Age like a man
If a thought process can be described as a path, picture my thought path as a switchback mountain road: there's no straight line from beginning to end. This explains how I could begin thinking about menopause and end up thinking about erectile dysfunction. Stay with me for a moment. I was thinking about menopause for a good long while the other day, specifically about how we have, until recently, talked about it only euphemistically. It was referred to as The Change or The Big M, and it fell into the category of "women's problems," which have always been taboo topics for polite conversation. But this cultural reluctance to discuss women's issues was not where my thoughts ultimately led me. What I really began to wonder was whether there is a male equivalent to menopause.
It turns out that there is, at least roughly. It's known as andropause or, more hilariously, hypogonadism. Declines in testosterone leave men with decreased libidos, fatigue, and sometimes even breast pain. I'm almost looking forward to the day my husband enters this stage of life so that I can say helpful things like "Lazy gonads got you down?" or "Testosterone. . .Can't think with it, can't perform without it. Amiright?" (I am a terrible person and a mean wife.)
The symptoms of the so-called male menopause complement female menopause perfectly: men's sexual function begins to diminish just as women's vaginas morph into the Gobi Desert. It used to be a win-win situation. Then the little blue pill came along and monkeyed with the natural order of things. I hate to make light of erectile dysfunction--if a young man can't get an erection, this obviously has a negative impact on his quality of life. But after a certain age. . .well. . .erectile dysfunction is not really a dysfunction at all. It's just Mother Nature's way of encouraging men to take up a hobby.
The little blue pill and the like may have eased some of the symptoms of aging for men, but in the process, it ruined the menopausal years for women. Gone are the days when we could look forward to a matching-sweatsuit kind of companionship with our partners. Now we have to try to maintain our sex appeal until we die, wearing thong-shaped incontinence panties in the process. A lucky few of us will manage to kill our partners while in the act, thereby granting us the break that we had, historically, always been able to look forward to without resorting to homicide.
In the end, I'm not sure women should be hoping to kill their partners with sex just to enjoy more time for afternoon teas and book club discussions. We're in an awkward stage of human evolution. We're living longer and generally see ourselves as being younger than our chronological age, but our bodies insist on giving us a healthy dose of reality. Maybe this is a season of reckoning for both men and women. Maybe it's time to usher in an age of acceptance, to listen to the wisdom of our bodies rather than the whims of the popular culture. Maybe it's time to push back against the pharmaceutical industry that keeps insisting that men are valued only for their virility. (And maybe it's time to teach our elders that if they'd just get into the bathtub together, they might not need Cialis at all.)
There is an entire pop psychology industry devoted to helping women come to terms with aging in a culture that values youth and beauty. Women are encouraged to meditate on phrases such as "You are enough," or to remember that their wisdom and talents and creativity reflect their true value. Men have none of this. Men are offered ED drugs and denial.
I wish our culture offered men something more authentic to strive for as they age. We all acknowledge the folly of women mourning the loss of their youth, but we continue to insist that men keep up the illusion of youth and vigor through whatever means necessary. This is part of the reason that old men are always falling off of their roofs. The simple fact is, everything declines. And in relationships, nature tends toward companionship over time. I hope that men will begin to develop their own culture of acceptance, that they'll realize that, while the fun times were fun, their partners still love them for their wit and wisdom and for always remembering to change the furnace filter. Those things will always be sexy, even if they don’t necessarily lead to sex. And that is a kind of satisfaction there will never be a pill for.