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Episode 41: Bring On The Heat (2/2)

You probably don’t know much about menopause… and the things that you do know might be based on stereotypes more than actual facts. That’s because, unfortunately, despite being an important—and inevitable—life stage for literally every woman on earth, it hasn’t been studied very much! (shocker) In this week’s interview, we talk with Jill Angelo about the myths and stigmas of menopause, the lack of resources and support for women going through it (aka, eventually, all women), and the ways in which we can all—men, women, and folx—better normalize and create greater visibility surrounding this transformational life stage. In case you think this isn’t relevant to you—think again. Jill Angelo is the CEO and founder of Gennev, a company dedicated to bringing the world a better menopause experience. Their online hub features resources from educational materials to menopause health coaches, telemedicine appointments, and wellness products. Named as one of Inc. Magazine’s 2016 Most Impressive Women Entrepreneurs, Jill is a driving force for bringing effective health solutions, information and resources to women during some of the most vibrant years of their lives.

Sasza
And so as we’re here and we’re talking about women and menopause, I’d love to and i’m not sure if this is something kind of within your forte but talk about men, you know, and what role they can play in this process, but before even getting there on a practical level talk about what processes men go through and win some of the equivalent processes might be

Jill
Yeah, you know, certainly men are aging too and their bodies are changing and their hormone levels are changing too, sometimes people have affectionately called it manna pause, but, you know men certainly, you know with testosterone changes are going through their own set of changes. I think that from what I understand and know it doesn’t probably impact them in 34 symptomatic different ways like menopause does for women because you know are estrogen and progesterone in our bodies control so much they control the gray matter in our brains that cushions our brain it controls our moods it controls our ability to sleep it helps our skin and hair stay you know, moisturized our vagina stay moisturized and so just the impacts of those hormones on our bodies is just more extreme than some of what men go through. Men also go through some of these changes a little bit later so there so sometimes the cycle of change is starting to happen in women faster than it is in men at an earlier age. So I think that’s why sometimes hours are heightened over men’s a number of men come to us at Gennev and ask us “how do I support my partner? “How better can I help her through this period?” like help me help her which is fantastic that we’re seeing more and more of that. We surveyed women in 2019, we published the menopause zeitgeist. It’s the 2019 menopause zeitgeist and it’s just helping people in general understand who is today’s menopausal woman and we published that based on over 6,000 women completing the menopause assessment, that’s a free assessment on our site, as well as doing some more social based research amongst women and one in five women said they wished they had better support from their partner and many of them, said my partner it’s not that they don’t want to support me, they just don’t know how or I don’t feel comfortable bringing this up with them or I don’t even know how to ask for their support or how they could support me. And so it even shows that between men and women we have a long ways to go in terms of just understanding one another and then being able to talk about it. give each other some space, being patient, knowing that it’s not the other, you know, and when one might have a short fuse and so there’s a relationship dynamic that we tend to see in women of this change or this age going through often times where relationships degrade because they don’t have that language or don’t know how to talk about it or don’t even know that it’s a thing to understand and give the other some space on rather they think it’s more of a relationship or a change in the person that they don’t like.

So men go through their own changes in addition to women physically going through ours, but then as well how we engage and interact in that relationship dynamic is also something to pay huge attention to.

Sasza
I love that you guys, publish that menopause zeitgeist and helping people especially men but not only men, you know, other women who haven’t gone through this phase of life and are not very familiar with it either to help recognize and understand how they can be better supporters better allies as you mentioned, you know, some of those big changes. I love how in some of the research and interviews that we’ve done at BBXX on aging how people can have a very healthy sexual life, sexual connection later on and that yes, there are certain bodily changes that happen, especially, in association with these hormone changes, but that when navigated and you know, you have the resources or the tools or the lubricant to assist you that a lot of people as they get older actually have even more fulfilling and very satisfying sexual lives with their partners if only given the chance to be able to move through these processes in a healthy and informed way.

