In Virginia's Words

Virginia Madsen smiling

Virginia Madsen – film and television actress and documentary producer – is best known for her role as Maya in the hit movie Sideways, which earned her rave reviews as well as Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and the Critic's Choice Award for Best Acting Ensemble.

Virginia has had a long and versatile career in Hollywood. She rose to fame in the 1980s with films such as Dune, Electric Dreams and Fire with Fire. Virginia earned critical acclaim for her key role in The Rainmaker and that was followed by her breakout role as Maya in Sideways, for which she received the Independent Spirit Award.

In more recent years, she's had starring roles in films like Magic of Belle Isle, The Number 23, and The Astronaut Farmer. Virginia has most recently been on the Lifetime Series Witches of East End and has several projects in the works for later this year.

In addition to acting, Virginia owns a production company called Title IX Productions which has produced several documentary films, including I Know a Woman Like That, which focuses on the lives of extraordinary women between the ages of 64 and 94.


When it comes to menopause, women have come a long way. Many women are embracing this new life stage rather than dreading it, and are readily trading tips on the best ways to deal with the changes that often come with the territory. But there is one symptom of vulvar and vaginal atrophy (VVA) due to menopause that many women still aren't talking about – moderate to severe painful intercourse.

The medical term for painful intercourse is dyspareunia (pronounced "dis-puh-ROO-nee-uh"), and it is one of the most bothersome symptoms of VVA.

Never heard of this condition? Experiencing painful intercourse but feeling too awkward or embarrassed to talk about it? You are not alone. Women need to come together and address this, as intercourse after menopause doesn't need to be painful – and that's why we've created this new campaign, Finding the Words.

It's hard to believe that painful intercourse due to menopause impacts so many women and just isn't being discussed. Not with spouses, partners, close friends or even healthcare providers. But why? There's no reason to live in silence.

While at first it may feel out of your comfort zone, it's time to leave your embarrassment at the door and start speaking up. Finding the Words will provide you with information, tools and resources to help you better understand why intercourse can be very painful after menopause, and why it is important to find your voice. The more women who are able to begin this conversation, the more who can get help.

It is time to break the silence and get the conversation started with your healthcare provider. And while you're at it, why not add this to the list of topics for your next girlfriend get-together?

Until next time!

Virginia Signature

Taking care of yourself

We women are natural born caregivers, always looking to take care of our friends, partners, children, pets and, perhaps eventually, our parents. So why, then, do we do such a lousy job of taking care of ourselves?

Think about it. If your husband or boyfriend throws out his back, you urge him to see a healthcare provider. When your best friend confides that she is worried about a mole on her arm, you can bet you're going to stay on her case until she gets it checked out. But when it comes to what's going on with your own body, if you're like a lot of women I know, you probably ignore it or tell yourself it's not that big of a deal. Especially when what you are experiencing is moderate to severe painful intercourse due to menopause.

But guess what: It is a big deal. Any kind of pain, no matter where you're feeling it, isn't something to just ignore or hope that it goes away. So make that appointment today. And before you go to the healthcare provider...

Leave your embarrassment at the door. If the thought of talking about what goes on in the bedroom makes you blush, think about this: healthcare providers, especially OB/GYNs, have seen and heard it all. In fact, pain during intercourse probably ranks up there as one of the more normal topics!

Jot it down. If you're worried about how to bring it up, write down what you want to say on a piece of paper and then rehearse it by yourself a few times before the appointment. It works for actresses, right ? Practicing ahead of time will help you feel more confident about speaking up during the actual appointment.

Bring it up early. Don't wait until your appointment is almost over. I'm not saying you need to blurt it out the minute the healthcare provider walks into the room, but physicians today are super busy and on tight schedules. Mentioning your symptoms early in the appointment will ensure that your healthcare provider can give this the attention it truly deserves.

Get a second opinion, if necessary. Let's say you summon up the courage to mention the vaginal pain you are experiencing with intercourse, but then the healthcare provider just seems to shrug it off or says this is a natural part of aging. This doesn't mean it's not that big of a deal. It is so important to find a healthcare provider with whom you can have an open and honest discussion, because your healthcare provider plays such a vital role in your health.

Until next time!

Virginia Signature

Confidence With Age

Let's face it. Being judged by your age is common these days.

I've come to realize that there are enormous benefits that come with reaching your 50s and beyond. And I can honestly say that I am in a much better place today – physically and emotionally -- than I was thirty years ago.

How did I come to be in this place? Shhh... let me share my four secrets to embracing the woman you are today:

Accentuate the positive. It's time to stop labeling yourself as "old" and start appreciating everything that you've gained with each candle on that birthday cake. Make a list – you will be surprised to see how much you have grown since your 20s.

Be adventurous. My mother once told me, "When you're in your 40s, you're free. When you're in your 50s, you fly." And I really believe that's true. Now is the time to step out of your comfort zone and be a little more daring. I am so inspired by women who make changes, challenge themselves and focus on the opportunities they have in front of them rather than what they've left behind.

Don't be so hard on yourself. When I was first starting out, I was very self-conscious and self-critical. There was always pressure to be thin and pretty (Hollywood will do that to a girl, you know). Today, at age 51, I am much more confident in who I am as a person and in what I look like. And I find that the older I get, the more I value my own opinion of myself over what other people think of me.

Look for role models. We all know women who seem to get more fabulous with each passing year. For me, it's my mother, who fell in love with and married her soul mate when they were both in their late 70s. Look at the women in your life who have embraced getting older and are aging gracefully and gorgeously, inside and out.

Until next time!

Virginia Signature

Girl Talk

Get a group of women together. Add coffee -- or better yet, a fun and fabulous drink -- and there's no telling where the conversation might lead.

