Nobody looks forward to discussing sexual health concerns with their doctor, and no woman is eager to share being dry “down there” or having painful intercourse. That said, if you’re one of the millions of women experiencing vaginal dryness, take comfort in a couple of facts:
1. You’re far from alone. (About 17 percent of women between 18 and 50 have problems with vaginal dryness during sex. And approximately one out of three women struggles with vaginal dryness during menopause.)
2. There’s a lot you can do to find relief, and often, the fix is simple.
So where do you start? First—and this will likely be the hardest step to take—lose the reluctance and embarrassment. Talk to your doctor, gynecologist or women’s health provider. Women’s health providers are very familiar with vaginal conditions and problems, and most of all, are here to help you live a healthy and fulfilling life. (Yes, that most certainly means having a satisfying sex life.)
Keep in mind: the sooner you speak to your provider, the better, as these professionals can rule out any serious medical issues, too.
Why does vaginal dryness happen anyway?
Now that we’ve had “the talk,” let’s quickly discuss why vaginal dryness happens in the first place. The hormone estrogen helps maintain fluid and keeps the vaginal lining healthy and lubricated. When a woman enters menopause, however, the drop in her estrogen reduces the amount of moisture, as well as makes the vagina thinner and less elastic (called vaginal atrophy).
In addition to menopause, estrogen levels can decrease from childbirth and breastfeeding, radiation or chemotherapy, surgical removal of the ovaries, and anti-estrogen medications for uterine fibroids or endometriosis. Other causes of vaginal dryness include taking certain medications (e.g., allergy/cold drugs and some antidepressants), douching, Sjögren's syndrome (an autoimmune disorder) and birth control pills.
What can you do for relief?
No matter the reason for vaginal dryness, it can cause a lot of discomfort and disruption (for you and your partner). The good news is, there are many effective ways to get the relief you deserve. These include:
- Hormone-free vaginal moisturizers or lubricants. Lubricants provide immediate relief by reducing friction during sex, while moisturizers may be recommended long term to promote healthy vaginal tissue. Several options are available over the counter.
- Topical replacements. If the above doesn’t provide desired results, estrogen tablets, rings and creams are another possibility worth discussing with your doctor.
- Oral medications, such as Osphena® or hormone therapy can also help you better manage menopausal symptoms, including vaginal dryness. Both require a visit with your provider and a prescription.
- Alternative therapies like herbal and natural supplements. Be sure to seek guidance from a qualified provider who has experience treating vaginal dryness before going the alternative route.
A Few Words of Advice (and Caution)
- Slow it down: do give yourself enough time to feel relaxed and aroused. Foreplay absolutely makes a difference!
- Skip the bubble baths, scented soaps, and most of all, douches. Douches rob your vagina of healthy flora.
Are you experiencing midlife or other women's health concerns? I'll address your most intimate questions in a confidential, caring and professional environment. Schedule your personal appointment, or call our office today at (616) 748-5785.