Vaginal Dryness and Menopause
MENOPAUSE is the next significant stage in a woman’s life after the reproductive years. By the late 40’s or early 50’s, most women typically have stopped menstruating and their estrogen levels are quite low or depleted. The altered hormone levels during this stage of a woman’s life can bring about many unfamiliar and uncomfortable changes, like insomnia, hot flashes, weight gain, fatigue, short-term memory problems, mood swings and reduced sexual desire.
Menopause also brings with it the most noticeable vaginal and vulvar changes, that they are not likely to bring to the attention of their doctors. Women who experience vaginal dryness report a variety of uncomfortable symptoms that can affect the pleasure from and desire for sexual relations, including:
- An increase in vaginal infections
- Discomfort while urinating
- Drier, thinner, and less elastic vaginal tissue more prone to tearing and bleeding
Most perimenopausal and post-menopausal continue to want and enjoy an active sex life with their spouse or significant other. Regrettably, maintaining an active sex life can sometimes be a challenge -- not because of a lack of desire, but because of changes mentioned above.
“For older women, vaginal dryness can play a part in decreasing desire for sex. But vaginal dryness doesn't mean you have to give up enjoying healthy sex life.”
Common Symptoms and Changes During Menopause that can Affect Sexual Desire:
Dwindling estrogen leads to thinner, less elastic, and drier vulvar and vaginal tissue. Some of the most common symptoms which may affect sexual drive and function include the following:
- Vulvovaginal atrophy which is described as the thinning, and loss of elasticity of vaginal and surrounding vulvar tissues.
- Atrophic vaginitis which includes redness of the vagina, plus increased discharge.
- Vaginal dryness which can contribute to risk of infections and irritation
- Painful intercourse
Not all women experience all the characteristic symptoms of menopause, but some women may have more severe symptoms than others.
- 72 percent of people between 65 and 80 have a romantic partner and of those 54 percent are sexually active.
- Close to two-thirds of those 65 to 80 say they’re still interested in sex whether or not they are sexually active.
- Women were less likely than men to be sexually active — 31 percent overall, compared with 51 percent of men — but were more likely to be extremely or very satisfied with their sex lives.
Treating Vaginal Symptoms Without Hormones
Fortunately, women have a variety of effective treatment options available. The one that's best for you is the one that works. Many women prefer to start with options for treating vaginal dryness that doesn't rely on introducing hormones to their body. Here are a few to consider:
- Allow more time for Foreplay: Being aroused is a natural way that your body gets ready for sex. If your body has enough time to get aroused, the tissues in the vagina will expand. This process of becoming aroused can take up to 20 minutes for most women and can take even longer if they’re post-menopausal. Remember, with age, one would hope, comes wisdom, and a recognition that it’s less about the destination and so much more about the journey.
- Try a vaginal moisturizer: Many women over a certain age don’t produce enough natural moisture during sex. Vaginal dryness can cause discomfort during intercourse, however, a quick trip to the drugstore can solve that problem. Water-based moisturizer are readily available, over the counter, and are very effective when used as part of your daily routine. In addition to routinely moisturizing, lubricants can also provide extra lubrication when the moment arises to experiment with different forms of foreplay that can more effectively induce physical arousal.
- Experiment: Your body will change as you age and you may find that certain forms of intimacy are no longer easy or possible. And while this may be frustrating, try to see this as an opportunity. If intercourse is painful and/or male partners don’t get erections readily, consider taking the focus of sex off of intercourse and indulge in the much-heralded pleasures of “outercourse”, which includes every sexual activity except penis-in-vagina sex. Try new things, explore each other's bodies, and discover new sources of pleasure. Rewarding sex can be as simple as cuddling, trading sensual massages, sharing fantasies, genital stroking, or watching or reading erotica alone or together. If the genitals respond to such activities, whether or not they are touched, it’s still sex! These may seem like small things, but they can redefine sex for both of you.
- Try new positions: Experimenting with various positions may help discover a position that is comfortable. Women experiencing dryness should avoid sex positions which lend themselves to deep thrusting such as sex from behind. Instead, go for sex positions which allow for gentle penetration and added intimacy.
- Communication is key: Don’t be shy about what you like! Talking to your partner about what pleases you and what doesn’t can help you enjoy sex more. That’s one thing older couples have got on the millennials: they know what they like and what they don’t, and more importantly, how to articulate this.
- Masturbation: Masturbation isn’t just a crutch to use in place of partner sex. It is a self-affirming sexual activity and is eminently useful in helping to discover different routes to sexual pleasure. In international studies, up to 40 percent of women report that they masturbate on a regular basis.
- Pelvic Exercises: Regular pelvic floor exercises can increase blood flow and relax your pelvic muscles. Knowing how to relax these muscles can help ease pain during sex or intimacy.
All of these tips will only make sex more pleasurable for the both of you.
SOGC Recommendations and Treatment Considerations:
“Vaginal moisturizers applied on a regular basis have an efficacy equivalent to local hormone replacement for the treatment of local urogenital symptoms such as vaginal itching, irritation, and dyspareunia, and should be offered to women wishing to avoid use of hormone replacement therapy.”
What You Don’t Want to Talk About, But Should
It’s understandable that you may be feeling shy or embarrassed to talk about your vagina health. Nonetheless, it’s a very important topic, and you’re by no means alone in your concerns. The good news is that there are many solutions are available — so be pro-active! Sexuality and sexual expression are among life’s greatest gifts, and are ours to explore, tweak, enhance, and enjoy, on any level that is possible and comfortable. Whether you are alone or with a partner, sex can enhance health and self-esteem.
The first step in addressing some of the uncomfortable changes that you may be experiencing during menopause (and perimenopause) is to speak with a trusted healthcare practitioner. Keep the lines of communication open and get regular gynecological exams.
“End your vaginal dryness today….Developing a routine with GYNATROF, that naturally rehydrates the delicate tissues of your vagina, is the secret to preventing and over-coming vaginal dryness and discomfort”
Vaginal Atrophy: You may not want to talk about Vaginal Atrophy, so we will. Click here to start the conversation.
Causes of Vaginal Atrophy: What causes vaginal dryness (vaginal atrophy)? Click here to find out!
Treatment Options for VA: Click here to find out more about both prescription and non-prescription options. It pays to be well informed!
Vaginal Health at Every Age: To keep your vagina healthy, it’s important to understand what’s going on “down there.” Click here to find out how!
Risk Factors & Triggers: Vaginal Atrophy is usually not dangerous, however if left untreated it can increase the risk for other medical problems. Click here to learn how to identify the risk factors & triggers.
Vaginal Dryness and Menopause: Menopause brings with it noticeable vaginal and vulvar changes including dryness. Click here to get informed.
Vaginal Dryness and Cancer: Treatment for cancer can have a profound effect on your vaginal tissues. Click here to learn more today.
Vaginal Dryness and Birth Control: Oral contraceptives can affect vaginal lubrication triggering discomfort, itchiness or burning, and pain during sex. Click here to get informed on what you can do.
Vaginal Dryness and Pregnancy: Pregnancy can change your body in many unexpected ways. One change you may not be aware of or that no one would have warned you about is vaginal dryness. Click here to learn more now.
Vaginal Dryness and Breastfeeding: If you’re wondering why postpartum vaginal dryness occurs, click here to find out.
Vaginal Dryness and Pessaries for Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Dryness and Pelvic organ prolapse, a type of pelvic floor disorder, can affect many women. Click here to learn more.