The shroud of secrecy surrounding the intimate bodily functions of women is among the many reasons given by experts to explain the public’s lack of knowledge about the health of women in their 40s. But looking at the medical and cultural understanding of perimenopause throughout history reveals how this rite of passage, sometimes compared to a second puberty, has been overlooked and under-discussed.
From “ women’s hell ” to the “ age of renewal ”
Although the ancient Greeks and Romans knew that a woman’s fertility ended in her forties, there is little reference to menopause in their texts, according to Susan Mattern, professor of history at the University. of Georgia, in his book “The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History and Significance of Menopause.” “
The term “menopause” was not used until around 1820, when it was coined by Charles de Gardanne, a French physician. Previously, it was colloquially referred to as “women’s hell,” “green old age” and “sex death,” notes Dr. Mattern. Dr de Gardanne cited 50 conditions related to menopause that sound somewhat absurd to modern ears, including “epilepsy, nymphomania, gout, hysterical attacks and cancer”.
Nineteenth-century physicians believed that receiving bad news could cause early menopause, and that women who worked in “un-feminine” professions, such as fishwives, were most at risk, according to “The Curse: A Cultural History. of Menstruation ”, by Emily Toth, Janice Delaney and Mary Lupton. These Victorian-era doctors also believed that postmenopausal women grew scales on their breasts and suffered from “loss of feminine grace.”
Things didn’t improve much for perimenopausal women during the second half of the 19th century. “A woman consulting American gynecologist Andrew Currier in the 1890s was told that leeches were still an effective remedy for congested genitals,” more commonly known as pelvic pain, according to “The Curse.” Other doctors of the time believed that perimenopausal women were more prone to mental illnesses, “among them ‘morbid irrationality’, ‘minor forms of hysteria’, melancholy and urges to drink alcohol. alcohol, to steal and, perhaps, to murder. “
In the first half of the 20th century, the hormone estrogen was discovered and its role in menopause was somewhat clarified – after a woman’s period ends, her estrogen levels are lower than they used to be. during his fertile years. Even though doctors no longer thought postmenopausal women were murderous lizards, cultural ideas about them did not improve.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that longitudinal studies – which followed the same cohort of women for years – deepened the public’s knowledge of the role of hormones during menopause. Before that, doctors thought perimenopause was a slow draining of estrogen levels until you reached the end of your period. “But what we’ve learned is that it’s more of a turbulent process – hormones bounce back,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of the North American Menopause Society.