Jill
I would say number one, I am so much more educated and just aware of this change in women’s lives and you know for my own health starting with me I’m a benefactor of that, I’m managing my health differently than I would if I hadn’t started Gennev and gotten into this business. I think in terms of my relationship with others and even women at large I certainly hope that we’re a liberating platform that is bringing so much kind of normalcy to women everywhere and I often find that if I’m speaking at a health event or a women’s event or something, I’m becoming known as the menopause lady and it’s amazing what women will tell me. They just like it shows me how hungry people are, women are to confide in others around what they’re going through and especially if they know you’ll understand or you’ll get them. So, I’ve naturally become this place of trust for women to share really intimate things and in my heart kind of goes out to them and women at large because just shows, again, we’re masters at disguise, were masters at suffering in silent and when we know that others will understand what we’re going through and there’s a safe place for that we just so need that outlet and so I’ve naturally somewhat become come that when I see women or if I’m out in public it happens often and I always welcome it. I love it because I learned so much in those real-time conversations, I also want to be that resource for women, but I want to continually find a way for Gennev as a platform and as a community, a global community to be able to support women in masses. And so, little by little we’re changing this I hope even individually I’m starting to change that I certainly feel it personally and you know people kind of know me, you know, I’m pretty comfortable talking about menopause and social media or publicly on stage people just have come to expect it from me and I think in some cases people have come to sometimes appreciate it because someone’s finally talking about it and whatever that does in terms of showcasing my own personal experience through it I’m still at the very early stages so I am pretty open about sharing my own journey through this and the more that we’re able to do that it just kind of empowers every other women to not only share but help others, help friends family members through it and the more that we support one another that you see you’re this thing this change becomes.

Sasza
Absolutely, thank you so much for that. I’m wondering if you would feel comfortable sharing any of the most impactful insights or inspiring stories from these women who have come to you and have felt comfortable sharing or you know from the community at large.

Jill
You know, from time to time, obviously a lot of that’s shared with me in confidence so if I do share stories, I often get releases and we asked women if we can share their story with others. So we’ll do that through testimonials and case studies in terms of the stories that I hear just anecdotally the majority of women who share with me or like “oh my god I thought I was like the only one going through this” or one woman came up to me once and said, you know do people call you the vagina whisperer or you know, because we talk a lot about vaginal dryness and painful sex and how limiting that is for women and how just how uncomfortable it is for women whether you’re having sex or not and so people have shared their stories of pcos and how it’s a contributed to just challenges intimately with their partner. Other women, you know, have shared a little bit more about really loss of libido and if it’s normal with their partner. Others have said in the workplace “I get up to present and boom I get hit with a hot flash then and there” and so there’s a stress trigger, you know, that goes along with that. Others are like, oh my god, I’ve had whether it’s women in meetings with me or investors or someone saying “okay, I did not sleep well last night I’m going through menopause, you’ll probably understand that Jill”. And they probably wouldn’t typically say that to somebody who wasn’t in the same space that I’m in but they’ll confide you know that they’re maybe not their best and they’re kind of saying give me some space in latitude around that.

So those are the sorts of things that I hear on a regular basis and I’m so glad women share in that they feel comfortable sharing it because that’s what kind of just makes us all feel like we’re not inadequate, we’re like, you know, just normal people and some days are great and some days aren’t and the more that we can just kind of be authentic and disclose that in a comfortable way then great let’s do that and then give each other some space then get on with our meeting or our conversation or whatever we’re setting out to do.

Sasza
Yeah, and as you said, just normal people navigating this or even kind of as opposed to normal more almost extra strong or super powerful to be able to navigate all this and these changes at the same time which you know, the other half of the population doesn’t have.

So as we talk about menopause and what Gennev is doing and helping women walk through life and better understand, you know, authenticity, vulnerability, hormones, and all these things, I’d love to kind of hear your perspective on intimacy which you know is kind of our main theme at BBXX and so as we move more into the relationship side of things, I’d love to know what your definition of intimacy is.

Jill
You know, definition of intimacy can be anything from holding hands, having an intimate conversation, giving a back rub, so physical signs of that too, you know, sex or intercourse. We certainly as women’s bodies change through menopause have done have published a lot of content and or even did one study with another organization that has a device to help women really, you know, increase libido and or move past some of the more sometimes when sex can be painful or uncomfortable find other ways to be intimate with their partner that is physically fulfilling and emotionally fulfilling. So, my definition of intimacy really has a broader range now that I’m doing what I’m doing simply because you can achieve intimacy and you need different forms of intimacy, whether it’s more emotional or it’s physical I think as you get older and as body changes so, you know my definitions definitely broadened over time, but it really can refer to a lot of different acts and or experiences between a person and somebody else

Sasza
Outside of the space of menopause or any life stage and more just from your personal experiences outside of being the founder of Gennev and the space you work in, I’m wondering what lessons you’ve learned that have helped you be able to, you know, better understand yourself or others in the context of relationships of any kind.

