There are numerous menopausal symptoms that we have to deal with. Probably the most difficult to talk about is vulvar or feminine dryness. We are often ashamed of our bodies and our sensuality. Throw in the added grief of getting older thanks to menopause and the anxiety increases. Knowing that roughly 40 to 60 percent of menopausal women will experience some degree of vulvar dryness is of little comfort when we have to talk about this subject.
Usually vulvar dryness is mildly annoying, but may be very uncomfortable for some women and disrupt their lives beyond libido and intercourse. Dealing with vulvar dryness is another way to understand what is happening to our bodies at this time. There is life during and after menopause and most certainly, sensuality!
Vulvar dryness defined
Normally, the body keeps the vulvar area moist with a thin layer of clear fluid that is naturally flows from the blood vessels. This moisture keeps the vulvar region healthy. When a woman becomes sensually aroused, the moisture flow increases to allow easier intercourse activity. This moisture layer also helps when inserting tampons during the menstrual period when blood flow is not particularly heavy.
As estrogen levels decrease, so do moisture production levels. The vulva becomes dry and easily prone to irritation. Difficult and painful intercourse affects the way we view ourselves as women; our attractiveness and sensuality are thrown into doubt. Being a difficult topic to talk about, life partners are likely clueless about what is really going on just when we need a great deal of support and reassurance. But for other women, there may be other discomforts beyond sensuality itself.
Vulvar or feminine dryness symptoms:
*Painful intercourse may also be accompanied with light bleeding
*Burning or stinging sensations
*Irritation when urinating
*Slacks and panties or thongs are uncomfortable, especially tight jeans
*Feeling of pressure
Additional causes of vvulvar dryness
Vulvar dryness problems can and do occur at any time, but are often worse during menopause or peri-menopause. Review your current lifestyle to see if the following apply:
*Certain soaps, bath oils or salts, or laundry detergents
*Medications such as antihistamines
Treatments for vulvar dryness
For most women vulvar dryness is a minor symptom of menopause and can be easily treated. Start by making some lifestyle changes to see if this helps alleviate symptoms. If simple home remedies are not working, there are various traditional and alternative therapies available.
1. Lifestyle changes
Use water-based lubricants during intercourse; include them as part of your foreplay to overcome embarrassment or discomfort; talk to your partner or look for ways to stimulate the vulvar region prior to any type of penetration.
Moisturizers help keep the vulvar area supple and ease dryness – try products enriched with vitamin E or use vitamin E oil; avoid baby oil and petroleum jelly as they are not absorbed by the skin. Tip: if you have any allergies to wool, avoid skin care products with lanolin which is made from sheep’s wool.
Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated and consider adding soy or flaxseed to your diet; limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Cut down or quit smoking.
Avoid using scented sprays, bath products, soaps or perfumes.
Avoid the urge to douche; the female body does a wonderful job of cleaning itself on a daily basis and does not need the irritation, caused when douching strips the vulvar region of its natural lubricants. For too long we have been taught to be ashamed of our bodies when in fact they are functioning normally.
Find ways to reduce stress.
Talk to your health care professional about trying another brand of antihistamine.
2. Traditional and alternative therapies
Hormone replacement therapy may help some women by lessening vulvar dryness as well as other menopausal symptoms.
Vulvar estrogen creams may be used on their own or in combination with other medication to help deal with dryness.
Black cohosh, a natural alternative, is believed to help work in much the same way that estrogen therapy works by helping to balance hormone levels.
Vulvar or feminine dryness can impact the way we feel about ourselves and affect our sensuality. Whether the symptoms are mild or severe, there is no need to suffer in silence. By talking to our health care professionals, we can overcome the embarrassment of vulvar dryness and find ways to relieve our symptoms. Make menopause the time to pay it forward and appreciate our bodies and ourselves.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You