It’s not an understatement to say we’re currently living in the age of “WAP,” an unadulterated (and very adult) celebration of the sexual agency and well-lubricated pleasure of women. To be clear, though these are issues pertinent to all women, the discussion—and attendant debate—have primarily defaulted to young, cis women, as the creators of this new feminist anthem are twentysomethings Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion.
We love to see it (and feel it, tbh); but if you’re lucky enough to live and remain sexually active past your 20s and 30s, you know the game changes over time. That’s why we’re so thrilled that your favorite auntie (and our big sister in our heads) Michelle Obama had a very timely and frank discussion about women’s health and aging on the most recent episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast on Spotify, produced in conjunction with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions.
This week’s guest? Mrs. Obama’s longtime friend, Washington D.C.-based OBGYN, Dr. Sharon Malone. Like the forever first lady, Dr. Malone is a dynamic powerhouse in her field and also a mother who also happens to have shared her life with a powerful man in American government: former Attorney General Eric Holder.
And Mrs. Obama urges women to share this candid conversation on women’s health, titled “What Your Mother Never Told You About Health with Dr. Sharon Malone,” with the men in their lives, as well, so that they might better understand what experiencing life in a female body entails.
“How many men, do you think, could deal with the severest form of cramps?” Mrs. Obama asked (while I winced, triggered by the mere suggestion. “Which literally feels like a knife being stabbed and turned, and then released. And then turned! And then released. And you got to do that, and you got to get up and keep going [snaps]. It’s like, go to work, go to school, go play on the basketball court. Every woman who’s playing a sport now is doing it through all those circumstances. And I don’t know any men who could possibly conceive of what that feels like.”
Word—and on that note, shout out to the WNBA for standing up for Black lives no matter what time of the month it is.
“We got a whole channel dedicated to men throwing a ball in a hoop, and I love sports, I love watching men play sports. I get it. But there should be like, some, birthing channels, [laughs] just some, Did you see what she did, did you see that little woman push a 10-pound baby out, let’s give here a—where’s her ESPY?—or there should be an award ceremony!” Mrs. Obama later quipped.
“When you think of all that a woman’s body has to do over the course of her lifetime, going from being prepared to give birth to actually giving birth, and then having that whole reproductive system shut down in menopause, right? The changes, the highs and lows, and the hormonal shifts, there is power in that,” she also explains. “But we were taught to be ashamed of it and to not even seek to understand it or explore it for our own edification, let alone to help the next generation.”
As Mrs. Obama explains, she was the beneficiary of honest conversations about her body with mom Marion Robinson, who was “ahead of the game” in her adolescence. Accordingly, she sought to have a similar openness with daughters Malia and Sasha, saying: “I always wanted my daughters to feel comfortable with their bodies, comfortable asking questions...and in order to do that, you can’t have anything that’s off-limits.”
“Sexuality ties to other things around health—mammograms, Pap smears, all of that,” she later adds. “So our comfort level with our sexual health is directly tied to our, in my view, our physical overall wellbeing. And I don’t want my daughters to think that they can’t ask questions when something is wrong...if we shut that down, what does that do to them later on in life?”
Later in life, things change—especially as women approach “the change” that is menopause. Dr. Malone, who has been practicing for nearly 30 years, in addition to now being in her 60s, is more than an expert on the subject, which she calls “puberty in reverse.” As a woman now in my mid-40s, my ears admittedly perked up during the discussion of perimenopause, which typically occurs during this stage of life, as the body prepares for menopause (when the period ceases over a year, at which point a woman is post-menopausal). Dr. Malone explained that the range of symptoms is broad and includes not only the fabled “hot flashes” but period irregularities, irritability and insomnia—and vaginal dryness and painful sex, which I’m preemptively calling “DAP,” or dry-ass...well, you know the song by now.
It’s a lot—not to mention the fact that the extra hormonal imbalance can affect your relationships and quality of life, as it can exacerbate—or even create—symptoms of anxiety and depression. Yay.
Dr. Malone and Mrs. Obama openly discuss the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in mitigating their own symptoms—all of which sound daunting. While both agree it’s not a universal fix, it does help prevent osteoporosis. But as Dr. Malone reminds us, the good news about menopause is “even though getting there is complicated, it may be the first time in a lot of women’s life that you are not tied down by the other things that are part of daily life.”
Those “other things” include not only dealing with our periods but frequently, childrearing and trying to be everything to everyone—though as Mrs. Obama admits, there are still a few...hiccups in the aging process.
“Women of a certain age, we, we lose our value in society,” she says. “Unlike men, who gain value the older they get. ... Women are rewarded for not looking their age, you know—it’s like, ‘Oh, she snapped back, she doesn’t even look like she ever had a baby’...so that’s essentially saying, ‘She doesn’t look like she’s maturing.’”
Dr. Malone agrees, chiming in which what can only be described as a word on how women are judged by their weight—which she also says doesn’t automatically correspond to health, preferring to prioritize function over form.
“Women’s value goes up with how little space you take up, you know,” she says with more than a little trace of irony in her voice. But still, she is encouraging. “Don’t think of it as the end of the things; it’s the beginning of things,” she says, “as I like to call it, we’re entering our third trimester—of life.”
Our forever first lady certainly seems to be embracing her third trimester—and is clearly living her best life outside of the White House.
“I have changed and tried to adapt, and I’ve been accommodating,” she says. “I’ve accommodated my husband, I’ve accommodated society, I’ve accommodated my children—now, I’m done. Whew!”
Join the discussion! The Root is hosting its first-ever, virtual Root Institute, presented by Target, featuring several of the leading minds in our community talking about politics, culture, health, community building and social impact. Subscribe for updates today!