Having a dry vagina can ruin even the most passionate romp between the sheets. Without proper lubrication, sex can be painful, and wetness is important for general vaginal health too. Here’s everything you need to know about moisture levels down below.
A drop in estrogen production causes dryness.
Estrogen is made by the ovaries and is the hormone that maintains vaginal tissue integrity and the vagina’s natural lubrication. Estrogen reduction leads to vaginal atrophy (thinning of the walls) and dryness that can really put a damper on a woman’s private life. The vagina becomes less elastic and much more sensitive.
Menopause is the most common cause of estrogen reduction.
Dryness is a very common symptom of menopausal and post-menopausal women. It affects over half of women who have gone through the change, and while it’s not necessarily permanent, it can be difficult to deal with while it’s happening.
Many hormonal imbalances cause dryness in women of all ages.
Estrogen levels drop in women who’ve had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and in those who’ve had an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). The birth control pill can alter your hormone levels and induce dryness, as well. Estrogen also tanks in women who just gave birth, in breastfeeding mothers, and in women with hormone disorders like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or HA (hypothalamic amenorrhea).
Vaginal dryness is caused by many other factors as well.
Women who’ve had chemotherapy or radiation can experience dryness. Some medications can also be to blame, like Benadryl and allergy drugs. Dehydration and drinking alcohol leads to less water in the body and therefore less wetness down there. Dryness can also be caused by not having enough foreplay, by psychological factors like stress, or by cleaning the vagina with harsh soaps. Some autoimmune disorders like Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes dehydration in other areas of the body, also affects wetness. Any skin allergies can irritate the vagina and cause dryness. Additionally, tampons can soak up more than just menstrual blood and can reduce the vagina’s natural moisture. In other words, a lot of things can be to blame.
There are other symptoms besides just painful sex.
The emotional effects can be serious; women feel insecure due to their dryness, and because of the emotional toll and desire to avoid the pain, women may have a lower libido and relationship issues with their partners. Some women may power through intercourse no matter what, but it’s not a good idea to go without proper lubrication because it can lead to vaginal tears. Even women who aren’t sexually active may still have problems in everyday life. It can be painful to sit, exercise, and use the bathroom. Also, chronic vaginal dryness causes thinning tissue that can make the labia look different.
Talk to your doctor if you think you have a problem.
Vaginal dryness is more common than you might think and happens to women of all ages. Uncomfortable sex accompanied by irritation, burning, or bleeding is a good indicator that you may have unusual dryness, although painful sex can be caused by other factors too. Other dryness indicators include a change in vaginal discharge or in the look of your vagina as mentioned above.
Taking estrogen supplements is a treatment option but can be dangerous.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is commonly used in menopausal women to treat vaginal dryness and hot flashes and to prevent osteoporosis. HRT refers to oral estrogen pills, or estrogen combined with progesterone. However, it’s important to be careful because using estrogen without progesterone is associated with a higher risk of uterine cancer. Hormone therapy also increases the risk of vaginal bleeding, blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, breast cancer, and gallbladder problems.
Local hormone therapy works better and carries less risk.
Local hormone therapy, applied directly to the vagina, comes in the form of creams, gels, and suppositories that are a better alternative to oral medications because less is absorbed into your body. For example, Estrace is an estrogen cream that can be applied to the vagina, and Vagifem is a small estrogen suppository; both come with applicators and are easy to use. There’s also Estring, a ring inserted into the vagina that releases estrogen and is replaced every few months.
SERMs are another treatment for vaginal dryness.
Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) are a class of drugs originally developed to treat breast cancer patients but are now used in postmenopausal women to treat their symptoms and to prevent osteoporosis. Some of these drugs, such as Osphena, may improve the vaginal structure and help with dryness. It isn’t an estrogen so it’s free from the risks that come with HRT. These medications may have side effects though, and more research needs to be done to determine their safety and efficacy. It’s a relatively new therapy, so you should discuss more with your doctor if you’re interested.
There are other solutions for dryness as well.
Over the counter products are available; vaginal moisturizers like Replens and lubricants like Astroglide can relieve discomfort. Natural lubricants like coconut oil work well too. Before sex, have plenty of foreplay to maximize wetness. Don’t use harsh soaps, and wear cotton underwear to reduce possible allergies and irritation. If you’re having issues that you can’t seem to resolve yourself, you can see a vulvovaginal specialist that will be able to help, so don’t be afraid or embarrassed to call your doctor. It’s OK, dryness happens!
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