In the vagina, a thin layer of moisture coats the vaginal walls. This moisture is important as it provides a neutral alkaline environment so that sperm can survive and travel for sexual reproduction. These moisture/ vaginal secretions also lubricate the vaginal wall, reducing friction and pain during sexual intercourse.
As women age, naturally there will be changes in hormones such as estrogen that can cause the vaginal walls to thin. As a result, thinner walls mean fewer cells that secrete moisture. This inevitably leads to vaginal dryness. As latest studies show that hormonal changes are the main causes of vaginal dryness, however this may not be the only cause.
What are the symptoms of vaginal dryness?
- Loss of interest in sex / decreased libido
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Light bleeding after intercourse
- Soreness after intercourse
- Vaginal itching
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Burning sensation during sex
What are the main causes of vaginal dryness?
- Post childbirth
- Long term use of oral contraceptives
- Excessive stress
- Breastfeeding mothers
- Vaginal douching
How is vaginal dryness treated?
There are many available treatments for vaginal dryness, and the most commonly used ones are over-the-counter lubricants that can be applied to the vaginal area to reduce dryness and discomfort. However, it’s advisable to ask your physician which lubricants are suitable, as most of these lubricants and moisturizing creams can also change the vagina’s PH, resulting in vaginal discharge and urinary tract infections. Safe lubricants are specifically intended for vaginal use, water-based, and should not contain perfumes, herbal extracts or artificial colors as these will cause irritation.
Women should also be careful in using lubricants that contain petroleum jelly and mineral oil as these products can damage latex condoms and diaphragms that are used in birth control. For suitable patients, your physician will prescribe estrogen therapy in the form of a pill, cream or ring, which releases estrogen. As many of the products may cause adverse effects, it’s best to discuss with your physician a product that suits your needs.
How to avoid vaginal dryness?
It’s advised to refrain from using products that may irritate vaginal lining such as vaginal douches. It’s also necessary to avoid condoms that contain nonoxynol-9 or N-9 as they contain chemicals that can cause vaginal dryness.
As age-related vaginal dryness is inevitable, it’s best to start treatment at the onset of symptoms to ensure a healthy sex life.