If it feels more like the Sahara desert than the Amazon rainforest between your legs, this article is for you. Most of us will experience vaginal dryness at some point in our lives. It’s often related to a decrease in the hormone estrogen, which acts as a plumping, juicy, protective hormone to the walls of the vagina. Estrogen levels drop (and then usually recover) after birth and with breastfeeding. When women reach menopause, which is marked by one full year with no periods, they experience a drop in their body’s main form of estrogen which can contribute to dryness.
There are other reasons for dryness as well, including certain medications, autoimmune conditions, lack of sexual arousal, and the use of irritating products.
Here are 6 steps to try to help with vaginal dryness:
Stop using harmful chemicals
The vagina is a self-cleaning oven which means you don’t need to introduce special potions to keep it clean. This can be confusing when we are bombarded by entire aisles full of products to make you think your vagina should smell like lavender, cucumber melon, or poppy fields (what does a poppy field smell like anyway?) Vaginas should smell like, well, vaginas. According to Dr Aviva Romm, “….vaginal scents can range from earthy to musky to sweet like fresh-baked bread, to a weed-like fragrance due to the influence of sweat gland secretion, and yes, even slightly fishy.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends against douching or the use of feminine sprays and powders and even menstrual products with a fragrance. You have a delicate ecology of good bacteria growing in your vagina that be easily disrupted with these harmful chemicals.
Choose fabrics carefully
Your vulva loves to be comforted by 100% white organic cotton when possible. Even if you find sexy underwear, try to select ones with a “crotch” part containing more natural materials. This goes for menstrual products if you’re still getting a monthly bleed as well. Choose unscented products made with 100% organic cotton.
Lube is your friend (until it’s your enemy!)
Lubricants can be especially helpful if you primarily experience dryness with vaginal penetration. But not all lubes are created equally and not all bodies respond the same to each lube. There are three main categories of lubricants that I want to tell you about. I’ll give you a brief description of each category and a few pros and cons to help you make the choice that is best for you.
Water-based lubricants are by far the most common. They are compatible with sex toys and safer sex barrier methods like condoms. However, they are the quickest to dry out of any of the lube categories, and you need to read the ingredient list carefully as they can often contain irritants.
Silicone lubricants are generally regarded as hypoallergenic and are the longest-lasting of any lubricant category. While they are compatible with all safer sex barrier methods, they are not always compatible with silicone sex toys. Unlike water-based lubes, they can be harder to find at stores, but who really wants to pop their lube onto that conveyor belt when they can let their fingers do the shopping?
Oil-based lubricants last longer than water-based but not as long as silicone based lubes. They help hydrate the vaginal mucosa. While they are compatible with sex toys, they are NOT compatible with safer sex barrier methods made from latex or polyisoprene. In addition, the oil clings to the walls of the vagina so if you are prone to infections, it may be a little harder for the body to flush this lubricant out. (P.S. The oils I am talking about in this category are PLANT-based. Petroleum-based oils like Vaseline should never be used internally).
When it comes to ingredients, it’s best to steer clear of glycerine, propylene glycol, nonoxynol 9 & Chlorhexidine gluconate, petroleum oils, polyquaternium-15, benzocaine, and sugars. Happy shopping!
While lubricants are designed for penetrative intercourse, some women experience vaginal dryness on a more regular basis like with tighter fitting pants, sitting for long periods of time, or even just walking. If that’s the case, you would most likely benefit from using a vaginal moisturizer that can be applied to the inside of your vagina every few days to keep the vaginal lining healthy.
Give yourself more time to “preheat the oven”
People with female bodies are like crockpots….they take time to warm up when it comes to sexual activities. In fact, many sex therapists recommend a minimum of 20 minutes of foreplay to give your body’s natural lubricant (fluid from the cervix and secretions from the Bartholin glands) a chance to kick in. But Esther Perel, a renowned psychotherapist and author of Mating in Captivity says foreplay is so much more than a physical “checking of boxes” to get us ready for sex. “Foreplay is the energy that runs through an entire relationship. It begins at the end of the previous orgasm and it lives as an ever-present suggestion that a small look, touch, text, or banter that might lead to a little more. Foreplay is a mood we live in, a way we look at ourselves, how we feel about ourselves in the presence of a lover—or even in the presence of just our own reflection.”
If avoiding irritants, trying new fabrics, and introducing a lubricant or moisturizer does not relieve your vaginal dryness, you should talk to your menopause specialist to see if a medication may be a better option to improve your quality of life. Medications work by acting like estrogen in your body. They require a prescription and can come in the form of creams, vaginal suppositories, vaginal rings, and oral pills.
Listen, the desert is a place many of us may visit at some point in our lives, but we don’t want to live there. Give some of these quench-worthy suggestions a try to get rid of the dry.
About the author. Carrie Koziol is a Women's Health Physical Therapist and Pelvic Floor Pilates Specialist. She has advanced training in rehabilitation of the core and holds a certification in Peri/Post Menopause Coaching.