After decades of ladylike embarrassment, women are talking to each other about vaginal dryness. The fact is, as you read these words, 4 out of every 5 American women are coping with the problem, at least occasionally. That makes dryness a more common concern than yeast or bladder infection!
Why does dryness happen?
Magazine articles often blame vaginal dryness on menopause. But that’s a lazy way around the issue. Although menopause and vaginal dryness are closely linked, there are many other reasons why women can stop producing intimate moisture.
It’s really about estrogen, that wonderful female hormone that does everything from controlling ovulation to boosting a woman’s sex drive. Estrogen is also responsible for giving vaginal tissue its ability to produce natural lubrication. So anytime your estrogen level drops too low, dryness happens.
But can’t menopause cause dryness?
Yes! Menopause is the MOST common cause of vaginal dryness, and an estimated 2 million American women reach this benchmark every year. Still, for years leading up to menopause, most women live with unpredictable periods. That signals that their estrogen is starting to diminish. Some will notice the first signs of dryness during this perimenopausal phase. It can be as mild as slight (but annoying) vaginal stickiness. Or it can be as bad as chronic burning, and pain during sex.
Bottom line: by age 40 more than half of all American women feel irritating dryness. By age 50, almost all of us do.
Is it true that birth control pills can also cause vaginal dryness?
We all know that the Pill tends to lower your sex drive. Now scientists have found that oral contraceptives can also cause intimate dryness. Why? Because the pill not only lowers your body’s own natural estrogen production; it boosts production of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). And the higher your SHBG level, the less natural lubrication your vaginal tissue will produce.
Do prescription drugs (and chemotherapy) dry vaginal tissue?
Absolutely. For starters, the diuretics and beta-blockers that help lower your blood pressure – they all can lead to vaginal dryness. So can allergy and cold medicines. Some antidepressants provoke dryness. And, certainly, one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is generalized dryness throughout the body, including vaginal dryness.
Are there other lifestyle choices that cause dryness?
Experts say that eating disorders can lead to dryness because they cause a woman’s reproductive system to shut down. Somehow, though, it’s hard to call these problems a “choice.”
Pregnancy and breastfeeding also suppress estrogen and temporarily leave women with less natural moisture than they’re used to feeling.
Smoking cigarettes can decrease circulation, which will intensify vaginal dryness. Alcohol can decrease sensation and lead to dryness (so stick to 1-2 drinks, especially if you plan to have sex later). Harsh soaps, douches, and perfumed feminine hygiene sprays all dry vaginal tissue. Swimming pool and hot tub chemicals are very drying, too.
So what’s the best way to get healthy relief?
Start by talking with your doctor. Research tells us that only about 1 in 5 women aged 50+ has ever discussed a sexual concern with her caregiver. That’s crazy!
Also, think about using a vaginal moisturizer. The same way a facial cream keeps your complexion moist and smooth, an intimate lubricant helps protect the health of vaginal tissue. So moisturize! And remember…
- Water-based moisturizers are best if you use latex condoms. Because oil-based lubricants can deteriorate latex. That means the condom’s ability to help prevent unplanned pregnancy is diminished. So is its ability to protect you from sexually transmitted disease.
- On the other hand, water-based lubricants feel wet and cold when applied. Plus they usually contain alcohol, which actually dries and irritates your vagina. So for regular use, an oil-based lubricant may be the wiser choice, along with a lambskin or polyurethane condom.
- If you want an oil-based moisturizer, choose one like Crème de la Femme, made from 100% pharmaceutical-grade oils. Lower-grade oils can expose you to unhealthy additives.
- Avoid any intimate product that contains glycerin. Because glycerin encourages yeast to grow. (That’s why so many women feel itchy and uncomfortable soon after using a lubricant.)
Other Natural Remedies for Vaginal Dryness
With some independent research and follow-up effort, you really can get natural relief. It may take some testing to find the solutions that work best for you, but at let consider the following:
Try acupuncture. It can sometimes coax the body back into better balance and stimulate your reproductive tract to make more of its own lubrication.
Sea Buckthorn capsules can help. This herb has gained a lot of attention lately. Many women report that 2 capsules, taken twice daily, have restored some natural moisture. Experts speculate that it works because it’s so high in Omega-7 fatty acid.
Eat foods rich in plant estrogen. These include yams, soybeans, and soy products. Be aware, though, that phytoestrogens can stimulate estrogen-like activity throughout the body. So if you have a history of gynecological cancer, you should speak with your doctor before adding these foods to your diet.
Consume good fat, too. Intimate moisture requires estrogen. And estrogen is ultimately produced from cholesterol. So if you want more natural lubrication, eat more fat. Don’t go wild for donuts, though! Stick with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. And try to limit them to only about 10% of your daily caloric intake. Good sources: avocado, nuts, olives, nut butters, tofu and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or sardines.
Reduce Caffeine. We think of caffeine drinks as “liquids.” In fact, they dehydrate the body, including vaginal tissue.
Stop douching. It disrupts the vagina’s normal chemical balance, which often leads to irritation and dryness.