It might just be the most taboo and most Googled subject related to menopause: vaginal dryness. Some women assume it’s inevitable; others will perform enough internet research to warrant a thesis on the topic. One thing is for sure: all hope is not lost. Not only is vaginal dryness 100% treatable, it doesn’t have to put the kibosh on your sex life.
And for the 50-60% of post-menopausal women who experience vaginal dryness, that’s great news. But like many topics around menopause, there is a slew of misinformation out there. At FemmePharma, we did some research to uncover some of the biggest myths about vaginal dryness and menopause.
1. Will I lose my sex drive during menopause?
Let’s get one thing straight: menopause is not a death sentence for your libido. Some women actually report a stronger libido post-menopause. Others have the same sex drive that they’ve always had. And yes, there are some women who do have a more difficult time becoming aroused after menopause, as a result of vaginal atrophy (including vaginal dryness) or a lower sex drive as a result of the drop of estrogen.
Every woman experiences menopause differently (you can read about a few different experiences here), but you can rest assured that no matter what your symptoms are, you’re not alone.
2. How can I avoid vaginal dryness after menopause?
If you have vaginal dryness, there are a few things you can do right away that can make a difference. Healthy Women recommends no longer using soap on the inner parts of your vulva, as soap can potentially irritate sensitive skin (clean water is A-ok for washing). Next, use only white and undyed, unscented toilet paper. Be sure to wash your underwear in detergents that are free of dyes or scents (there are a few out there specifically designed for sensitive skin) and avoid fabric softener. Finally, avoid any perfumes or bubble baths that could cause irritation.
Using a water-based vaginal moisturizer can help tremendously for dryness during menopause. Be sure to choose one with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E, both of which are proven for restoring and maintaining moisture.
3. How much do the ingredients matter in a vaginal moisturizer?
They matter a lot! Many women are unsure of what exactly constitutes a high-quality vaginal moisturizer, and the ingredients make all the difference. As we mentioned earlier, two key ingredients to look for in a vaginal moisturizer are hyaluronic acid and vitamin E.
Hyaluronic acid is found in many skin serums and creams because of its ability to retain high numbers of water molecules and form a moisturizing film. It’s ideal for maintaining a water balance, which is why it’s widely used in dermatology. Vitamin E has great antioxidant properties and takes part in the metabolism of cells, making it ideal as a key ingredient in a vaginal moisturizer.
4. Does Evening Primrose Oil help with vaginal dryness?
Evening Primrose Oil has been touted as a popular cure-all for everything from eczema to breast pain. But when something sounds like it’s too good to be true, it usually is. The truth is that there is no medical evidence that Evening Primrose Oil can help with vaginal dryness during menopause or any other medical issue. It has not been approved by the FDA, so proceed with caution if it’s something you’re looking to try.
5. How can I improve my sexual health during menopause?
There’s a lot you can do to promote your sexual health during and after menopause. If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, take the steps listed above to help with dry skin and sensitivity. A high-quality, over-the-counter, water-based vaginal moisturizer will do wonders.
According to Women’s Health, improving your overall health goes a long way for your sexual health. That means keeping physically active to keep your energy levels up – and yes, that means sexually as well. Having sex more often can help you maintain a healthy blood flow to your vagina and keep the tissues healthy. And give yourself a break – you may need more time to get aroused, and that is perfectly normal.
6. Is vaginal dryness the only thing that can lead to a low sex drive after menopause?
Vaginal dryness can cause a lower interest in sex as a result of the discomfort it causes for so many women. But there are a lot of other common menopause symptoms that factor in as well. For one, many women report anxiety and depression as a result of menopause. Some SSRI and SNRI treatments for anxiety and depression can slow down sexual desire. If you’re experiencing any mental health issues related to menopause, be sure to talk to your doctor about treatment options that won’t impact your sex drive (they do exist!).
7. Are vaginal lubricants and vaginal moisturizers the same thing?
No, they are not. Vaginal lubricants and vaginal moisturizers are two different treatments for vaginal dryness. Vaginal moisturizers provide moisture around and inside the vagina (if used with an applicator) and help with the ongoing symptoms of vaginal dryness. They should be used on a regular basis.
Lubricants are intended for use at the time of sexual activity. They are applied to the vaginal opening and to your partner to provide lubrication and reduce the pain associated with vaginal dryness.
Both moisturizers and lubricants are available over the counter in stores and online. While they are considered safer than estrogen, not all women find them effective – one of the biggest complaints is that they are messy and leaky.
There are real solutions out there for vaginal dryness
You might be wondering, “What are my options are for treating vaginal dryness?!” Aside from vaginal moisturizers and vaginal lubricants that we discussed above, there are a few other options.
Vaginal estrogen is the most effective treatment for women with vaginal dryness, and you’ll need a prescription to get it. While safer than estrogen pills, estrogen creams, inserts, and rings still carry a risk of side effects including blood clots, breast cancer, and heart attack.
Vaginal laser treatment is another option for vaginal dryness that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for gynecologic use in 2014. It uses laser technology to treat vaginal atrophy, including complaints related to vaginal dryness. The risks? There could be some redness and swelling. And, you should note that according to the F.D.A., the full extent of the risks is unknown. There have been reports of vaginal burns, scarring, and lasting pain following treatments.
But that’s not all. Vaginal laser treatment is not covered by insurance, and it’s not exactly easy to get – it requires up to five treatment sessions over a period of 2-4 weeks.
The bottom line about Vaginal Dryness…
Too many women suffer in silence when it comes to vaginal dryness during menopause. And that’s a shame, because vaginal dryness is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s 100% treatable. If you’re experiencing dryness, a high-quality vaginal moisturizer will go a long way for promoting your sexual health.
For more information on menopause symptoms including hot flashes and sleeplessness, check out the rest of our Menopause Mythbusters series. And know that you can count on FemmePharma to continue supporting and educating people on the conditions and issues that disproportionately affect women.