Jill
You know, I think most important is communication and being so comfortable with your partner to be able to talk about what you need or what you want or what feels wonderful or if you’re wondering what they’re thinking about or what they need to be able to talk about it, and part of that just comes I think with comfort with your partner and caring for that other person obviously through my life, you know, I’ve had relationships of varying degrees and I think that I always felt like I was supposed to do something or be something and just, you know, the freedom that comes with age and experience in, you know, I’m married, I am obviously in a monogamous relationship with my husband, it’s fantastic, it’s wonderful and it is my second marriage and you learn a lot through quote-unquote the failed relationships both physically and emotionally and I am in the wonderful place of getting to apply those lessons to this one. And I think more than anything in addition to the just the open and super comfortable conversation or ability to communicate between the two of us whether it’s through words or through actions we also just so deeply care and respect for each other. I care just as much about his needs as I do my own and that’s something that is evolved over time. I think with quote unquote just age and experience but also finding that partner and person. To me, I think that my ability to feel satisfied or to feel loved is come through finding that person and it took some time for me and in a way that’s kind of okay. We force things, we think that we’ve got to have it away and we don’t even know how better it could be until you find it and we often don’t keep searching because we think that a relationship is kind of as good as it gets or this is great when in fact like my husband now, we’ve been married for 12 years and you know, whether or not you’re married whether you’re just with that person like it’s just I think it’s so important to you just kind of the comfort that we have with one another has just contributed to fulfillment emotionally and physically in so many different ways.

So I’d say those are the lessons in life like you try to you know, you want to make it as perfect as possible both emotionally and physically with whomever you’re with and sometimes it just needs time to evolve and for me, I needed time to evolve not only as a woman but in my relationships and finding that one. So I guess the biggest lesson is take pressure off yourself and let things unfold and let time run its course because I think think whether it’s sexual fulfillment or emotional or feeling that just like security of being in the place and the relationship in your moment, that requires time, it doesn’t just happen because you’re a certain way or because you make it so. It certainly just needs to evolve over time.

Sasza
Thank you so much for that. That was wonderful. And I love that idea of, you know, times you just need time to evolve and you mentioned giving time to find that person but I also heard a lot perhaps even more of giving yourself time to become that person and that until you give yourself time to evolve and become that next version of yourself. That is why if you’re looking you need to kind of focus on yourself and it’s once you become that person for yourself that it then allows you to, you know, quote unquote find that other person but it’s more really a process of finding within that allows for that connection.

Jill
Absolutely.

Sasza
Well, I’d love that last note. And so I’d love to kind of wrap up on that beautiful last comment. I do have a little silly series of rapid fire questions that i’m going to ask you and so the first set is just one or the other for most of them and you just give whatever answer comes to mind. So pizza or pasta

Jill
Pasta

Sasza
Sunrise yoga or dancing till sunrise

Jill
Sunrise yoga

Sasza
Drink of choice

Jill
Negroni

Sasza
Hugs or kisses

Jill
Kisses

Sasza
Sex or intimacy

Jill
Sex

Sasza
Nature or nurture

Jill
Nature

Sasza
One of the best years of your life

Jill
2008

Sasza
Who is one of your heroes

Jill
Jennifer Lopez. She’s kind of apropos at the moment. She’s so timely

Sasza
What kind of dog would you be?

Jill
I would say, God, I don’t know dogs that well, but I would say a golden retriever. I just think they’re always positive and happy and I’m pretty positive and happy.

Sazsa
Something you’re excited about in the next year.

Jill
Reaching hundreds of thousands of new women with Gennev.

Sasza
And your favorite tough question to ask people

Jill
No, really. How are you doing?

Sasza
That’s a good one. So a couple more and these ones are just word associaton. So the first word that comes to mind when I give you one: culture.

Jill
Values.

Sasza
Sex.

Jill
Intimacy.

Sasza
Love.

Jill
Hugs.

Sasza
You.

Jill
Smile.

Sasza
Us.

Jill
Together.

Sasza
[inaudible]

Jill
Vibrant.

Sasza
Man.

Jill
Jim.

Sasza
Be a man.

Jill
Know yourself.

Sasza
Change.

Jill
Adjust.

Sasza
Hope.

Jill
Positive.

Sasza
and BBXX.

Jill
Intimacy.

Sasza
Booyah! Thank you so much for joining us and thank you so much for the work you’re doing and I look forward to learning more through Gennev and continuing this conversation.

Jill
Thank you. Well, thank you for giving us the visibility and for bringing this topic to your listeners. Menopause is something and again that just it’s not always a sexy topic, but I just so appreciate those that are bringing it to light. And so thank you for using your platform to do so.

