Approximately 17% of women aged 18-50 experience problems with vaginal dryness during sex, even before the menopause takes place. Reasons for vaginal dryness before the menopause can be linked to hygiene products such as feminine sprays and harsh soaps, swimming pool and hot tub chemicals and some washing powders. Certain drug treatments such as allergy and cold medications and some antidepressants, can also dry out mucous membranes, including vaginal tissues.
There are a number of simple ways in which to lubricate a dry vagina:
Water-soluble starch based lubricant such as KY Jelly, or Astroglide – these are similar to natural lubrication and should be applied to the area around the vulva and vagina just before intercourse takes place
Vaginal moisturizers – these are often creams used two to three times a week and last for up to two days, therefore they do not have to be applied directly before intercourse takes place
Vaginal dryness can be a common problem for pre-menopausal women with low levels of estrogen, such as breastfeeding mothers, those who have had a hysterectomy, and those who have received chemotherapy.
Pre-menopausal women who have their ovaries removed during a hysterectomy may experience menopausal symptoms, including vaginal dryness, as a result of a loss of hormones. The hormonal changes that women experience due to chemotherapy also tend to be dramatic and abrupt, leading to more intense symptoms. Decreased amounts of estrogen also lead to a thinner, less elastic and more fragile vaginal lining.
The average age of the menopause is 52, and after the menopause women find that their bodies change. The ovaries stop producing the female hormone estrogen and the levels begin to decrease. One of the first signs of reduced estrogen on the vagina is reduced lubrication during sexual activity.
Without the production of estrogen, the skin and support tissues of the vulva and vagina become thinner and less elastic and the vagina can become dry. Around 58% of post-menopausal women experience vaginal atrophy – the medical term for vaginal dryness.
Loss of lubrication and pain during sex – After the menopause, problems with lubrication and painful sex increase. Thinning of the skin around vagina makes it more easily damaged. This damage can often occur during sex, especially if lubrication is poor – even gentle friction can cause pain, discomfort, and occasional vaginal spotting. Painful intercourse can then cause a loss of sexual desire. The relief of symptoms often leads to an increased sexual desire and arousal.
Pain during other times – in many cases vaginal dryness does not only cause pain during sex it can make it uncomfortable to sit, stand, exercise, urinate or even work. Vaginal dryness can affect everyday life, whether women are sexually active or not.
Changes to the vaginal discharge –many women also find that their vaginal discharge changes, becoming more watery, discolored and slightly smelly. They may experience irritation and a burning feeling. These symptoms can be worrying, but they are simply due to the hormonal changes and not an indication of something more serious.
Emotional impact – vaginal dryness can make women feel different. Changes to the body can be difficult to accept and pain and discomfort caused by the condition can lead to a loss in self-confidence and sexual confidence.
For many women these symptoms can lead to confusion as they are similar to symptoms of some sexually transmitted diseases or infection. Things to look out for if you think you may be experiencing vaginal dryness:
- Do you experience pain, irritation, burning or dryness during sex?
- Do you experience bleeding or spotting during or after sex?
- When you go for your pap smear, has it become more difficult or uncomfortable?
- Has the appearance of your vagina changed?