Vaginal dryness is a common condition that occurs when the tissues of the vagina become less lubricated. It is known to affect over 50% of post-menopausal women and up to 17% of pre-menopausal women.
Although it can be painful and impact one’s relationships as well as their quality of life, there are effective treatments for vaginal dryness.
Read on for causes, symptoms, and recommended treatments.
Causes of Vaginal Dryness
Hormonal changes, particularly low estrogen levels, are one of the main causes of vaginal dryness. Menopause and perimenopause typically reduce the production of estrogen. Childbirth, breastfeeding, and taking contraceptive pills can also affect the levels of estrogen. As will a hysterectomy, or chemotherapy treatment.
Medications like antihistamines and anti-depressants enhance dryness in the body resulting in reduced vaginal lubrication.
Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, is also known to contribute to dryness in the eyes, mouth, and vagina.
Symptoms of Vaginal Dryness
Pain, Burning, or Dryness During Sex
As mentioned above, low estrogen levels can cause poor lubrication of the vagina. This contributes to more friction and discomfort during sex resulting in a burning sensation or even pain. Menopause can also cause the skin around the vagina to become thinner with time, allowing it to be more easily damaged, sometimes to the point that blood or spotting may appear after sex.
Discomfort During Everyday Activities
Even if women are not sexually active, vaginal dryness can still cause pain & discomfort in the form of itching, burning, and soreness in the genital area. These symptoms can make everyday activities like sitting, exercising, working, urinating, and even standing uncomfortable.
Painful Pap Smears or Vaginal Examinations
For most women, a cervical pap smear consists of a quick appointment that might be slightly uncomfortable or mildly embarrassing. For those suffering from vaginal dryness, however, these tests can be extremely painful due to the lack of natural lubrication.
The Appearance of the Vagina Changes
When vaginal dryness occurs it can cause the vagina, vulva, and vaginal opening to change physically. One of the most common changes is a thinning of the vulvar tissue.
Changes to Vaginal Discharge
Many women notice a change in their vaginal discharge when dryness is caused by hormonal changes. The discharge can emit an unpleasant odor and appear more watery than usual. Although these symptoms often signal an infection, with vaginal dryness they are nothing to worry about and can be easily treated.
Lack of Confidence
For many women, the symptoms of vaginal dryness are confusing because they can seem similar to those of sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, due to the pain and discomfort experienced, women often feel emotionally vulnerable and lacking in sexual confidence when symptoms present themselves.
Treatment for Vaginal Dryness
Women’s health experts recommend regular use of organic vaginal creams to avoid any chemical ingredients that can be irritating for the skin. For example, the Natural Vaginal Moisturizer from Intimate Rose is 100% natural, can be used at home, and treats vaginal irritation as well as redness due to menopause, breastfeeding, thinning vulvar tissue, or an unbalanced vaginal pH.
Using water-based lubricants with glycerine before sexual intercourse can also significantly help in moistening the vagina. (Lubricants without glycerine may irritate some women.)
It is also recommended to assign more time for arousal and stimulation during foreplay to increase natural vaginal secretions. Additionally, regular sex or masturbation helps keep the vaginal tissue moist and healthy.
If severe dryness persists, a visit to a doctor is highly recommended for medication or estrogen supplements. As well as asking about medications and sexual activity, the doctor will perform a pelvic exam to reveal the condition of the vaginal walls. A blood test will determine if hormone levels are causing the symptoms. And a test of the vaginal discharge will rule out alternative causes of dryness.
Vaginal dryness is left untreated in over 90% of cases because many women are too embarrassed to address the symptoms with their healthcare provider. Thus allowing the pain and discomfort to affect not only their everyday lives but their sexual relationships too. However, this common condition is nothing to be embarrassed about and is easily corrected with the proper treatment.
T Lorenz, J Rullo, S Faubion – Antidepressant-Induced Female Sexual Dysfunction - https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(16)30302-0/pdf
V Subramanium – Tips for Dealing with Vaginal Dryness in Sjogren’s Syndrome - https://sjogrenssyndromenews.com/2020/02/06/tips-for-dealing-with-vaginal-dryness-in-sjogrens-syndrome/
Don’t Ignore Vaginal Dryness and Pain - https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/dont-ignore-vaginal-dryness-and-pain
The Journal of the North American Menopause Society – The 2020 Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause - https://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/2020-gsm-ps.pdf