Unmask the Myths About Vaginal Dryness
By Michele Godorecci, MD, Virtua Health Obstetrician and Gynecologist
You're standing in the feminine-product aisle at the store—eyes shifting nervously from the Kotex to the K-Y Jelly. You want to pick up the K-Y, but you don't want anyone, including the checkout guy, to know about "your" problem (whisper—it’s vaginal dryness).
The myth is that this problem is yours alone. What's marvelous is that there’s lots you can do about it.
MYTH: Other women aren’t having this problem.
If you’re dealing with vaginal dryness, the first thing you should know is that you’re not alone. The discomfort, sometimes accompanied by soreness, itching or burning sensations (especially during or after intercourse), is, unfortunately, a common condition.
Nearly half of all women over 40 experience vaginal dryness, and that number grows when you add in younger women who have recently had a baby. Lower estrogen levels are generally to blame. Estrogen keeps the vagina healthy by promoting blood flow and ensuring that its cells are plump and oxygenated. When estrogen decreases, and that blood flow is not as robust as it once was, cells shrink, the vagina sometimes shrinks, and dryness occurs.
MYTH: There's nothing I can do about it.
Good news—there’s actually quite a lot you can do to alleviate the discomfort of vaginal dryness. Potential treatments range from home remedies to prescription medications.
First things first: Are you drinking enough water? Your body needs water in order to produce its lubricating secretions—think tears, sweat, saliva, and, yes, vaginal fluid.
Next, you might take some time to familiarize yourself with the range of over-the-counter personal lubricants available. A growing number of brands and product lines provide opportunities to experiment with different water-, silicone-, and oil-based formulas. Choosing what works best for you is a trial-and-error process. Some women may have sensitivity to silicone-based products. Others may want to try coconut, mineral or olive oil first.
If persistent or acute dryness is an issue for you, your doctor can suggest a course of prescription treatment. Topical (vaginal) estrogen may be among the options available to you. The benefit of estrogen therapy is that it addresses the underlying problem, and not just the symptoms. Vaginal estrogen comes in many forms—suppositories, creams, rings that are inserted into the vagina—and very little is absorbed in your system. For a woman how hasn’t had her uterus removed through hysterectomy, progestin is also given with estrogen to protect the uterine lining against cancer.
And, if you’re experiencing severe menopause symptoms that extend beyond vaginal dryness, you may want to explore oral or topical estrogen therapy.
Estrogen therapy isn't recommended for women with a history of or risk for cancer or blood clots, but women should still discuss other treatment options with their doctor.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is different from mass-manufactured hormone replacement therapies. It is made up of biologically identical hormones that are plant-based compounds with a molecular structure similar to the human body. Through bioidentical pellets placed painlessly beneath the skin, it replenishes the testosterone and estrogen that women progressively lose after they reach their mid-40s. It balances the hormones that help you feel energized and focused and improves libido and sexual performance.
MYTH: Talking about it with my doctor will be embarrassing.
You’re not going to surprise your doctor if you bring up vaginal dryness. While it may be initially uncomfortable to raise the issue, it’s a conversation well-worth having. Your doctor wants to help you deal with it so you don’t have to settle for discomfort or a disrupted sex life.
Connect to care
Call 844-VWOMEN-7 to schedule an appointment with a Virtua gynecologist.
Updated March 22, 2021