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Change is coming

We have always had a policy to answer our son's questions honestly. He knows there is no subject that embarrasses his dad or me, so he can ask us anything. Thanks to this spirit of openness, he entered his Year 6 sex education class without anticipating any surprises.

My own sex education consisted of a series of misunderstandings based on my cousin's cocker spaniel. Every time Snoopy was in season, a shower of scraggy mutts ripe for some no-strings romance materialised, while poor Snoops was placed in solitary. This led me to all sorts of concerns surrounding my own developing lady-plumbing.

So I was pleased when my son was fairly casual about most of his sex education class. One element, however, sparked outrage: periods. Not their existence but the realisation that this five-day event, the effects of which range from an inconvenience to an all-out trauma, is happening all around him and yet no one talks about it. He didn't see it as a private matter but as a secret one, saying: "If that happened to me, I would talk about it ALL THE TIME!"

This set me thinking. I'm in my forties. I'm approaching the age when the once-distant concept of the menopause may come into focus at any time and I don't know anything about it.

I knew a couple of my colleagues were of an age where it might be on the cards, so one afternoon in the staffroom I asked. And out it poured.

It seems that many of these women who I'd shared a room with for two years were in the eye of the menopause storm and no one had discussed it, at least not in tones other than hushed ones. Some told me that the "hot flush" feels more like a volcano on the inside with nothing you can do to cool off. You feel sick. You feel like you could topple over. You want to kill everyone who catches your eye and even those who don't. Some have been going through this sporadic assault on sanity for years, some breezed through it in a couple of blasts. Either way, waterproof mascara was advised, both for the sweating and the crying.

I've been on high alert but I'm not sure how I'll identify the symptoms as menopausal. Emotionally, I've been a credible threat since I could lift my own head so how will I know if I'm feeling extra murderous? And as a big lass who's constantly in a hurry, getting a bit of a sweat on is not new to me.

The data tells me I cannot be alone. The FE workforce is 63 per cent female and 30 per cent are aged between 45 and 54. Which means that you can't swing a cat in a college without hitting a woman in the throes of the menopause. So why the secrecy?

The end of fertility denotes a farewell to youth, but neither guarantees sunshine. I was pregnant for much of my thirties and had a rubbish old time with fertility so I'll have no worries about parting with that millstone. Clinging on to youth is not my bag either. I plan to hit my prime somewhere around 70.

But brace yourself, dear reader: when it does arrive I will take a leaf out of my son's book and will be talking about it ALL THE TIME.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands. @MrsSarahSimons

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