Menopause – Vaginal Soreness, Dryness and Irritation – Causes and treatments/ solutions
Vaginal dryness, irritation, redness and soreness are common symptoms of menopause which affect different women to varying degrees.
During and after menopause, estrogen levels continue to fall gradually until they stabilize at a new lower level. This means that vaginal dryness is usually not experienced until several years after menopause. The vaginal tissue depends on estrogen to keep them moist and healthy.
What happens when there’s no estrogen?
- the vaginal lining (mucosa) becomes thin and easily injured leading to soreness and burning
- the mucus glands which help with lubrication decrease in number leading to slow and poor lubrication when you are sexually excited leading to vaginal dryness
- there is reduction in vaginal blood supply and the vagina shrinks (this is called vaginal atrophy). This causes small wounds which occur during intercourse to heal very slowly because of poor supply of nutrients from the blood leading to vaginal soreness during and after intercourse
- the vagina becomes less acidic so you become more prone to bacterial and yeast infections
- the vulva (the area surrounding the entrance to the vagina) is usually involved in these changes and may become thin, dry and cracked. There may also be redness and irritation.
The result – having sex becomes a nightmare! Your partner may not understand what you’re going through unless you tell him. It will cause less of a strain on your relationship if you explain that that your reluctance to have intercourse is not his fault but because of the vaginal dryness you’re having. So, does this mean you have to give up intercourse? Definitely not! There are various strategies you can use to improve vaginal moisture and lubrication and reduce the discomfort of intercourse.
How to improve vaginal moisture and lubrication
“Use it or lose it!”
- As with many other things in life this also applies to your vagina. Having vaginal intercourse once or twice a week will help your vagina stay moist and healthy and reduce the symptoms of vaginal atrophy. You will also lubricate faster when you’re aroused.
Use a bioidentical, natural estrogen cream
This has a direct effect on the tissues of the vulva and vagina and restores moisture over several weeks. It may take up to 4 weeks for you to notice any improvement in vaginal moisture. If you are applying a bioidentical progesterone cream or progesterone/estrogen combination cream to your skin, you may also notice an improvement in vaginal symptoms.
Keep a lubricant handy
A water-based lubricant should be close to your bed in a drawer or night stand. This will make sex more comfortable while you work on naturally increasing vaginal moisture. It will also relieve anxiety about painful intercourse which can kill your urge for sex.Avoid using oily lubricants like baby oil and petroleum jelly which are not healthy for the vagina and are difficult for the body to remove. Some good ones include I-D Glide, Liquid Silk and Pjur Original Bodyglide
Use a vaginal moisturizer
How do intimate vaginal moisturizers work?
You (should) use a moisturizer to keep your face looking younger, healthy and more supple. A vaginal moisturizer works in pretty much the same way to replace vaginal moisture that is not there because of the low estrogen. It helps to plump up the vaginal lining and coats the cells with moisture. This makes the inside of the vagina less fragile and less likely to be irritated and sore.
Vaginal moisturizers work gradually so you may not feel the effects immediately. They are not the same as vaginal lubes (lubricants).
Differences between intimate vaginal moisturizers and vaginal lubes:
- A feminine moisturizer maintains a constant level of vaginal wetness or moisture if used regularly because the effects are long lasting. Intimate lubricants don’t provide long lasting moisture and dry up quite fast.
- Vaginal moisturizers are usually used about 3 times a week to maintain vaginal moisture as the effect lasts for about 72 hours. Lubricants need to be applied each time you have intercourse.
- Some vaginal moisturizers are solid and melt when you put them inside the vagina. Vaginal lubes are usually wet from the start.
- Vaginal moisturizers are usually more expensive than vaginal lubricants.
If you’re using a vaginal moisturizer, you can still use a vaginal lubricant to get even more vaginal wetness if you need it.
Some good vaginal moisturizers
- Carlson Key-e Suppositories
- Replens Long-lasting Vaginal Moisturizer
- Intima Feminine Moisturizer
Take lots of essential fatty acids (EFA)
- Omega-3 (fish and flaxseed oil ),
- Omega-6 (evening primrose oil and borage oil) and
- Omega-9 (olive oil).
They help to keep the vagina healthy and also help your body produce hormones. The best source of these fatty acids is oily fish like fresh salmon. Others are tuna, mackerel and halibut. If you can’t eat enough fish to get a good supply of these EFAs take a good supplement with a combination of all these fatty acids .
Use Vitamin E
The natural form of Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) rather than the synthetic form (dl-alpha tocopherol) can be very useful for vaginal dryness. Puncture one 400 IU capsule 2 or 3 times and insert it into the vagina. You can do this daily and gradually reduces the frequency as your dryness improves. Alternatively, you can use vitamin E suppositories like Carlson Vitamin E suppositories.
Avoid using harsh soaps and scrubbing your vulva vigorously
If you must use a mild baby soap and rinse generously, otherwise a feminine wash for sensitive skin may help. Avoid douching which can change the balance in the vagina.
Don’t let vaginal dryness wreck your love life. Put the sizzle back into your relationship with these top 10 lubricants.
Vaginal dryness and irritation can hit at any time. You don’t have to be going through menopause to have vaginal dryness. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, anxiety and medication can dry you out and make sex very uncomfortable if not downright painful.
There are many popular lubricants that are widely used. Unfortunately, some of them contain potentially harmful substances. Read about stuff you should avoid in vaginal lubricants and moisturizers.
Here is a list of some great sexual lubricants. Remember that different women and couples have different needs and preferences. You may have to experiment to find the perfect lube for you.
- ID Glide Regular – this is a very popular lubricant.
- It is water-based, has no flavor and no fragrance.
