For as modern as we can be, some things are just hard to talk about. But if you ask entrepreneur and actress Naomi Watts, menopause is one thing that shouldn’t be on that list — and she, along with gender activist Jodie Patterson and doctors Somi Jovaid and Suzanne Fenske are gunning to change that.
Tonight from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Canoe Place Inn, join Watts, Patterson, Jovaid and Fenske for their real-deal discussion “Unlocking Intimacy: Navigating Passion in Midlife” where no topic will be taboo, and all questions are good ones.
“In my profession, there’s successes and failures. Mostly the latter. So it’s vital that risks are taken. … trying has always been succeeding in my opinion,” says Watts. “It felt necessary in getting this conversation going.”
Watts hit menopause early on, something that’s difficult to grapple with for any woman, let alone one with a very front-facing career (one that’s already particularly unkind to women as they age). It spurred her to launch Stripes in 2022, a lifestyle and wellness brand focused on women navigating the shifts of midlife.
“It’s widely recognized that as women mature, an added social stigma comes into play, magnifying the challenges of growing older under public scrutiny,” she says. “This was especially relevant to me, as I experienced menopause at a younger age. At that point, my focus was more on starting my family rather than ending my reproductive years, which led to a sense of isolation and extreme humiliation. Through normalizing this experience, we have the opportunity to shape a society that values and includes individuals of all age groups and life stages.”
According to the National Institute of Health, around 1.3 million women become menopausal each year in the United States, most of them between the ages of 45 and 55, but some, like Watts, at an even younger age. It’s a number about the size of the population of Dallas, TX — imagine if every citizen of that fair city were afflicted with one specific medical condition annually? You can bet there’d be some attention paid to it.
But menopause discussion — especially the sexual fall-out of this stage of midlife for women — is perennially on mute. For Watts and her power-house compatriots, these kinds of conversations aren’t just barrier-breaking, they’re mission-driven to break down the walls of that isolation booth Watts and so many women experience, especially when it comes to sex, bringing the discussion of intimacy into less intimate places.
“I like to make meno make sense for me and my friends. I think: I’m an athlete, a runner, and as I’ve aged running became more painful. So I’ve incorporated extra insert support for my arches and knee braces for my joints,” reasons Patterson. “And I’ve kept on running. As an older woman, I’m certainly not dead. For me, lube [during intercourse] is my knee brace equivalent! I’m gonna run. I’m gonna have sex. I just do it differently!”
It’s the kind of open discussion you can expect tonight — in so many ways, a sigh of relief. Particularly meaningful to the talk are the different points of view and professions each woman brings to the table — Watts, a mega-Hollywood actress; Patterson, a frank-speaking gender activist, mom of five, and best-selling author; Jovaid, founder and chief medical officer of HerMD; and Fenske, a Mount Sinai OB/GYN and professor with a specialty in hormone imbalance and perimenopause.
“We have to remember that what we are going through has a name. It has a root cause and is part of millions of other similar stories. Much of the discomfort of menopause can often be mitigated, softened and why not? We soften headaches, and sport injuries and balding and much of the male aging process. Women don’t have to endure everything,” says Patterson. “Some things we can control. I remind myself that I cannot control life, but I can have some control over the way I experience it.”
Expect the topics to cover libido and sex drive, the safety and usefulness of hormone replacement therapy and managing the advent of painful sex, how to communicate with a partner, how to talk to and ask questions of your physician, and how to talk to your family and friends about what you’re going through, among other honesty-driven subjects.
“Growing up we think that menopause is the end. We are living so much longer now so we spend nearly half our lives in menopause! Yes, it is the end of our reproductive years. But our bodies were made for more than just making babies,” says Watts. “At Stripes, we like to say that our bodies are made for business (baby-making), and pleasure (wink-wink). So while we might be closing for business, we’re still open for pleasure!”
The “Unlocking Intimacy” discussion will be held in the Ballroom at Canoe Place Inn at 239 E. Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here.