The good people at Pfizer have given me another source of
anxiety to keep me awake nights. Apparently during menopause my vagina is
likely to atrophy. Pfizer has deemed this a condition and aptly named it:
Even though I’m now losing sleep over this newfound malady
that may afflict my loin, there’s no need to fear vaginal atrophy. Now from the
good folks who brought us Viagra comes a cure for vaginal atrophy: Estring.
How do I know this? Because I unknowingly triggered Pfizer’s
“Estring” SEO by reading an email wherein a friend complained about being
hormonal then following a link she included to the Coldwater Creek site to look
at a sweater she’s thinking about buying her mother. I can understand that the word “hormonal”
immediately followed by a trip to the Coldwater Creek site could lead someone
to suspect I am menopausal or post-menopausal. The subsequent trip to The Daily
Show’s site probably added fuel to the menopausal demographic fire. But. I’m
not menopausal (or post-menopausal), and while my vagina hasn’t seen much
action lately, I’m pretty sure it’s not atrophying.
Atrophy means “decrease in size due to disease, injury or
lack of use.” Oh. Lack of use. Maybe I do have vaginal atrophy. No. Not yet,
anyway. I think my vagina is the same size it’s always been. Vaginal apathy, yes. Vaginal atrophy, no.
Banner ads for Estring started appearing in my email sidebar
within 10 minutes of my “hormonal”-Coldwater Creek-Daily Show demographic hat
trick. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect those dots until after I landed on the
ad’s linked site and got a bit of a surprise. I visually read the logo for
Estring as “E-string.” I thought it was an ad for an online guitar superstore. This
was a plausible thought because I’d gone to the Pixies site and iTunes and the
tech specs area of the Marshall amps site in the days prior to the string of
Estring ads. Based on that info, one might conclude I would be interested in
guitars and guitar supplies, at least enough to trigger a banner ad or two.
Imagine my surprise when I landed on the Pfizer site
dedicated to post-menopausal vaginal dryness.
Apparently it’s pronounced “Est-ring,” not “E-string.”
Pfizer might want to revamp their logo so the pronunciation is more obvious.
And while they’re at it, come up with a better name. Even when read
“correctly,” estring sounds like a group of people sitting in a circle trying
to reignite the ‘70s est self-help philosophy movement.
While “Vaginal Atrophy” is a great grrrl rock band name, it
is not an apt name for what Estring
actually resolves: Vaginal dryness. My skin gets dry in winter. But it’s not
decreasing in size due to disease, injury or lack of use. It’s not atrophying. I use moisturizer for dry
skin, not for “skin atrophy.” I have occasional issues with dry eyes. I use eye
drops for dry eyes, not for “eye atrophy.”
The term Vaginal Atrophy (in proper noun capital letters) caught
my eye. I thought my vaginal apathy might lead to Vaginal Atrophy and I was,
frankly, concerned. Heretofore I was naïve to the vaginal ailments that can
occur in menopause and beyond. My mother certainly never told me about this and
my doctor never mentions it. Perhaps because I’m not there yet, but still, it
seems like someone would have pulled
me aside and warned me about this. Fortunately Pfizer has it all under control.
They even provide advice on “how to talk to your doctor/partner about vaginal
atrophy.” There’s a downloadable discussion guide. I don’t think I have vaginal
atrophy, or vaginal dryness. But apparently one day I may. If/when that day
arrives, and it’s bothersome enough to seek advice from the Pfizer site, I’m
pretty sure I’ll know how to start the conversation with my doctor. I’m pretty
sure the conversation will, in fact, start itself when she has to use extra KY
to get the speculum up in there because my vagina is dry, or worse, smaller
because it’s atrophying. If that doesn’t start the conversation, I’m pretty
sure, “Doc, my vagina doesn’t feel as moist and perky as it used to feel…” will
begin the meaningful dialog on the intricacies of the post-menopausal vagina.
As you can probably discern, I spent way too much time
researching and thinking about vaginal atrophy (I refuse to proper noun
capitalize it because I refuse to accept this term). It’s not that I expect
menopause to be easy. I’ve heard the jokes, worked with the sweaty women, and
dealt with the depressed and cranky older women in my family. I know it’s not always a joyous time in a
woman’s life. It’s the term “atrophy” that keeps gnawing at me as I’m drifting
off to sleep. Atrophy is frequently used to describe what happens to people
with degenerative muscular diseases. Images from high school biology textbooks
showing legs and arms that are just bones with shriveled up skin hanging loose
on them come to mind. And yet, someone, some clinical person, feels that
atrophy is the proper term for the post-menopausal vagina. So what image comes
to mind when I, or any other woman, hears vaginal atrophy? A shriveled entrail
hanging loose between a woman’s legs. Nice. Thanks, Pfizer.
They don’t call it “erectile atrophy.” They call it erectile dysfunction. Why not vaginal
dysfunction? Is it because women are more comfortable with clinical terms than
men? Tell a man he has “erectile atrophy” and he’s liable to punch the doctor
in the gut and then commit suicide. Tell a woman she has vaginal atrophy and
she’ll…do what I’m doing: Get angry at pharmaceutical companies for scaring the
bejeezus out of us and for incorrectly using a medical term.
I tried to banish the ads by spending a lot of time looking
for tampon coupons and condom websites. (that
was interesting) I started getting ads for chocolate, birth control
pills/devices, Midol and oddly, batteries. I refreshed my browser, dumped
cookies from my cache and deleted the hormonal/Coldwater Creek email from my
friend and rebooted my computer. And still…the Estring ads appear.
Apart from anger in the terminology, mainly I feel sorry for
the graphic designer who was tasked with creating the insertion/removal
animations on the Pfizer site. A job’s a job, but I’m pretty sure no one goes
to art school hoping to one day create graphics such as these: