Is Vaginal Dryness Cramping Your Sexy Style?

woman holds paper with sad smiley above crotch.
Image © shutterstock/vchal

Vaginal dryness occurs when the walls of the vagina are not properly lubricated, and it’s more common that you might think.

You’re hot to trot but your recalcitrant lady parts are as dry as the Atacama Desert. Our vaginas are designed to self-lubricate, not only to make our sex lives run smoothly (if you’ll pardon the pun) but also to keep bacteria and infections at bay. So, when things dry up, it can result in more than just a frustrating effect on your sex life.

It’s acommon problem facing women, particularly around the time of menopause due to a reduction in estrogen. But there are other reasons why women experience vaginal dryness, and it can strike at any age, causing discomfort and pain. And it’s being left unaddressed.

Let’s talk about sex

I mean really talk. Worryingly, poor education around women’s sexuality and bodies is still preventing women from discussing gynaecological issues with their partners and their GPs. I mean we’ve all got one, and we’ve always had them, and they’re perfectly useful, but there still seems to be a stigma attached to even mentioning a … you know, ahem, vagina.

I mean, have you noticed that on television, folks are happy to drop the word penis like it’s a term of endearment. But when it comes to the vagina, they are more likely to conjure up a cute nickname like hoo-hah or vajajay, if indeed their very existence is acknowledged at all. Sadly, this lack of conversation also extends to medical examination and research, leading to misconceptions as to what is normal.  In fact, the results of a recent study in the UK showed more than half of women prefer to turn to Dr Google than chatting to a real doctor about their vaginas.

It is way past time for women to feel comfortable and empowered to talk about sex and all the complex body parts, including vaginas, associated with it. Especially when something doesn’t seem right. Because if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

What causes vaginal dryness

Vaginal dryness can affect any woman but is most common during  menopause, affecting more than half of post-menopausal women due to the reduction in estrogen produced by the ovaries. The vagina depends on estrogen and as estradiol levels drop, vaginal blood flow decreases and there is a slowing in the natural lubrication manufactured by the cervical glands.

Wayward hormones can also throw things out of whack after giving birth, as well as during breastfeeding, due to a reduction in estrogen production. The good news is that vaginal lubrication generally returns to normal once your regular cycle returns. However, it’s not always hormones that are to blame and vaginal dryness can affect women at any point in their lives.

Your vagina is a clever critter that can clean itself, so adding certain soaps, swimming pool chemicals, and washing powders to the equation can alter its natural chemical balance which drying out the mucous membranes and resulting leading to vaginal dryness. Even smoking can cause a flux in estrogen.

Psychological and emotional factors like stress and anxiety can impact blood flow, which can, in turn, interfere with normal vaginal lubrication and impair libido.

And let’s be honest, sometimes dryness can simply be the result of a dud sexual partner, or a lack of foreplay, both of which can make comfortable copulation a problem.

Antidepressants and the contraceptive pill are also a known cause of poor vaginal lubrication. In these cases, you can talk to your doctor about the possibility of switching medications. You may be surprised to hear that even over-the-counter allergy and cold formulas contain antihistamines can dry things up. Literally designed to dry out the mucus membranes in your nose, it stands to reason that they can lead to drying out mucus membranes elsewhere. If it is a problem, then simply stopping should see things return to slippery norm quite quickly.

Less easy to alter are the impacts of immune system disorders, such as Sjögren syndrome. Cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiation on the pelvic region can also cause a sudden depletion of estrogen, result in vaginal atrophy and dryness, which can cause pain during penetration. It may take a little time to regain your sexual function after treatment, but estrogen replacement therapy can help restore lubrication.

Regardless of the reason, if vaginal dryness regularly results in pain or discomfort, go and see your doctor.

What are the symptoms of vaginal dryness? 

Along with discomfort during intercourse, symptoms of vaginal dryness can include soreness, burning and itching, a tightening of the vaginal opening, vaginal bleeding due to increased tissue fragility, discomfort during physical activity, and a higher incidence of vaginal infections and urinary tract infections. Unaddressed, it can also lead to tissue atrophy which is linked to urinary frequency, incontinence and non-bacterial urethritis – an infection of the urinary canal caused by bacteria – viruses and parasites.

So, what’s a girl to do?

For those women in the midst of menopause, or in post-menopause, doctors can prescribe local estrogen treatments in the form of tablets, creams and a flexible ring that can be inserted into the vagina to correct vaginal pH and help relieve discomfort and pain during sex.

Protect vaginal tissues by avoiding synthetic underwear and harsh laundry detergents, and avoid using scented soaps, douches and feminine hygiene sprays in the genital area. Also be careful to choose only feminine hygiene products devoid of dye, fragrance and petroleum, as these can also deplete moisture from the delicate vaginal tissues.

Most importantly, when you’re in the mood for a little hanky panky, allow plenty for time for foreplay to ensure you’re fully aroused and relaxed before penetration. Water-based lubricants and vaginal moisturisers can also be purchased at your local pharmacy or supermarket to add extra moisture to the vaginal lining and ease the discomfort of a dry vagina during intercourse.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, seek immediate medical attention.