According to a survey conducted in the United Kingdom, approximately one in 13 women experience pain during sex due to factors such as vaginal dryness. More data, published by the organization Women’s Health Concern, indicates that 17 percent of women aged 18 to 50 experience problems with vaginal dryness during sex, even before the menopause takes place. This begs the question: If vaginal dryness is so common, why aren’t we talking about it?
Before we explore this issue further, it’s important to understand what vaginal lubrication is. This term refers to fluids produced in the vagina, mucus secreted from the uterus’ neck, and fluids generated by the Bartholin glands. During sexual arousal, glands near the vaginal opening produce secretion, which lubricates the vagina and reduces friction and pain during intercourse. This fluid production is estrogen-dependent and influenced by a variety of factors, including age, pregnancy, and sexual arousal.
Vaginal Dryness: Causes and Symptoms
Whenever your vagina lacks proper lubrication, it can cause burning, discomfort, itching, abnormal discharge, and pain. Causes include:
- Products, such as douches and condoms, that contain irritating chemicals
- Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disorder that attacks glands that secrete fluid, including the Bartholin glands)
- Cold and allergy medications, anti-estrogen drugs, and anti-depressants
- Cancer treatment
- Lack of sexual arousal
- Low estrogen levels
On the note of sexual arousal, it’s important to note that your libido is influenced by estrogen and progesterone, which fluctuate during your menstrual cycle. Some women find that, as they approach ovulation, their desire for sex increases. Then, once ovulation is completed, their sex drive decreases. However, this is not the case with everyone. Keeping track of your libido during your cycle will help you pinpoint when you will have the most desire for sex, which will help increase overall pleasure. Additionally, try to prioritize foreplay as it can help increase fluid secretion before sex.
Low Estrogen Levels
While vaginal dryness is common during menopause, it can occur at any age if you experience a dip in estrogen levels, which can lead to thinning vaginal walls, less mucus secretion, and a lower sex drive.
After childbirth, your body produces less estrogen, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Cancer treatment, like chemotherapy and radiotherapy (involving your lower abdomen), can cause ovarian failure, which also results in decreased estrogen.
Additional causes could include the surgical removal of your ovaries and premature menopause (which occurs before you’re 40). Menopausal-like symptoms can begin even before your period stops. If you have been experiencing pain during sex, reoccurring vaginal infections, vaginal irritation, and a reduced sex drive, menopause may be near. These symptoms are caused by what doctors call a perimenopausal period.
Treating Vaginal Dryness
Before you look into treating vaginal dryness, it’s important to stop using a douche, fragrant products, and certain fabric softeners and detergents as they can reduce fluid secretion in your vagina. Additionally, you should take showers instead of bubble baths.
If the issue persists, a doctor’s visit will help determine any more serious underlying causes. During that consultation, your gynecologist will most likely perform a pelvic exam to identify any changes in your vaginal walls and potential infections. Cell or discharge samples may be required for these tests. Because there is no exact test for vaginal dryness, your doctor will most likely refer to your symptoms for a diagnosis. Identifying causes and consulting with a doctor for treatment can go a long way in relieving any unwanted symptoms.
Topical estrogen therapy is one of the treatments a doctor may prescribe for low vaginal lubrication. These medications are directly applied to your vagina. Because topical creams involve less estrogen absorption, they carry fewer risks. Additional prescription treatments include a vaginal ring and a vaginal tablet. The vaginal ring is “inserted into the vagina where it continually releases low amounts of estrogen into the tissues” and is replaced every three weeks. A vaginal tablet, on the other hand, involves a tablet being inserted into your vagina via an applicator. Over-the-counter treatments, such as lubricants, are also available. Water-based lubricants are recommended as oil-based ones can cause irritation and condom breakage.