Not many people's favourite topic - but an important one nonetheless. Vaginal dryness affects many women, before and after menopause. This article outlines how it feels; why it happens and what you can do to help.
Vaginal dryness can be one of the most embarassing menopause symptoms to talk about. Most of us aren't used to talking about how we feel 'down there' but the fact is that a dry vaginal can cause a lot of discomfort. It's not just about sex, but also about how you feel day-to-day (though sex is important for most women too).
It may not be discussed but vaginal dryness is incredibly common. Some research suggests up to 60% of women suffer with dryness before or after menopause. Our own assessment data suggests over 40%. Many women are too embarassed to seek treatment. We're here to help you learn about what can be done to ease this pain, and to support you to ask for help.
You'll know how your own vagina normally feels. Ultimately, you're also the only person who can notice a change in your body. Exactly how vaginal dryness feels will be different from one person to the next but some things to look out for are:
Any vaginal pain can naturally put you off having sex. A lack of libido can cause serious issues for you, and your partner so vaginal dryness is not one to be ignored.
Vaginal dryness at menopause happens because of oestrogen levels dropping. The hormone oestrogen keeps the lining of your vagina thick and moist. When oestrogen drops as we approach, and pass through menopause the lining of the vaginal thins. This thinning can lead to irritation, which can then cause pain.
Because vaginal dryness is linked to hormone levels any medical treatment which causes oestrogen to drop may also be linked to less moisture down there. This includes surgical removal of the ovaries, chemotherapy and some other medical treatments for cancer.
Other things can cause vaginal dryness too. Younger women suffer from it too, usually due to:
1. Vaginal creams and pessaries which contain estrogen
Oestrogen creams and pessaries are incredibly safe to use. Even for women who may not be eligible for HRT, local oestrogen creams are often still an option. This is because the levels of oestrogen are so low, and are only absorbed into the local vaginal blood stream minimising any risks to health. Most doctors will start you on a cream or pessary to be used almost everyday for a couple of weeks. They'll then suggest a reduced dose to help you maintain lubrication - usually once or twice per week.
Water based lubricants can really help to make sex more comfortable. Good quality water based lubricants (like sylk) can help to reduce dryness during intercourse, and make it more fun! Make sure you choose a water based lubricant, which is safe to use with condoms and should not change your vaginal pH.
3. Non hormonal vaginal moisturisers
There are many non-estrogen moisturizers which can help to add moisture to the delicate skin and tissue. These can be used regularly, as advised on the instructions of your chosen brand.
4. Washing with water
Always avoid perfumed soaps, as they can irritate delicate skin. All you need to clean yourself is warm water in the shower. Keep it as simple as that. If you are worried about an odour, and have pain it may be worth consulting a doctor to check there is not an infection.
If you think your medication might be effecting your vaginal lubrication or sex drive speak to your doctor to get advice on alternatives.
We know this particular symptom can be a really hard one to discuss with a partner or a doctor. It's really nothing to be ashamed of and there are things you can do to quickly get relief. So don't be ashamed to bring it up. If it helps, take your Alva PDF from our assessment with you to the doctor as a reminder.
Hillard T., et al. (2017). Management of the menopause. 6th edn. British Menopause Society. UK.
National Health Services (2019). Vaginal dryness. Retrieved 15 February 2020 from [https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-dryness/]
Women's Health Concern Factsheet (2017) - Vaginal Drynesss. Retrieve 15 February 2020 from [https://www.womens-health-concern.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/WHC-FACTSHEET-VaginalDryness-NOV17.pdf]