When I posted on Facebook that I was reading two new books about menopause, many of my friends wanted side-by-side comparisons. Unlike first menstruation, where there are dozens of friendly books as well as classes and workshops, menopause is kept shrouded in shameful silence, with very little information volunteered up front. Even doctors often don’t recognize symptoms that are typical as such, and there is a lot of misinformation floating around.
What Fresh Hell is This? Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You
by Heather Corinna.
Hachette Go, 2021.
Read from library copy.
LGBTQ+ sex educator and author of several books for teens and young adults Heather Corinna started writing this book when they started developing hellacious symptoms that turned out to be menopause-related. I have so much sympathy! After sharing her personal story, she moves on to telling the messed-up, misogynist story of Western menopause knowledge, including the delightful quote below Such attitudes linger, even though we now have a couple of decades of better information.
C.F. Menville de Ponsan [was] a charmer who called menopause ‘the death of the womb.’What Fresh Hell is This by Heather Corinna, p 26
Other topics covered include a summary of the hormones involved and what they do in the body, the basics of self-care, treatment and care-taker options, how your experience might be different if you are trans or nonbinary, how to recognize perimenopasue, and several chapters of system-by-system impacts, including sex lives, mental care, depression and anxiety, with many references to other experts. All of it is told in a very personal, honest and irreverent tone, such as her saying “I’m so sorry” when chocolate comes up on a list of things that can increase hot flashes and saying that pleasure is your birthright.
In addition to all of this already helpful information, she discusses reasons you might be angry all the time – not just hormones, but maybe because caring for people should be reciprocal, and now that you need care, too, you’re expected to just suck it up and still keep caring for others. Dealing with a culture that doesn’t have much information about menopause to begin with and doesn’t tend to share what we do have is hard, and people might have strong and varying feelings about the invisibility that older women have in our culture. She encourages the reader to ditch diet culture (your body is putting on weight for a reason!), find support that isn’t just about staying youthful-looking (we will all end up “shriveled”), and use your rage to make positive change in your life and the larger world as you can.
The Menopause Manifesto
by Dr. Jen Gunter
Read from library copy.
Ebook and audiobook on Libby.
Dr. Jen Gunter is an OB/GYN and author of the Vagina Bible. This book is written from a feminist and unsurprisingly much more medical perspective. Her history of menopause has more information on its evolutionary purpose and ancient references to it, as well as the extreme changes in attitudes towards hormones that have taken place since she was a resident in the early 1990s. Her feminist rage comes from things like doctors removing ovaries “just in case” and the fact that treating menopause for women’s health and well-being, rather than their partner’s satisfaction, has only recently begun and is still a work in progress.
Because so many important things are missed, she spends a lot of time covering problems that might not be common but are high risk, such as early menopause, abnormal bleeding, and osteoporosis. She gives lots and lots of therapy options, being clear that there are many more of them than just hormones or no hormones. Not only are hormone options safer than they were, but the big scare about them 20 years ago has made the whole topic of menopause and its issues less discussed than it was 30 years ago, a definite change for the worse.
Her attitude towards weight is that obesity can definitely be harmful, but so can obsessing about your weight. She encourages making sure you exercise, get your fiber and water, and just try to eat a good healthy diet – she recommends some – while being gentle with yourself. On the topic of sex, she assumes heterosexual couples, but goes in depth in contraception, lubricants, and best practices.
There is a lot of space devoted to myths about hormones and the dangers of supplements – which are unregulated in the US and don’t contain the stated ingredients up to 80% of the time, in addition to not being studied. There are only a couple she approves of, including omega-3, B12 for vegetarians, and sometimes calcium and vitamin D. If you must use supplements, she says, check the Office of Dietary Supplements for legitimacy of usage and find one verified by a third party – NSF International, US Pharmacopeia (USP) or ConsumerLab are the three she lists. (I’m going into detail here because of my own heavy supplement usage, which I now need to review!) I laughed out loud when she said she expects hate mail for this chapter – haha!
It turns out that these two books take very different approaches to the topic, and I learned a lot from both of them. I had friends asking me which I’d recommend, and I’d ask if you want your advice to come from a close friend with a potty mouth who really cares about your comfort and sex life, or from a friendly doctor who’s more concerned with the medical side of things. To put it another way, if I were to have a group discussion around just one, I would go with What Fresh Hell is This. For a specific medical issues, pick The Menopause Manifesto. Neither will focus on women staying attractive to men, thank goodness. Either way, reading them has convinced me that this is a topic worth being educated and mindful about.