Like many sexual health issues, vaginal dryness seems like a taboo subject in many circles. However, it is a very common condition that affects both premenopausal and postmenopausal women of all ages. A range of different studies has revealed that more than 17% of premenopausal women experience vaginal dryness that affects sexual intercourse, while over 50% of postmenopausal women suffer from mild to severe vaginal dryness due to hormonal imbalance.
Dr Aka, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre explains: “Vaginal dryness is nothing to be embarrassed about. However, if you are suffering from symptoms that may indicate vaginal dryness and this is affecting your wellbeing, it is advised to seek a diagnosis. There may be an underlying issue causing the dryness that could be treated, relieving your symptoms and allowing you to be more comfortable both during intercourse and in daily life.”
How does vaginal lubrication work?
The vagina usually lubricates itself throughout the day with a natural substance called discharge. In a vagina that does not suffer from dryness, some discharge is always present, but will increase when a woman is aroused or during the period of ovulation.
Discharge is secreted from cells in the vaginal walls and the cervix. The purpose of discharge is to maintain the vagina’s pH balance, cleanse away old cells through the vaginal opening, and to lubricate the vagina for intercourse. Healthy discharge can be clear or white/creamy, with a sticky or slippery consistency.
Vaginal dryness: What does it feel like?
Vaginal dryness can make your vagina feel itchy throughout the day. It can also feel sore, uncomfortable and sometimes painful during and after intercourse. You may find that you want to urinate more often when you have vaginal dryness, and the condition can cause urinary tract infections which can lead to further discomfort or pain, especially when urinating.
You may be able to tell if you have vaginal dryness through self examination. If you become aroused but cannot feel any lubrication coming from your vagina, this might be an indication that you have vaginal dryness.
What causes vaginal dryness?
There are many different causes of vaginal dryness, some relating to underlying conditions and some due to lifestyle or age-related factors. These causes include:
Women can suffer from hormonal imbalances at any age, especially during events such as puberty and pregnancy. These imbalances can also occur during periods of intense stress, due to severe weight gain or weight loss, when taking certain medications or undergoing chemotherapy, or after surgical removal of the ovaries.
Another cause of hormonal imbalance, menopause usually occurs in women over the age of 40 after a period of transition called the perimenopause. Early menopause can also take place on rare occasions. During menopause, vaginal dryness is a very common issue.
Low sex drive
As discharge most commonly occurs during arousal, you may find that you suffer from vaginal dryness around periods of low desire for sex. These periods are completely normal, although they can also happen due to relationship issues, sexual trauma, mental health problems, and having low self confidence.
Douching refers to cleaning the inside of the vagina, sometimes with a stream of water, but usually with a formula that contains an antiseptic or fragrance. Some women do this because they say that it helps them feel ‘cleaner’, however, douching is completely unnecessary and can do more harm than good. When douching, the vaginal microbiome (the collection of bacteria inside the vagina) gets disturbed, and this can cause a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, as well as vaginal dryness.
What happens if vaginal dryness is left untreated?
It is unlikely that you will develop any other conditions as a direct consequence of untreated vaginal dryness. However, you may experience inflammation or small vaginal tears during intercourse if you are not using an alternative lubricant. The dryness may also cause irritation to your urinary tract, which could bring about the urge to go to the toilet, even if your bladder is not full.
How to treat vaginal dryness
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, it is important to consult your doctor so that you can determine whether it is due to an underlying condition. There are a number of ways to treat vaginal dryness at home or with prescribed treatment. These include:
Eating oestrogen-rich foods may help to increase oestrogen production, which may, in turn, help to relieve vaginal dryness. These foods include:
- Soy products such as tofu, tempeh and soy milk
- Certain seeds including flaxseed and sesame seeds
- Dried apricots, prunes and dates
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
It is also wise to cut down on sugar and processed foods, as these can hinder the production and detoxification of hormones.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT is a popular treatment for women going through the menopause. It replaces oestrogen and progesterone lost during the perimenopausal period, significantly reducing and even removing symptoms such as vaginal dryness, hot flushes, brain fog and more.
If you have a problem with becoming aroused and therefore creating sufficient vaginal lubricant for comfortable intercourse, you may wish to undergo psychotherapy or relationship therapy to deal with a mental or emotional issue with yourself or with your partner.
Many women use lubricants to enhance comfort and pleasure during intercourse. There are many different types of artificial and natural lubricants that can be used to replace the lubrication in the vagina, so make sure to research what is best for you and your partner, as certain formulas (especially those with fragrances) can cause irritation.
Visit a gynaecologist
If you are unsure about the cause of your vaginal dryness and want an expert’s diagnosis and treatment recommendation, click here, or use our online booking service to book a consultation with a friendly, experienced gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre. Alternatively, call our clinic on 020 7580 8090.