Why is vaginal dryness still considered taboo among more than half of postmenopausal women and 17% of premenopausal women?
When Olivia, 26, who begged not to be identified, decided to start using the contraceptive injectable, everything seemed normal at first. But she eventually became aware of a substantial shift, not just in her moods, but also in her desire to have sex with her then-long-term lover. Olivia had painful sex as a consequence of vaginal dryness induced by a lack of excitement, among other factors. This made intercourse less than enjoyable and contributed to a lengthy list of reasons why she didn’t feel like herself.
“My mental health has been steadily deteriorating since I took the injection,” she tells Mashable. “I had just two moods. I was either enraged and depressed, or absolutely apathetic. My lack of desire was simply one more thing that made me wonder why I didn’t feel like myself.”
With her spouse, the issue became the “elephant in the room.” “The unpleasant thing about sexual closeness in a relationship is that no one wants to talk about it if things aren’t going well. But, even though it was never completely discussed, it obviously had an affect on the relationship over time, whether it was him feeling rejected or me resenting him after having sex out of a sense of responsibility.”
Olivia is not alone herself. A fast search on Reddit for the keyword “vaginal dryness” yields thousands of postings from hundreds of different topics, including r/sex, r/sexover30, r/birthcontrol, and r/beyondthebump. It comes as no surprise. Around 17% of premenopausal women aged 18 to 50 may experience a dry vagina at some point in their life, rising to more than 50% of postmenopausal women, for a variety of causes.
What Exactly Is Vaginal Dryness?
Talking about vaginal dryness is still somewhat taboo, despite the fact that it can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and contribute to poor mental health. But what precisely are the signs and symptoms?
The main symptoms of vaginal dryness, according to Dr. Haitham Hamoda, consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), are feeling sore or itchy in and around the vagina, pain or discomfort during sex, and needing to urinate more than usual.
And the impact these symptoms can have on mental health should not be underestimated. “Regardless of the reason, vaginal dryness may have a big impact on women and their mental health,” sex therapist and expert adviser at sex therapy app Blueheart Dr. Katherine Hertlein tells Mashable. “It can inhibit intimacy, which can have a significant impact on their relationships.” It can also elicit negative sentiments about one’s own value and beauty.”
What Is Vaginal Dryness Causes?
While there are a variety of physiological and psychological explanations for persistent vaginal dryness, the most prevalent is a decline in oestrogen levels, which explains why it is more common in postmenopausal women. The sex hormone oestrogen is responsible for the development and maintenance of feminine traits as well as the female reproductive system. While all individuals produce some oestrogen, women produce far more than males.
“Lower oestrogen levels are related with menopause, lactation, and delivery,” says RCOG’s Hamoda. Other probable reasons, she says, include some contraceptive pills or antidepressants, as well as several cancer medications, notably but not exclusively treatments for breast and prostate cancer.
Low oestrogen levels can be caused by nursing without your period returning, perimenopause or menopause, or menstrual loss owing to being underweight.
“Progestin-only methods of hormonal contraception might reduce glycogen in the vaginal mucosa, reducing lubrication and causing discomfort,” writes gynaecologist Dr. Jen Gunter in her book The Vagina Bible. If you feel you have low oestrogen levels, consult your doctor before looking into alternative reasons (or remedies for) vaginal dryness. If lubrication isn’t working, they may prescribe a topical oestrogen treatment for your vagina.
Lack of arousal
Hormones, however, are not the sole solution. “Vaginal dryness can also be caused by using fragrant soaps, washes, or douches in and around your vagina, which can disrupt the normal flora in the vagina,” adds Hamoda. It can also be a sign of a more serious ailment, such as diabetes or Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects parts of the body that generate fluids, such as tears and saliva, and can be inherited or hormonal in nature.
A lack of excitement during sex is another typical factor that should not be neglected. According to Dr. Hertlein, while this might be due to a true absence or loss of attraction, it could also be due to psychological concerns such as depression or PTSD, which can be treated via various forms of treatment such as CBT, psychodynamic therapy, and talk therapy.
The Most Common Reasons Of Vaginal Dryness
- Menopause, lactation, and delivery all result in low oestrogen levels.
- Irritation caused by perfumed toiletries
- The Sjögren’s syndrome
- A lack of sexual arousal
How May Vaginal Dryness Be Treated?
The therapy for vaginal dryness will certainly vary depending on the reason, but it’s comforting to know that there are several possibilities.
If you have a dry vagina, Hamoda recommends replacing any items that may be altering the pH balance of your vagina, such as scented soaps or other feminine hygiene products, and instead switching to a mild soap for the vulva and leaving the inside of your vagina alone, which cleans itself. “Vaginal dryness may sometimes be remedied easily with over-the-counter products, such as switching to an unperformed soap to wash around the vagina or utilising water-based lubricants or vaginal moisturisers.” If vaginal dryness continues for more than a few weeks after trying these remedies, medical attention is required.”
If low oestrogen levels are the cause, you may be administered Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which is a hormonal medicine to boost oestrogen levels in your body. Talk to your doctor about switching medications if you think your vaginal dryness is due to your antidepressants, birth control, or any other kind of prescription..
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If the cause is psychological, therapy may be more difficult. Even if your arousal issues aren’t medically diagnosed, Dr. Hertlein says, a sex therapist may help you work through them with encouragement and guidance. She argues that the inability to feel sexual pleasure might be the result of “mental, physical, or emotional illnesses,” rather than a simple attraction issue.” This is when sex therapy may be beneficial. Increased foreplay and sex therapy approaches customised to address arousal difficulties are likely components of such treatment.
Olivia’s condition went away after she stopped using contraceptives; it took about a year for her emotions to stabilise completely. “The main sensation I had [when everything returned to normal] was definitely relief, especially because I realised it wasn’t just me.”
Perhaps she would have been able to reach that stage much sooner if she had learned more about the reasons of vaginal dryness or loss of desire. “The mental health implications [of vaginal dryness] emphasise why you should never suffer in silence; get support from a doctor and start moving toward remedies,” adds Dr. Hertlein. Vaginal dryness does not have to be the end of your sex life, and you do not have to remain silent and put up with it. Your vaginal health is vital, as is your overall health.