Why is it that when the topic of hormones or mood swings arises, it is almost exclusively associated with women? PMS and menopause are terms often thrown around in these discussions, often accompanied by condescending or mocking remarks. But do hormones and mood swings discriminate by gender? Absolutely not. Men have their share of hormones and chemical fluctuations as well. In fact, according to research from the Mayo Clinic, a man’s testosterone levels typically decline by about 1% per year after reaching the age of 40. This gradual decline can lead to reduced sexual desire, diminished sexual activity, and even erectile dysfunction. So, even though it may not be as openly acknowledged, men are not immune to mood swings and changes in their self-perception, reactions, and confidence levels. It’s high time we recognized this.
The truth is, both men and women experience changes in hormone levels throughout their lives, and these fluctuations can bring about a variety of symptoms. Some individuals may endure intense symptoms during menopause, while others might have milder experiences. It’s important to understand that not everyone will have the same symptoms during this transitional phase. However, what’s puzzling is the tendency to point fingers at women when the subject of menopause comes up. Menopause is a shared experience among all of us, yet it either remains under-discussed or is relegated to the realm of taboo. Could it be that because it predominantly affects women, society deems it less important? Is this truly the case?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides insight into the historical exclusion of women from clinical research. This exclusion was often justified by two misguided notions: first, that women are more biologically complex than men, and second, that women, as primary caregivers of young children, had too many competing time demands to participate in research studies. Thankfully, more than two decades ago, the NIH established the Office of Research on Women’s Health, acknowledging the importance of including all subgroups in research to benefit the entire population. In 1991, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services followed suit by establishing the Office on Women’s Health, aiming to address broader public health issues related to sex and gender. Since these offices were established, significant progress has been made in various areas of women’s health. However, there is still much work to be done in understanding and addressing gender-specific health concerns.
As a woman, it can be incredibly frustrating to find myself in situations where any deviation from my usual demeanor is immediately attributed to PMS or menopause. Conversely, when a man undergoes a mood change or becomes quieter, it is often attributed to external factors like a demanding day or stress. Why must any of us be confined to such limiting stereotypes? What benefit does it provide for us as human beings to constantly try to predict and pigeonhole each other’s feelings? It appears that categorizing people is a natural human tendency, driven by our brains’ inclination to simplify and organize information.
Indeed, categorization serves a purpose by allowing us to efficiently process information without starting from scratch each time we encounter something or someone new. Nevertheless, this also means that we have the capacity to change our ingrained patterns and not rely solely on gender-based categorization. This transformation can only occur if we truly desire it and are committed to making it happen.
An article titled “What Is Neuroplasticity?” by Kendra Cherry, MSEd, published on November 8, 2022, sheds light on the remarkable adaptability of our brains. Contrary to the belief that the brain becomes fixed after a certain age, recent research has shown that it continues to change in response to learning and experiences. This insight prompts us to ask: should we not be open to learning and discussing subjects like menopause and how hormones affect both men and women? When we transition into the next stage of life, should we not strive to understand what is happening within us, not only for our benefit but also for the sake of our partners?
I leave you with a final thought. What can each of us do to better understand ourselves, both internally and externally? Let’s take a step towards dismantling the boxes we’ve been placed in and fostering a more inclusive, informed, and empathetic dialogue about the complexities of human experience.