What is Vaginal Dryness?
During sexual excitement the vaginal walls moisten and secrete a clear slippery fluid that can aid in the ability and comfort of vaginal penetration. The vagina also normally secretes a thin layer of clear fluid throughout the day to aid in overall health and wellness of the vagina and vulvar tissues. The amount of vaginal lubrication produced may change in the same woman and at different stages of her life.
It is common for most women to need extra lubrication in order to fully enjoy a healthy personal and intimate life. Vaginal and vulvar dryness can increase the likelihood of infection and cause pain for many women.
Adding a daily vaginal moisturizer or using sexual lubricant during intercourse can help decrease discomfort and prevent small rips in the genitals, vaginal infections, and urinary tract infections.
What causes Vaginal Dryness?
- A drop in the hormone estrogen is the most common cause for vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy. Most commonly this is caused by menopause. However, estrogen levels can also drop from:
- Anti-estrogen medications used to treat breast and endometrial cancers.
- Surgical removal of the ovaries
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatment
- Breastfeeding and childbirth
- Inadequate sexual stimulation or foreplay prior to intercourse
- Relationship problems/issues
- Depression, stress, and anxiety
- Vaginal infections (also known as vaginitis) such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and sexually transmitted infections
- Douching: Healthy vaginas contain bacteria and yeast. Douching upsets this natural balance and can lead to infections and dryness. Avoid douching.
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Some over the counter antihistamines and certain antidepressants (SSRIs)
Treatments for Vaginal Dryness
- Use vaginal moisturizers daily for comfort and overall vaginal health.
- Use sexual lubricants during intercourse to increase pleasure and comfort.
- Give yourself, or have your partner give you a vulvar massage.
- Talk with your partner about what feels good for you and how you prefer to be touched. Read more on Tips for Talking With Your Partner.
- Eat a heart healthy diet and participate in daily exercise.
- Talk with your doctor about hormone therapy.
- Seek treatment for depression, anxiety, or other mental health issue.
When normal levels of estrogen lower or stop in the body (due to natural occurrences like menopause or from various medical treatments) the vulvar, clitoral, and vaginal tissues become thin and dry. This is called vaginal atrophy, and it can cause the genital tissue to be more prone to pain and inflammation. Atrophic vaginitis is when the vulvar or vaginal tissue becomes inflamed and an infection occurs.
Many postmenopausal women experience vaginal atrophy but are too embarrassed to talk to their doctor about their pain. For many women, vaginal atrophy can lead to pelvic pain and pain with intercourse, which can significantly diminish a person’s sex drive. Vaginal atrophy can cause symptoms such as:
- Burning and dryness
- Abnormal discharge
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Urgency to urinate
- Shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal.
It is important to get the proper medical health care you need and speak to your doctor about any issues you may be experiencing. Healthy vaginal functioning can significantly increase your quality of life and relationships and it is also closely related to healthy urinary functioning.