Is There Such a Thing as Male Menopause?
By Diana Lundin
Jerry Magazine imagined his 50’s would be a time of relaxation, a time to savor the things he had worked so hard for over the past three decades.
But the rug was pulled out from under the Glendale manufacturing representative when the economy went south and his sales commission with it. With the recession, Magazine watched his salary plummet from six figures to four, and he was at a loss for what to do with his career.
“At age 50. I’ve got to start my life all over again just like I did in my 20’s,” he said. “the 50’s should be the perfect time for a man. I haven’t enjoyed the 50’s so far. The 40’s were my time, my peak. It’s not over. It’s just having the energy o make it happen.
“I think what men go through in their 50’s are changes.”
Some experts believe men such as Magazine are experiencing a kind of male menopause, the buzz phrase that describes social, physiological, an psychological changes in men in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond.
While there are no hormonal declines comparable to women’s menopause, a fraction of men experience significant enough of a decline in testosterone to warrant hormone replacements, experts say. But other changes may trigger the same kind of anxiety and depression that women face in midlife, including career upheaval, a negative body image and troubles at home.
“There is something in men that is comparable to the menopausal period in women,” said psychologist Stephen Johnson, the executive director and founder of the Los Angeles Men’s Center in Woodland Hills.
“It’s a time when men are typically noticing their libido is certainly a lot less than when they were 19,” Johnson said. “They don’t have the kind of drive or initiative or motivation that they had for many years in the younger development period in their lives.”
Author Gail Sheehy, who calls male menopause the “unspeakable passage,” devotes an entire chapter to the subject in her latest book, New Passages. She says male menopause is a mind-body syndrome that comes from “the psychological confrontation he has in middle life over what it means to be ‘manly,’ as his physical strength ebbs and his occupational status changes and he finds he cannot depend on being aroused at the drop of a bra.”
“A man need not panic,” she writes. “Male menopause is often just that: a pause in virility and vitality that is most alarming at the start. It need not become permanent.”
While there is widespread agreement that many men are affected by crises and changes associated with aging, some say the term “male menopause” is inappropriate and inexact.
“Men do not have the enormous hormonal changes that accompany female menopause,” said Dr. Edward Schneider, executive director and dean of the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California.
“In the case of men, the major changes are psychological changes. It’s an important time for men to look at their lives to see if they have achieved the goals of the 20’s or of the 30’s,” he said.
Dr. Vincent Gualtieri, a Sherman Oaks urologist and president of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, discounts the concept.
“It’s a poorly defined entity,” he said. “There’s no clinical syndrome that you’ll find in a textbook like you’ll find in female menopause. It’s something that has been conjured up and created. I’m not sure you can create a male menopause.”
Still, the medical community is starting to take notice of changes associated with male menopause. Several studies are now being conducted in testosterone replacement therapy by the National Institute of Aging.
“What we know, as the man reaches male menopause, is that the brain doesn’t produce as much serotonin, the natural antidepressant of the body,” Johnson said. “I have a feeling some of the depressed symptoms are because of a lack of testosterone.”
The male menopause experience can be brought on by many factors, according to those who study the phenomenon. Depression often accompanies a degree of soul searching when men realize they’re not going to be the CEO’s of a Fortune 500 company.
Magazine feels pushed aside because of the economic downturn that occurred just when he expected to be in his prime career and earning years.
“We were told if you worked hard, you will be successful,” he said. “All of a sudden, because of things beyond anyone’s control, you can’t be successful.”
Magazine said he’s looking to simplify his life, including giving up certain toys such as his antique cars, to keep afloat. And he’s thinking of getting a job with a regular paycheck.
“I’m going to be 52 in September. Then I’m going to be faced with the issue: Am I employable?” he wondered. “This is what I dwell on at this stage of the game. I think there are hundreds of thousands of men who are in this situation.”
Michael Sacks, a sociology professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, thinks midlife is particularly difficult because men have a tough time defining their masculinity other than through achievement at work and domination in the household.
“A lot of men are just thrown into a situation of having to adapt and change without any clear outlines,” he said. “They’re having to find ways of behaving and guidelines to adjusting that are in many ways uncharted Ñ a no-man’s-land.
“What happens often in a midlife crisis is that our everyday experiences feel dull, uninspiring and sometimes meaningless,” said clinical psychologist Edna Hermann, a bored member of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association. “Men begin to seek new stimulation.” Indeed.
Changes in the household often provide choices that a man is not used to. He may feel freer to leave the family since the wife has her own job. What’s more, marriage Ñ at least in these times Ñ seems more voluntary.
“You choose to be in it, you don’t choose to be in it. It’s up to you. It raises new possibilities,” Sacks said. “You have lots of choices. That’s part of the dilemma you’re faced wit, that it’s a choice.”
A man from 45 to 55 is particularly vulnerable to marital problems.
“Let’s say he has been married 21 years and the children are now in college. That opens a lot of windows,” said Johnson of the Men’s Center. “A lot of times, the marriage will fall apart.”
For instance, a man in his 40’s may find himself interested in a woman in her 20’s to recapture his youth, Johnson said. In many cases, a man leaves his wife for the arms of a younger woman who “basically operates just like a nurse for a year,” Johnson said. Then he tires of that relationship and moves back into the dating scene.
“But this isn’t the 70’s, it’s the 90’s; and he’s not 25, he’s now 47. He gets out there and starts experiencing some rejection, and he starts realizing he doesn’t have the energy or capacity to keep up with that kind of momentum,” he said.
Johnson said his organization tries to work with men who are vulnerable to those kinds of crises.
“We’ve saved a lot of relationships from perilous decisions by helping men get through that period of vulnerability so that they can learn to adjust to and accept aging issues,” he said.
Other changes can trigger male menopause, like the onset of gray hair and wrinkles or the need for drugs for minor aches and pains. A man’s libido may also take a nosedive. Men have a kind of sexual arousal that probably exists until the day they drop, Johnson said, but as they age, they “begin to experience that perhaps they don’t have what they had when they were in their teens.”
So what’s the best way to survive male menopause?
A man’s mate can help.
“First of all, you want to help the man understand, to the degree you can, what is the meaning of his dissatisfaction; what is he longing for?” said psychologist Herrmann.
“The woman shouldn’t automatically jump to the conclusion that the man’s dissatisfaction with himself and his life is a reflection of her and who she is,” she continued. “If you understand it’s more of a reflection of a man’s search for new meaning, you’ll feel less threatened yourself and be more able to hear the man and help the man and yourself clarify the meaning of this phase.”
Herrmann recommended keeping an open mind and acting as a sounding board without being judgmental, mocking, dismissive or angry.
A lot of times the relationship can be looked at and improved through a greater effort at communication, she said. Often, a man reaches the conclusion that his life isn’t so bad after all.
“And then things resume on an even keel,” Herrmann said, adding, “There are no ways to predict how that phase will develop, what will be the outcome.”
Johnson suggested that men pursue therapy to deal with their emotional issues. Those best suited to age gracefully, he said, are men who are interested in their spiritual development, who may have enjoyed being a parent and are looking forward to being a grandparent.
USC’s Schneider said the man who plans for his retirement is someone who is going to make a smooth slide into his later years, which he considers “full of wisdom and enlightenment.”
“Retirement is a transition in life, not an end of life,” he said. “You have to prepare for the transition. You don’t wait for retirement to plan for it.”
Schneider advocates volunteerism rather than rounds of golf at the course. “So much wisdom is acquired as they age,” Schneider said. “It would be a shame to waste it. There are so many people who could benefit from their knowledge.”
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