She cartwheels, twists and turns without a thought. She can do the splits. I don’t think I ever managed a forward roll.
I envy her confidence and willingness to claim her physical space. As women get older, some seem to shrink both literally and figuratively. ‘Invisibility’ is one of the key gripes of women struggling to deal with getting older. “I’m just not noticed” anymore they say. “I can walk down the street and not a single head turns”.
Our fertility is so much a part of who we are and how we define ourselves – rightly or wrongly – that when it wanes we can face a huge crisis of confidence.
That loss of confidence can affect every aspect of our lives – from work to friendships and especially when it comes to sex and our romantic relationships.
Internet forums are alight with women debating whether, at a certain age, sex need no longer play a role in a relationship and it is quite alright to settle into routine intimacy and to accept that the days of exhilarating and even comfortable sex are over.
It takes bravery, I think, to say “there is no age limit on sensual pleasure” and to keep claiming your physical space, your physical pleasure and even your visibility.
Let’s be frank. Lots of us in our 50’s are too bloody knackered to put up much of a fight and it’s no wonder that so many of us wearily accept HRT and stuff ourselves with Red Clover, Ginseng or the other supposed ‘miracle’ supplements that promise to return our youthful zing.
Recently, I noticed a TV ad from Vagisil in which they mentioned being ‘Fearless About Vaginal Health’, which is encouraging women to break down taboos and have more conversations around their intimate health and its impact on everyday life.
Vagisil is a brand that has been helping women to address their most personal needs for over 40 years and they recognise that when women take control of their intimate health, they are more focused, productive, comfortable and confident.
So, tired though we women ‘of a certain age’ may be, I think it’s really important to take control of our vaginal health and to stand up for what we need.
I hear loads of stories about women who are let down by their doctors. It is too easy for overworked GPs to dismiss their complaints as ‘something you just have to put up with’. Or to be prescribed HRT as it seems to work for lots of their other patients.
There should be, in my opinion, dedicated menopause clinics in surgeries. Places where women can discuss the changes to their bodies in a sympathetic environment, without fear of censure or embarrassment.
This would allow open and honest discussion of the effects of HRT, supplements and self-care techniques.
Women could discuss their relationships, the impact of the menopause on their sex lives and seek reassurance from one another that sex doesn’t stop when your eggs dry up.
It is also important, I think, to give men a chance to discuss how their partners’ menopause affects them. It’s no exaggeration to say that some marriages hit the buffers due to hormone-related problems!
Personally, if there’s one thing I am fearless about it is demanding answers to any medical problems I might have. It’s too easy to say – “ah, you shouldn’t take your diagnoses from Dr Google” but all too often, Dr Google offers information which needs to be properly considered before it is roundly dismissed.
And nowhere does this seem to be more pertinent than when it comes to matters gynaecological.
Having had my children naturally in my 40’s (at 43 and 45), and being branded a ‘geriatric mother’, I soon learned that passive acceptance of what the medical profession tells you isn’t always a good thing. You need to educate yourself so that you can ask the right questions – and it’s exactly the same with the menopause.
Things are improving but very often trying to discuss it is a bit like shouting into a wind tunnel. You are just not heard.
There are, of course, plenty of things you can do to ease your daily symptoms which are tried and tested and may offer significant relief, particularly in the case of one of the major menopausal bugbears – vaginal dryness.
You may, for example, find sex more comfortable if you use a vaginal moisturiser such as Vagisil ProHydrate Internal Gel (RRP: £12). It has a unique bio-adherent formula containing Hyaluronic Acid, which coats the vaginal wall and slowly releases moisture over time – meaning you only need to use it once every 3 days. It comes in single-use pre-filled applicators which are great to carry with you for times when you need additional moisture or are just feeling particularly dry and uncomfortable.
You could also try an external moisturising gel such as Vagisil ProHydrate External Gel (RRP: £8.50) which instantly replenishes dry and uncomfortable vaginal skin.
Whatever you decide to try, my point is that you should be fearless about seeking the best solution to your health problems. It’s your body, after all, and nobody knows it quite like you do.
We women should all support each other and openly discuss our gynae problems – particularly at menopause. Suffering in silence helps nobody and it is likely that these symptoms are just a passing phase that can be treated.
After all, it is entirely possible that we may have another 40 or even 50 years left so it makes sense to be fearless about our vaginal health!
The Vagisil range is available from leading supermarkets and chemists nationwide.
This is sponsored content in partnership with Vagisil.