The personal needs aisle of my neighborhood pharmacy provides an interesting metaphor for the trajectory of a woman’s sexuality. The aisle is segmented into product shelves that start off with a colorful array of condoms, lubricants, and gels promising orgasms and protection, followed by pregnancy tests, and finally end with an entire shelf devoted to menopause. There are helpful pamphlets, vaginal creams, and menopausal lubricant.
It was the first time for me to see such a range of menopause products openly on display. The Tita in me felt a tingle of curious excitement as I got acquainted with menopausal lubricant. The two brands, “Megs Menopause Motion Lotion” and “Sylk,” came with carefully worded directions about its use for intercourse to make “lovemaking more pleasurable.”
Sex, referred to by its more proper older sister of “love making,” makes the transition from miss to madame official, but these 100ml bottles of intimate moisturizers are also a knowing wink that acknowledges the need to negotiate the physiological signposts of ageing with the mid-life emotional needs of physical desire.
Middle age is like going through puberty again, but as an adult. You are too young to be old but too old to to be considered young. For women, the mid-40s are a life stage punctuated with hormonal fluctuations, body changes, and mood swings brought about by perimenopause or the gradual transition to menopause.
There are plenty of scripts that help navigate the youthful life stages marked by sexuality and reproductive activity. There are countless books, movies, articles that help us anticipate what to expect when it comes to navigating motherhood and romance and sexuality, but when it comes to this demographic limbo of mid-40s to 50s, information is scarce.
Various studies show that while there has been an increase in the articles about menopause over the last decade, the discourse is still mostly focused on clinical messages of treating the effects of declining female sex hormones and the negative experiences of menopause. Managing the emotional turbulence that comes with menopause like stress, self-image, and changing sexual desires are largely ignored or trivialized.
The limited information to guide women through the turbulence of middle age and menopause represents a gap between public health and private desire. On one hand are medical discussions about menopause. On the other are Hollywood representations of age-defying mature women who still have it all: their looks, romance, and an active sex life, and a fulfilling career. Such representation has been criticized as being too Western, limiting the women who can enjoy mid-life sexuality as being white, affluent, successful, and still attractive.
Local media has done a better job in representing the complex, complicated mid-life experience with the iWant digital series, Call Me Tita, where five women live out multi-layered experiences of “tita-ness.” Cherry Pie Picache is the cougar Tita whose younger lovers are nearly as old as her 25-year unhappy marriage. Agot Isidro is the former beauty queen and social media influencer who has millions of adoring fans but cannot get her husband’s family to accept her. Joanna Ampil is the human rights lawyer who has spent most of her adult life looking after her family that she has neglected living a life of her own. Mylene Dizon is starting a new life after an abusive marriage and gets involved in a lesbian relationship. Lastly, Angelica Panganiban is the young Tita who is coming to terms with her strained relationship with her mother.
Their characters exemplify the many ways that the adult puberty of mid-life can unravel. Much of womanity would benefit from varied storylines like this, because while romance, career success, and even happiness are not certain in life, menopause is. However, the messaging of menopause is so clinical and antiseptic, it is as if menopause is separate from middle age.
Representation in the form of shows like Call Me Tita helps us make sense of complex realities through stories that we can identify with. These narratives can serve as a script or a road map, however tentative and roughly drawn, for us to navigate life, or in this case, middle age sexuality and menopause.
While this Tita is waiting for more diverse stories that can help me understand this new life chapter of my ever-evolving sexuality, I have decided to reverse the starting point of my journey of discovery. I will start by going down the personal needs aisle of my local pharmacy starting with the shelf on menopause, skipping the pregnancy tests part and possibly going straight to condoms and orgasm-inducing lubricant. – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos is an award-winning journalist reporting on sexuality, sexual health, and female migrant labor. She is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in Gender (Sexuality) at the London School of Economics and Political Science as a Chevening scholar.