- It is non-sticky and once applied, lasts a long time so usually you will not need to reapply.
- A little goes a long way so apply sparingly.
- Being water-based, ID Glide will not break down latex or toys and will not stain sheets.
- ID glide is easy to clean up.
- It is not expensive so it is a good option if you’re looking for a good water-based lubricant.
- Contains parabens and glycerine.
- Pre-seed fertlity-friendly lubricant is formulated to resemble cervical mucus and semen. It provides a safe environment for sperm for couples who are trying to conceive. It is supplied with applicators so that the lubricant can be inserted high into the vagina.
- Sperm friendly water-based lubricant.
- Not messy to use because of the applicators.
- Does not contain glycerine.
- Contains parabens. The Pre-seed site says that the lubricant contains levels of parabens that have been found to be safe for human use.
- It is expensive. However, some couples may not need to use a whole applicator full of lubricant each time which may make the tube last longer.
These are water-based lubricants with a little silicone added for extra glide.
Liquid Silk Personal Sensual lubricant
- Has a moisturizing effect so particularly helpful for postmenopausal women.
- Feels natural.
- Won’t harm toys.
- Easy to clean up.
- Relatively cheap.
- May dry up a little faster than some other lubricants so may need to reapply.
- Contains glycerine and parabens.
Pjur Eros Bodyglide Lubricant
- Very concentrated so a little goes a long way.
- No taste.
- Safe for latex including condoms.
- Conditions and moisturizes skin. Will not block pores.
- Also good for massages because it doesn’t get sticky.
- No parabens or glycerine.
- May stain sheets.
- Swiss Navy Silicone Lubricant
- Made with high grade silicone
- Tasteless and odorless.
- Does not contain parabens or glycerine.
- Condom safe
- May degrade silicone toys over time.
- Wet Platinum Premium Lubricant
- Made from premium grade silicone.
- Long lasting and economical.
- Stays wet even in water or hot tub.
- Doesn’t get sticky.
- Can be used for body massage.
- Safe for condoms.
- Some people have issues with the design of the bottle. Read the solution here.
- May stain sheets (stains can be removed with Oxiclean or similar products.)
Things to note about sexual lubricants:
- The good ones are very effective and usually quite cheap. That means you can afford to buy more than one. Keep them handy on both sides of the bed (after all, you never know which side you’ll end up on!), in the bathroom and anywhere else things are likely to get steamy.
- Each tube should last you a while unless you’re bathing in the stuff.
- A little goes a long way. Too much and all sensation tends to disappear.
- Water-based lubricants are generally better for vaginal health and kinder to latex e.g. in condoms and toys.
- Water-based lubricants tend to dry up much faster than silicone ones. Many can be reactivated with a few drops of water without applying more lubricant.
- Silicone lubricants tend to stain sheets etc. This can usually be washed out with Oxiclean or similar stain removing detergents.
- Silicone lubricants can also be used for other things like body massage unlike water-based ones.
Natural oils for vaginal dryness
Coconut oil should be a staple in your kitchen and medicine cabinet! Coconut oil contains lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid and is antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, and antibacterial. It improves the health of your hair, skin, heart, immune system, digestion, and can aid in weight loss. Apply a small amount of coconut oil directly on the entrance to the vagina everyday, before having sex (it makes a great substitute for store-bought lube), or whenever you are feeling irritation. Eating a teaspoon or so a day will help clear up and prevent other health issues. An excuse to eat more tasty and healthy fat!
Olive oil is another super healthy oil. Apply this directly to the opening of your vagina on a daily or as needed basis. Pour it over your salads or other foods. Avoid cooking with it though, as it has a low smoke-point.
Vitamin E oil capsules can be inserted directly into the vagina for relief from dryness. Simply find a capsule with no scratches, insert it into your vagina with clean hands, and your vagina will absorb the contents of the capsule. You can also pierce a capsule and rub some of the oil onto the opening of your vagina. Vitamin E oil has been known to strengthen the vaginal lining and increase flexibility.
Calendula oil, known for it’s healing and soothing properties for all types of ailments, has been known to heal the tissues of the vaginal wall. Calendula contains a high amount of flavenoids, which protect cells from free radicals. It increases blood flow to the area, which speeds the healing process. You can find some at your local herb store, or online.
Comfrey oil, another time-tested herbal oil ally, can also help the vagina strengthen and produce its own natural oils. It is a powerful plant that contains allantoin, which has been known to aid in the healing of bone and tissue. Another product you can find at your local herb shop or the Internet.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil capsules can be taken orally or vaginally for relief from dryness. This oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that is required for growth, development, and healing of the body. It also helps to relieve many other symptoms associated with menopause.
Essential oils such as jasmine, geranium, lavender, clary sage, neroli, anise, fennel, cypress, angelica, coriander, sage, peppermint, lemon, rose, and chamomile all contain hormone-like substances that are helpful during menopause. They are also soothing when mixed with one of the above-mentioned oils (ie coconut oil) and applied to the vagina. Use only a few drops, and never place essential oils directly on the skin without carrier oil.
Sweet almond oil
Sweet almond oil can be mixed with any of the above essential oils for applying directly to the vagina. It is one of the richest natural sources of Vitamin E.
Natural cures can be much easier and inexpensive than a lot of pharmaceutical medications, and have hardly any side effects. If dryness persists or worsens, it is important to see a doctor or certified naturopath for further assistance and advice.
Sex is an important part of your life. Regular intercourse will make you healthier, happier and you will live longer. Don’t give up on it. Many post-menopausal women enjoy active and pleasurable sex with their partners. With care and perseverance, your sex life may be better now than it ever was.