Are Men’s Problems Complicated by Women’s Menopause?

We live inside our own mind and body and look out from the inside. It may be that the only time a man looks at his own outside or studies his mirror image is early in the morning when he shaves. Yet, what of his partner who sees him as he is? What of their relationship, which may be significantly altered by his aging? Perhaps the man returns home in the evening and to his wife he looks tired and slightly puffy; he needs a shave, and although the gray in his hair lends distinction, she sees him and knows him as the age that he is, which is fine, because she is aware of her aging appearance as well. He, in contrast, may perceive his wife’s appearance only in relation to her age and how she looks. He may never relate it to his own aging self. When he does, it shocks the daylights out of him!

Some people seem to think that appearance is the main attraction for men, whereas women seek sensitivity and intellectual depth. Often, in some mature relationships, the wife sees her husband as powerful and bright. When the husband sees his aging wife, however, he may see in her changed appearance a reflection of his own altered image and see the enemy—old age—approaching. This perception is not the wife’s fault; it is merely a fact of life. Sometimes a man leaves his wife, and the only explanation he can give her is, “When I’m with you I feel old.” It’s a tragic response to years of loyalty and commit­ment, yet the need to run surges forth from deep within the man. It is comprised of unexpressed fears and emotions that have been buried so deep within him for so long that even he cannot tap their source. In an odd way, and without knowing why, his answer may be close to the whole truth.

What else about his partner reminds him of change that is scary? Apart from her somewhat changed external appearance, there are behavioral changes that occur in direct relation to her body’s bio­chemical changes that may also influence his perception. The thinning of her vaginal lining and painful intercourse may begin to intrude upon their sexual relationship. Changing bed linen or clothing in the middle of the night becomes the result of sweaty hot flashes instead of steamy sex. Add the fact that the man may be having an increasing problem with obtaining and maintaining an erection. Imagine the hesitation he feels at even trying to have intercourse with his wife when he realizes that she is enduring discomfort. They both know that sex should be enjoyable, not physically or emotionally painful. So he may just stop trying to relate sexually to her, and she may not object.

Meanwhile during the male’s daily activities at work or at play, if he is exuding the charisma of money or power, he may attract younger women. They make him feel good by subconsciously enabling him to project a longer and healthier future for himself. With problems at home that he doesn’t understand or relate to, he enters into a relation­ship that he did not initially chase or choose.

It is fair, then, to say that one part of the male’s awareness of the problems in his life is triggered by a woman’s menopause. This is not to lay responsibility on a woman for a man’s crisis, but it is to say that a woman’s changes in midlife are noticed by a man, and he cannot help but begin to examine the changes that are occurring in his own life at this time.

Sadly, much of the marital disillusionment, discord, and dissolution that occur when otherwise good marriages become shaky, around the time of menopause, are fully preventable. The problems must be recognized for what they are. You can work through the problems once you understand them, rather than abandoning the relationship or continuing the infidelity. The solution to the problems lies in open, honest communication.

Hormonal Aspects of Male Menopause

Over the years, researchers have tried to determine whether there is a male equivalent of the female menopause. As you know, the female menopause is the result of the ovary running out of eggs and being unable to produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Investigators have evaluated the male testis to see whether it goes through the same kind of changes and whether it, like the ovary, reduces production of its sex hormone, testosterone.

The testis is to man what the ovary is to woman—a gland with two express functions: reproduction and hormone production. The most remarkable difference between them is that the man’s testis somehow maintains its ability to produce spermatozoa throughout life, whereas the woman’s ovary never produces a single new egg from the time she is born. So the healthy male is able to father children as long as he lives, and the female’s reproductive life ends at menopause. Was this apparent inequity nature’s way of protecting the species, assuring that a woman would live long enough to nurture her young inasmuch as she could only conceive while she had enough years left to care for them? Or is it simply an unfair quirk of nature whose purpose, if any, we do not yet understand?

There has been remarkably little good scientific evaluation of the change in male hormone production throughout the male life cycle. The best studies were conducted only in the last decade. The results suggest that the male hormone, testosterone, exhibits a characteristic pattern throughout a man’s life. Its levels first peak during the male’s intrauterine life, at about fourteen to sixteen weeks into the preg­nancy; then the level begins to drop. There is another brief peak after a boy baby is born; then the testosterone level drops and remains low until puberty. At that time there is a sharp increase in the blood level of testosterone that continues from puberty until a man is in his mid-fifties, or later. From then on, there is a slow decrease in testoster­one levels.

Another important aspect to consider is that both men and women have some hormone of the opposite sex circulating in their blood. So when the blood testosterone levels decrease in men, there is a relative increase in their estrogen levels as they age.

Investigators have found that in the older man, there is a decrease in the actual number of cells that produce sex hormones. However, there is very little data analyzing the sperm of men as they age. Generally, it seems that sperm counts remain unaltered. If we take into account that sexual activity slows down, then sperm production may actually be decelerating with age. Parallel with the decreased sperm production is a reduction in the sperm’s ability to move forward actively (motility) and to get to its destination.

Despite these changes, a man tends to remain hormonally and reproductively normal until he enters his late fifties, or even his early sixties. At that time, some changes occur in testicular function, but the process of change for the male is very slow, and there is no comparison with the abrupt changes that occur in women.

Another fact to consider in exploring the idea of whether or not men undergo a male menopause is that male life expectancy is shorter than that of the female, and the slight reduction in testicular function tends to occur in the last years of his life. Thus, a man is potentially virile and potent—if his health and all other aspects remain equal— until close to the end of life. So these changes are more subtle than a woman’s and often do not make serious inroads on a man’s life.