From plastic surgery, to bikini waxes, to impossible mothers-in-law (or yes, even our own daughters) – there seems to be no topic that is off limits.

So why, then, do we have such a hard time talking about problems "down there?" Moderate to severe painful intercourse due to menopause is such a common problem among women, which makes it all the more surprising that it isn't being talked about.

I mean, even women who will readily compare notes on their particular likes and dislikes in the bedroom will "just happen to forget" to tell their friends intercourse after menopause is very painful. I'm not just making this up. Studies show that lots of postmenopausal women just aren't talking about this with anyone.

By keeping quiet, women are just adding to the problem. Let's face it, you cannot be (and certainly are not!) the only woman out there for whom intercourse feels painful due to menopause. So why should women have to feel so alone and live in silence? Why shouldn't you be able to get tips from your friends or healthcare provider on how to deal?

My advice? The next time you get together with a group of girlfriends and the conversation starts flowing fast and furious, take a chance and bring up the topic of painful intercourse due to menopause. I guarantee you won't be the only one at the table who's dealing with it.

Until next time!

Virginia Signature

Challenge Yourself

"It's never too late to try something new."

A simple yet inspiring and motivating reminder for women of any age, this seems particularly relevant for those of us approaching or entering our menopausal years. When you think about it, these years are really the perfect time to venture out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. After all, the wisdom and confidence you've acquired by now has likely made you ready for anything.

Maybe it's taking a class at your local college or community center, learning a new sport, training to run a marathon for charity, or planning an adventurous vacation. Whatever the challenge, there's something exhilarating about taking on something scary, difficult or new - and accomplishing it!

Remember - even if you stumble and fall a few times (or more) along the way, it's more than okay. Chances are those lessons learned along the way will be meaningful. And, the longer you stick with something, the better you will get.

Think of that mental bucket list of things you have always wanted to do, or the challenges you wished you had done when you were younger. Guess what? There's no time like the present. Stop coming up with excuses for why you can't or shouldn't do something, and start making plans to make it happen instead. Empower yourself and face that challenge head on!

Until next time!

Virginia Signature

Tips For Managing a Busy Life

Children, partners, parents, careers, money, health... as women, we are constantly getting pulled in many directions — which is part of the excitement of life! But at the same time, this certainly adds to our stress levels. And as I'm sure you've heard, studies have shown that stress can impact our overall health. As we age, especially once we hit our 50s and 60s, it seems like our concerns keep mounting, like thinking about retirement and planning for our future. When you add to that our everyday stresses, it can be overwhelming and put certain aspects of life on hold. Here are a few of my favorite ways to de-stress and help feel calm, cool and collected:

Get moving! When I'm feeling frazzled, there's nothing I like more than heading to the gym for a vigorous spin class or a go on the treadmill. I find that working out is a really great outlet for releasing a lot of my anxiety and tension. If you're not a gym goer, try taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood, either by yourself or with a friend. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to just get moving! Personally, I always check with my doctor before starting a new diet or exercise regimen.

Try yoga and meditation. Yes, I know. Total clichés, right? But that's because these ancient techniques that focus on deep breathing, body awareness and mindfulness can be really wonderful for some people and may help you clear your head. If you've never done yoga or meditation before, don't be intimidated. Anybody and everybody can do it. Find a beginner's class and give it a try, or buy a DVD and try it at home. Many of my friends report feeling calmer, more relaxed and more centered after a yoga or meditation session.

Keep a journal. When you're anxious or worried about something, putting your thoughts down on paper (or on a computer screen) can have a remarkable effect on your stress levels. There's something about expressing those feelings, and owning them fully by documenting them in a journal, that can be the first step toward working out solutions to your problems and feeling more empowered to face them. Plus, for me, I find that even on the most stress-filled day, I can always summon up at least one or two positive things to write about that leave me a little more peaceful and content than I was before.

Until next time!

Virginia Signature

Make Time for "Me Time"

When was the last time you did something just for yourself? I'm not talking about dinner out with your hubby or a lunch date with your friends. Rather, something you do that's just for you, something that recharges your batteries and nourishes your mind and your body. Like getting a massage, going for a long walk, taking a yoga class, or (yes, I know it's a total cliché) having a long, luxurious soak in a bubble bath.

Chances are, if you do make time for yourself, it's pretty far down on your list of priorities. You do it "if" you can fit it in. Even the terms we use to describe these activities -- indulgences, treats -- reinforce that they're optional.

Ladies, I'm here to tell you that it's time to start making "me time" mandatory. Yes, it should be as routine as brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. What you choose to do isn't as important as making it a priority and doing it regularly.

Need more convincing? Read on...

Don't be a martyr: There's a reason that flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you attend to children. If you're not meeting your own needs first, you're not going to be of much help to others. This advice doesn't just apply to airplanes. Think about it. When we put ourselves last, we're also putting everyone who relies on us last, too.

Get rid of your superwoman complex: We may be strong and resourceful, but reality is that we just can't do it all. And we shouldn't have to try! Make sure your partner and kids are pitching in and doing their fair share around the house. You deserve a break.

Schedule it: Plan your "me time" and put in your calendar, in ink, along with all the other essential things on your "to do" list. Once you start making this a habit, you'll start to treat it like one.

Don't skimp on sleep: While some women can get by with just five hours of sleep a night, most of us just aren't these women! Set a firm bedtime and stick to it. Getting enough sleep is more important than finishing that stack of dishes in the sink, paying bills or doing all the other things that were on your "to do" list but somehow didn't get done.

If we don't make time for ourselves, how can we be the easygoing, full-spirited women we dream of being? So be sure to take your "me time" and never, ever feel guilty about it.

Until next time!

Virginia Signature

the doctoris in

Get advice from Ricki Pollycove, M.D., M.S., OB/GYN.


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