In this week’s episode we talk with Jill Angelo, the Co-founder & CEO of genneve, an online clinic, resource center, and community whose mission is to empower all women in menopause to take control of their symptoms. In our hour-long conversation, we cover the stigmas and myths of menopause, the lack of resources and support for women going through the phases of menopause and the ways in which we can normalize and create greater visibility surrounding this natural life stage. 

Stigmatization of Menopause

If you dig into the historical accounts and treatment of menopause, you’ll quickly realize that women going through this stage of life have been stigmatized since time immemorial across various cultures. In the book Hot Flushes, Cold Science: A History Of The Modern Menopause, author Louise Foxcroft recounts how many doctors in 19th century England claimed their menopausal patients were suffering from “hysteria.” While we’ve come a long way from this perception, our modern society still struggles to view menopause as a natural and liberating start to the second half of a woman’s life.

In cultures or societies where value is placed on women in their ability to be reproductive or to be beautiful and young, menopause has a stigma associated with it because it doesn’t represent those things.

The Power of Language

As always, it’s important to note the ways in which words and language as a whole shape our overall perception of ideas and topics, in both discreet and more not-so-discreet ways. To this day, menopause is still a victim to the language used to discuss its characteristics and symptoms. In the Western world, the medical language used to discuss menopausal biological processes is largely dominated by “negative imagery such as ‘reproductive failure or ovarian failure,’” implying that menopause is a malfunction of the body or a disease to be treated, rather than a natural life stage.  

The Main Myths & Misunderstandings of Menopause

  1. Treating Individual Symptoms — There are 34 different symptoms of menopause, but so often these symptoms get treated individually instead of looking at the body holistically and understanding the correlation between symptoms.
  2. Fear surrounding HRT — After the Women’s Health Initiative published the report showing the increased risk of breast cancer and other life-threatening conditions related to HRT, women feared this treatment. In reality, there are now safe and healthy HRT options that alleviate many of the challenging symptoms.
  3. Viewing it as a Dysfunction — So often women think something is seriously wrong them, either mentally or physically, when they begin to experience menopausal symptoms. More work needs to be done to normalize this chapter in a woman’s life.

The Beginning of HRT

In the 1930s, the medical community began referring to menopause as a deficiency disease and by the 1970s estrogen hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was being touted as a “liberation” for middle-aged women. But HRT’s moment in the sun was shattered after the Women’s Health Initiative published a report showing that HRT had more detrimental than beneficial effects, namely increasing the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots. To this day, HRT remains misunderstood even though studies have shown ways to safely manage menopause with various HRT options.

The Upside of Menopause

All emphasizes the freedom of menopause — not only the physical liberation of no longer menstruating, but the emotional liberation of feeling wiser, more confident, and more powerful as a woman in the second half of her life. 

We’ve also seen this notion of increased creativity and confidence — women doing new things on the other side of menopause…In the U.S., the highest rate of women starting their own businesses are women 50-plus.

The Upside of Menopause Cont’d

The Menopause Zeitgeist, a survey of more than 6,000 women in menopause, found that 72% claimed to be happier, 57% reported feeling physically stronger, 69% reported feeling more confident, and 54% felt more in control of their careers compared to 10 years prior. 

The Need for Partner Support

The Menopause Zeitgeist also found that 94% of the women surveyed felt that they didn’t have enough support from their partner during the menopausal journey. Women reported three main ways for partners to be more supportive:

            1. Not taking mood swings or other symptoms personally

            2. Becoming more educated about menopause and its symptoms

            3. Cultivating patience

There’s a relationship dynamic that we tend to see in women of this age where relationships degrade because they don’t have that language or don’t know how to talk about it or don’t even know that it’s a thing to understand.

Other Resources and Research

About the Expert

Jill Angelo

Jill Angelo

Jill is the CEO and founder of Gennev, whose mission is empower women to take control of their health. Gennev is the first-ever online clinic for women in menopause and offers telemedicine access to OBGYNs, menopause health coaches, wellness products and free education. Prior to running Gennev, Jill had a 20-year career in tech, with 15 of those years spent at Microsoft in executive roles such as Chief of Staff to the CMO, Director of Global Media, and Product Management for Emerging Markets. Jill recently joined the Board of Directors for Special Olympics of Washington. Named as one of Inc. Magazine’s 2016 Most Impressive Women Entrepreneurs, Jill is a driving force for bringing effective health solutions, information and resources to women in the most vibrant years of their lives.

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