What Are Possible Symptoms of Male Menopause? What does occur when men are around middle-age? Findings have suggested that some older men complain of reduced libido or sexual potency, increased fatigue, decreasing productivity and concentra­tion, sweating, tachycardia (excessively rapid heartbeat), skin atrophy, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression. There also have been reports of male hot flashes! The clustering of these symptoms around the ages of forty-five through sixty ushered the phrase male climacteric syndrome into vogue almost fifty years ago.

The truth is that there is no such thing as the male climacteric syndrome when evaluated in hormonal or psychopathological terms. There are minor chemical changes that do occur but are relatively insignificant. In one study, 10,000 male outpatients claiming to be suffering from the male climacteric were evaluated statistically. No age-related increase in the frequency of depression, fatigueability, and decreased activity was found. The generally accepted conclusion is that certain symptoms do increase in men of advancing age, and these affect sex, memory, and sleep. However, they do not cluster between the ages of forty-five to sixty, but instead just continue to increase slowly with advancing age, and there is no justification for calling any syndrome the male climacteric. These changes are age-related, not sex-related. Since there are no menses, and therefore no cessation of menses in men, the term male menopause is not valid.

What is Male Menopause?

First, let us consider some of the unusual behaviors. It is more than a cliche that some men in mid-life crisis give up their conservative Oldsmobile for an expensive Ferrari, or move out of their home, leaving their wife and family for a woman half their age. You see these men all over the place, looking out of place as they relate romantically to women the ages of their daughters or nieces. The occurrence repeats itself too often to be ignored. Why is it happening?

First, let us consider some of the unusual behaviors. It is more than a cliche that some men in mid-life crisis give up their conservative Oldsmobile for an expensive Ferrari, or move out of their home, leaving their wife and family for a woman half their age. You see these men all over the place, looking out of place as they relate romantically to women the ages of their daughters or nieces. The occurrence repeats itself too often to be ignored. Why is it happening?

Does it result from a man’s need for outside recognition of his accomplishments, power, and attractiveness? Is it a salve to soothe a sense of failure or dissatisfaction with his life? Is he trying to escape from facing his own mortality? Does the recognition and fear of aging and thoughts of diminished skills and physical prowess lead some men into a phase of frantic and erratic behavior?

Probably all the above! On the one hand, a highly successful man may feel that he has peaked and worries about his future growth and development. Where can he go now? He knows that since he has reached the peak, he has to fight to stay there. He has reached a serious period of transition in his life and is unsure of his future direction. These situations differ for each man and seem to be more of a problem for some than for others. Yet our social scientists tell us that for each man a time of personal evaluation arrives. For many, it is a manageable thought-provoking time. For others, it is incredibly frightening. The man of awareness and reason will value the reap­praisal that is appropriate to this period of life. Others, unable to deal with this time of personal questioning and uncertainty, turn emotional turmoil into a series of dramatic life changes that temporarily mask their discomfort.

This time of life may be experienced differently by men and women because of how they perceive themselves and their needs at midlife. It may be that men have a crisis of performance, whereas women suffer a crisis of appearance. Some men seek reassurance by continu­ally surrounding themselves with material objects to serve as remind­ers of success. Sometimes a man seeks a new relationship with a younger woman. A young adoring mistress may boost his ego. But, what of loyalty at home?

Is a man’s home life not living up to his needs as he perceives them? Can he move easily from his sophisticated dynamic work environment to his more static home life comfortably? Can he continue to enjoy, even relish, the comfortable relationship with his lifelong mate or is he seeking titillating renewal with a younger, or a different, woman? Can he age comfortably with his home life intact? Many men can; some men just cannot; other men seem to want to have both: their Mrs. and their mistresses.

The fear of aging and death seems to be much worse for men than for women, perhaps with some justification. Statistics prove that men die at a younger age than women. They experience more heart at­tacks, and they may actually be the weaker sex! We know that around the age of fifty, women are experiencing many great changes in family and friend relationships. They also are often changing or leaving jobs, and if the children no longer live at home and the “empty nest” is a reality, they may have more time for hobbies, sports, or just for themselves. For some women this change is welcome; for others it is fraught with the stress of readjustment.

A man has an even bigger problem to face. He has to watch as his male peers, friends, old school mates, business partners, competitors, and family members are struck down around him with diagnoses of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other medical problems. These events bombard him again and again with the fact that life—his life—is finite. The vulnerable male, so bombarded with news of illness and death, reads the obituaries and attends the funerals in ever-increasing numbers and his thoughts fill with the question, “Is that all there is?”

Although women experience illness and death among their family members, friends, and coworkers, too, somehow they seem to handle these matters with greater equanimity. In men, these experiences seem to result in conflict as they think about and fear the changes occurring within their own life. They confront their own circum­stances, their own life patterns, and their own mortality. Part of this “change of life” for them is also influenced by the changes happening to their partners. Maybe these changes are worse for some men be­cause of how they were nurtured. Whereas women can freely express emotion, men were often told not to cry. So, they don’t cry at the loss of father, mother, or even their youth. When men’s emotions become bottled tightly inside themselves, the bottled-up mess may eventually explode.

Sometimes the fallout can be highly productive. It can drive them toward a new career, to a new and exciting activity, or to new levels of intimacy with a much-loved partner. Or it can lead to disaster—to a broken marriage, a failed business, a sense of worthlessness, feelings of inadequacy, and even suicide. Sometimes it manifests itself as a need for more “toys,” more trips, more women, more of anything that says to them, “You are still virile, you are still exciting, you still turn me on, you are still young!”

Young is the important word: It is the important feeling. It means growth, potential, and promise. It offers the hope of immortality!