Menopause Is No Longer Taboo, And Marketers Have Noticed : Shots - Health News Advertising for products to treat symptoms of menopause is becoming much more upfront about issues like painful sex. But more than a few of the remedies are solutions in search of a problem.
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Menopause: A Gold Mine For Marketers, Fewer Payoffs For Women

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Menopause: A Gold Mine For Marketers, Fewer Payoffs For Women

Menopause: A Gold Mine For Marketers, Fewer Payoffs For Women

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Women make up more than half the world's population, and menopause is a reality of our lives. But you don't hear a lot of talk about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: There's the big talk about the period. There's no talk about the menopause.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's like an adventure every day. You kind of don't know, really, what's going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: As a grown woman, you would think that this would be common knowledge.

CORNISH: Well, it's becoming common knowledge in big business, if that that ad from Poise products is any indication. This year in our Changing Lives of Women series, we're exploring aging, and NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this look at where menopause fits in.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Menopause is more than just saying bye to your menstrual period. It's systemic and affects a lot of things - metabolism, memory, mood and body temperature, to name a few. Despite that, there's been little mention of it in popular culture with a few memorable exceptions. In 1975 - four decades ago - the popular sitcom "All In The Family" took on menopause when Edith Bunker became panicked by her mood swings and hot flashes. Nobody told her what to expect.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

JEAN STAPLETON: (as Edith Bunker) When I was a young girl, I didn't know what every young girl should know. Now I'm going to be an old lady, and I don't know what every old lady should know.

(LAUGHTER)

BATES: Two decades later on "The Cosby Show," Clair Huxtable told her daughter and America menopause was no big deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE COSBY SHOW")

TEMPESTT BLEDSOE: (As Vanessa) Hi, Mom.

PHYLICIA RASHAD: (As Clair) Hi.

BLEDSOE: (As Vanessa) So how'd your doctor's appointment go?

RASHAD: (As Clair) Oh, I am healthy, I'm in great shape, and I'm beginning menopause.

BATES: Matter of fact. Fast forward to now. Dr. Hilda Hutcherson is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University's medical school, and she often treats women in menopause. Doctor Hutcherson says the old taboo around menopause has largely dissolved. Instead of whispering about it as her mother did...

HILDA HUTCHERSON: My girlfriends and I talk about it all the time. We compare notes. How are you dealing with your hot flashes, and how are you dealing with your sexual changes and desire? It's so much easier to talk about all of those things now.

BATES: Ironically, it took a former leader of the United States Senate talking about a little blue pill to make things easier.

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BOB DOLE: You know, it's a little embarrassing to talk about ED, but it's so important to millions of men and their partners that I decided to talk about it publicly.

BATES: Erectile dysfunction, or ED, had a powerful spokesman early on in Bob Dole, who introduced the country to Viagra. That 1998 ad broke through people's reserves. It made many folks more comfortable being a bit more upfront about midlife changes like ED. Menopause, though, has taken longer. For one thing, even medical professionals didn't know much about it. Dr. Wulf Utian is a founder of the North American Menopause Society, or NAMS. Back in 1967 when Dr. Utian began researching menopause at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, there wasn't a lot to go on.

WULF UTIAN: There was actually one line in a medical textbook which said that menopause is physiological amenorrhea, which meant it's a normal loss of periods, and there's nothing else to say about it.

BATES: Today, says Dr. Utian, there's plenty of talk about menopause for at least one obvious reason.

UTIAN: There's big money to be made in many of the markets. We're talking about multibillion-dollar markets. And so there's all sorts of stuff being sold to women. You only have to type the word menopause on a Google search, and a wealth of stuff comes up.

BATES: Some of that stuff includes vitamins and herbal remedies for hot flashes and tech devices designed to strengthen slack pelvic muscles. There's even a new drug to make intimacy friction-free, and it's advertised on prime time TV. That's a huge change.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: If sex is very painful during menopause, why not do something about it? Ask about Osphena.

BATES: That it took so long for women to talk in public about sex and aging is odd since we're talking about the generation that launched the sexual revolution. These were the first women who would separate sex from childbearing. Their Bible was our bodies, ourselves. But for many, menopause was still a puzzle.

JANET PREGLER: My name is Janet Pregler. I'm a professor of clinical medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and I'm also the director of the Iris Cantor UCLA Women's Health Center.

BATES: And Dr. Pregler believes a lot of what's advertised to menopausal women exists because a normal life process now is being treated as if it were a disease that needs to be cured.

PREGLER: Many of these things are important and do give relief to a small number of women.

BATES: But she says not everyone needs them.

PREGLER: The health care industry is an industry, and so there's been this sense of OK, well, let's sell this to as many people as we can.

BATES: So you're getting a blitz of ads for everything from cooling towelettes that soothe flushed skin to drugs that retard bone loss. And, says Dr. Pregler, prevalence of those ads worries some women who are aging well and who feel just fine.

PREGLER: I've actually had patients come in and say, I think there's something wrong with me. I'm not having terrible menopause symptoms, and aren't I supposed to have those?

BATES: The answer is, not necessarily. What's tolerable for some women in menopause may be unbearable for others. And figuring out how to relieve some of the side effects of menopause safely and reliably is still a challenge for the healthcare industry. In the meanwhile, you'll continue to hear ads like this.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Is this a symptom or, oh, Lordy, help me. I am so hot.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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