A few years ago there was an attempt to describe the ‘change of life’ in a man, and the term ‘male menopause’ was invented. It depicted a man’s reaction to the realization that he was getting older. Its symptoms included a totally new wardrobe, a hair transplant, a new sports car (preferably red) and a younger girlfriend (preferably blonde).
Now it is obviously impossible for a man to have a menopause because he has no menses to pause. I propose a syndrome I will call ‘Menopause Envy’, to borrow from Freud for a moment.
Although the changes in a woman’s body are gradual, there is a definite landmark where hormone production drops dramatically and her periods stop. In Western countries this happens fairly predictably at an average age of fifty-one. It is an unmistakable indication that you have moved on to the next phase of your life and it explains all sorts of symptoms from hot flushes to mood swings.
A big part of this ‘Menopause Envy’ is the fear of the unknown, and of the ‘known and inevitable but when?’ At least a real menopause has a sense of moment, like a biological punctuation mark. This uncertainty is compounded by the serious lack of information sources for older men. Take a look at any newsstand. The magazines targeted at men presume a common interest like sport or investment, and the magazines with a sexual theme are more for the voyeuristic value than discovering more about your relationships or problem-solving. It is hard to find a magazine that talks about the male experience of divorce or what it was like having your prostate tested. Women’s magazines play a vital role in networking. Through them, women can discover the experiences they have in common with other women and find out answers to the questions they might be too embarrassed to ask. But where does a man go to find out if it’s normal for his testicles to get softer as he gets older? How would you know whether the pain you’ve been getting when you ejaculate has anything to do with your enlarged prostate? They are not the sort of topics of conversation that come up at the pub over a few beers.
For men, there is no single event that you can hang your hat on and say, ‘This is my change of life’ to explain what you are going through. Instead there is this slow (and for some men painstaking) process of changing body image: losing hair (or for the optimists, ‘gaining forehead’), losing your muscle bulk, putting weight around the middle and changing sexual function, like feeling less of a need to ejaculate every time you have sex.