Talking about the menopause from a personal experience can be extremely uncomfortable for many…
…and part of the battle is to break the silence and make these conversations easier to have. A quick conversation among your friends will show how nobody experiences menopause the same way. Yet, there is an increasing body of research that is highlighting the relationship between culture and the menopause, and how different cultures experience the menopause differently.
First, there are the physical symptoms. For example, the menopause seems to be associated with more frequent, and more severe, symptoms in Western countries than in Asian countries (especially when it comes to hot flushes). Even between and within Western countries, there are differences in how menopause is experienced. For example, a study done in America showed that African-American women were more likely to suffer from hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and forgetfulness than Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanic Americans.
What may be more important is the outlook women have on menopause because of their culture.
Differences in physical symptoms may be attributed to differences in cultural lifestyle and cuisines. For example, in some European cultures, smoking (which can worsen menopausal symptoms) is a common lifestyle choice. Similarly, many east Asian cuisines are high in soy, a source of phytoestrogen, which is said to ease hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms.
That said, differences across cultures in experience aren’t just symptomatic. What may be more important is the outlook women have on menopause because of their culture. Take, for example, the Japanese word for this phase in life: konenki. This roughly translates and breaks down to “renewal years” and “energy” – a quite positive take on this phase of life. Likewise, a study on Latin American rural Mayan communities highlighted how, “Mayan women considered menopause to be a life stage free from taboos and restrictions. They reported better sexual relationships with their husbands, because of no risk of pregnancy.”
How would your life be different in a society that looked forward to menopause?
On the other side of the coin, in a youth-idolising Western culture, the menopause can be seen as the end of sex, the end of beauty, and the end of the world. Similarly, fast-paced cultures that place a lot of importance on success and wealth may be more stressful environments, less tolerant of any physical “weaknesses” or difficulties that may impede work. How would your life be different in a society that looked forward to menopause?
When reflecting on your own experience of menopause, it’s important to think about the cultural influences that are taking play. Could your symptoms be aggravated by the outlook and lifestyle imbedded in your culture? Similarly, when joining a conversation about menopause, it’s important to take into consideration not only that people experience menopause differently, but different cultures experience it differently. There truly isn’t one way or one journey through the menopause, and the more open we are to sharing and listening to experiences, the better we’ll be at breaking the silence.