It’s extremely common, and nothing to be embarrassed aboutMore from Women’s healt
By Sophie Hines
Far from being a topic you should be ashamed of, vaginal dryness is in fact hugely common – around 17% of women of all ages suffer, and this rises to half of women following the menopause.
What’s more, the effects of vaginal dryness can range from slightly irritating to downright unbearable, which is why it’s really important that you feel confident to raise this issue, whether that’s with your partner, your pharmacist or your GP…
Was spoke to Susan Quillam, a sex expert and ambassador for Durex, to find out more about the condition, and what you can do to address it…
How can vaginal dryness affect women?
After 40, women start heading towards the perimenopause, when hormone levels start to fluctuate. That means your body produces less oestrogen, and one of the side effects of that can be vaginal dryness.
As oestrogen levels drop in your body, your vagina will typically start to lose some of its lubrication and elasticity. You could also notice more sensitivity and irritation while sitting, standing, exercising and urinating, and your vaginal fluid may change in colour, texture and smell. This impact on your body and your everyday life may mean you lose self-confidence.
While the menopause is the most common cause of vaginal dryness, it can also be due to breastfeeding, the oral contraceptive pill or some types of medications (including anti-depressants and antihistamines).
What impact does it have on sex?
When it comes to sex, penetration or even touching may be more difficult and sometimes painful, as the vagina has shrunk a little and expands less easily.Your vulva may also become thin, dry and itchy. You may find you need a different approach to love-making, that you want to focus more on whole-body touching, or on clitoral arousal rather than vaginal.
Some women are also surprised to discover that although they feel emotionally aroused, their body isn’t physically aroused.
What are the best ways to address the issue?
Take care not to use any products that irritate your vagina, such as perfumed soap or panty liners. Find products that are natural and so more comfortable to use.
Make sure to use lubricant whenever you make love or for more comfort during the day. Be careful about the type of lubricant you select, as you may find some of these irritating. A natural product, such as Durex Naturals Intimate Gel may be more suitable. Speak to your pharmacist if you’re unsure.
If women go ahead with sex when they are not adequately lubricated then it can cause tiny tears which may make sex more painful next time and may lead to an increased risk of UTIs.
Don’t sideline your vagina when making love! Continuing to stimulate it – alone or with your partner – will help keep tissue healthy and able to lubricate. If you’re finding intercourse uncomfortable, experiment to find positions that make penetration easier, such as ‘you on top’.
Doing Kegel exercises – where you squeeze your pelvic muscles – will help keep tissue resilient.
Any tips for talking to your partner about this problem?
Bring your partner into the conversation. Many women worry about discussing such symptoms with their partners – for example, a survey by advice website Menopause & Me found 27% would not discuss vaginal dryness with their partners – but in fact the majority of men are receptive to talking things through, and want to help.
Explain how your body is changing and the feelings you are experiencing. Help them learn what to do, what not to do, how to best help. Above all, encourage your partner to keep touching during lovemaking so your vagina stays as an essential part of sex.
At what point should you see your GP and what can they do to help?
If you’re doing all the above, but are still uncomfortable or suffering pain, then go to your GP; they can prescribe hormonal treatments – topical creams or hormone replacement therapy – to help.
If you’re noticing spotting or bleeding, or suffering from urinary symptoms, it’s also always wise to see your doctor. Plus, to avoid discomfort when you have your smear test, alert your GP or nurse so that they’re gentle during the procedure and use lots of lubrication.