Yes ladies, this is one of the more taboo (and let’s face it, downright frustrating) symptoms of menopause.
It’s hard for anyone to admit that their bits and pieces suddenly don’t seem to work quite the way they used to – but vaginal dryness is a really common menopausal side-effect. And you know what that means? You are not alone.
If you’re in the perimenopause, you might have noticed things just don’t feel the same down there as before. As you move through towards the menopause and hormone levels decrease further, these changes can become more obvious.
Falling oestrogen can make the vagina’s walls thinner and dryer, in turn leading to tightness and discomfort, often with a side order of itchiness. It can also mean that when you’re aroused, you produce less natural lubrication.
Some women may find their vagina actually gets shorter, causing pain or burning, and sometimes even tearing with penetration. Medically, this is known as vaginitis.
The good news is there are several very practical steps you can take to treat vaginal dryness and vaginitis.
From the bathroom to the bedroom (and even the kitchen), here is the definitive GenM bible to a happier, healthier V and fulfilling sex life, throughout the perimenopause, menopause and beyond.
SWAP TO A SOAP-FREE BODY WASH
If you’re wondering how to combat vaginal dryness, the first place to start is in your bathroom. Avoid scented wipes and harsh soaps which wash away the good bacteria and disrupt the delicate PH balance down there – if things are already dry, they’re only going to get dryer.
Washing with just warm water is enough to keep your foof clean and healthy, though if you feel you need some kind of body wash, choose a soap-free, specially-formulated option, designed for women in the menopause.
INVEST IN A GOOD LUBE
Finding sex uncomfortable? Or worse, painful? Then it’s time to make a new purchase for your bedside drawers.
TALK TO YOUR GP ABOUT HRT
Hormone Replacement Therapy – HRT for short – essentially does what it says on the tin. It replaces the hormones that your body is naturally losing due to the menopause, helping reduce your symptoms.
HRT, which is available in patches, tablets, gels and sprays, helps some women, but not all. Around one on four women using HRT will also need a vaginal oestrogen. These are oestrogen pessaries, creams and gels that are inserted directly into the vagina. Vaginal oestrogens don’t have any of the risks of systemic HRT (HRT taken orally or through the skin).
Your doctor can explain the benefits and risks of HRT and vaginal oestrogens.
EAT VAGINA-FRIENDLY FOODS
Your vagina is home to millions of good bacteria. Sounds bonkers but you can keep these topped up by eating fermented foods which contain probiotics.
Give kefir a try with berries for breakfast, drink a can of kombucha on the go and spice up a stir fry with kimchi – South Korea’s answer to sauerkraut. If you’re struggling with UTI’s, eating cranberries may help too.
MAKE TIME FOR INTIMACY
For many women, vaginal dryness and loss of libido go hand-in-hand. Keeping lines of communication open with your partner is really important, as is making time to be intimate with each other. This doesn’t have to mean full-blown sex – it could simply be cuddling, kissing or massaging.
HINTS AND TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT SOMEONE THEY THINK MAY BE ENTERING OR IN MENOPAUSE
One of the more taboo symptoms of the menopause, vaginal dryness is often swept under the carpet to save blushes. But talking about it can make a world of difference.
Here’s our advice for how to handle this very personal problem without making either of you feel uncomfortable.
OUR ADVICE TO THEM
In terms of self-care, we’ve recommended that they swap to a soap-free body wash and eat vagina-friendly fermented foods which contain probiotics.
ASK THEM TO EXPLAIN
You may have had a headache a hundred times, but have you had a menopausal headache?
You might not have a vagina or have ever experienced vaginal dryness. Gently ask them to explain the effect it is having on them physically and emotionally.
You may not be able to do anything to make them feel better. But she may not want answers, they may just need to talk – and be properly heard. Switch your listening ears on and give them your full attention.
WORK ON YOUR SEX LIFE TOGETHER
Approaching problems in your sex life as one is key to finding ways to overcome obstacles. Rather than treating a vaginal dryness as their issue, make it your collective job to work on it.
Talk about it and use the word ‘our’ rather than ‘your’, and ‘we’ and ‘us’ instead ‘you’ or me’.
You may also want to consider sex therapy to reset and reboot your intimacy with one and other.
TRY THIS DOUBLE-WHAMMY
When combined, foreplay and lube make a formidable opponent to vaginal dryness.
Spending at least 20 minutes kissing and touching your partner before you get down to it can relax the muscles in the vagina and promote natural lubrication.
These natural juices may not be enough anymore though and ‘going in’ can make for a painful experience no matter how ready they feel. Apply a generous dollop of lube, so they moan with delight rather than discomfort.
ACCEPT WHEN SHE’S NOT IN THE MOOD
Although it’s hard, try not to take their rejection of your advances personally. No one likes hearing the word ‘no’ but if they feel pressured in any way – although you didn’t mean to – it can create a vicious circle where frustrations begin to arise.
Instead of feeling disheartened, offer to give them a massage or cuddle instead. Touch is an important tool for keeping intimacy alive in a relationship, especially when sex is off the cards.
ENCOURAGE HER TO SPEAK TO A DOCTOR
If vaginal dryness is putting serious strain on your relationship, it’s been going on a while or seems to be getting worse, gently encourage them to speak to a GP. They may recommend they take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and/or a vaginal oestrogen to alleviate this symptom.
You could even offer to go to the appointment with them to show your support.
If you'd like more information, we have put some further references below for you.