Vaginal dryness, or atrophic vaginitis, occurs when the vaginal tissues thin and shrink with age. This results in decreased lubrication of the vaginal walls. Vaginal dryness can lead to painful sex, light bleeding after sex, vaginal soreness, and a burning sensation when you urinate.
What causes vaginal dryness?
Decreased estrogen is the most common cause, which is why vaginal dryness mostly affects women approaching menopause or after menopause. Removal of both ovaries (which brings on premature menopause) and radiation of the pelvic area or chemotherapy treatments also may cause decreases in estrogen that lead to vaginal dryness.
Low estrogen levels following childbirth, which can occur if the mother is breastfeeding, may cause vaginal dryness in younger women. Irritation of the vagina caused by tampons, soaps, or contraceptives also can lead to dryness. In some instances, latex condoms can cause an allergic reaction, which can lead to a drying of the vaginal tissue.
Some women think they suffer from vaginal dryness when they notice decreased vaginal secretions prior to intercourse. However, in this case the cause is more often related to not being sexually aroused. Too much penetrating sex in a short period of time can also lead to vaginal irritation and dryness.
What if you do nothing?
Repeated vaginal dryness is likely to continue until you pinpoint and address the cause. This problem not only affects a woman’s sex life, but can also increase the risk of a urinary tract infection.
Home remedies for vaginal dryness
- Slow down and savor the moment. If dryness is caused by rushed lovemaking, slow down and spend more time with foreplay, which can help promote vaginal secretions.
- Lubricate. If you often have pain during sexual intercourse, even with adequate foreplay, be sure to use a water-soluble vaginal lubricant prior to sex. You can also have your partner use a lubricated condom.
- Moisturize. To combat vaginal dryness day-to-day, use a water-soluble vaginal moisturizer—the most common is Replens—that mimics the vagina’s natural secretions. Typically, vaginal moisturizers can be used once every two to three days.
How to prevent vaginal dryness
- Avoid douching and using spermicidal foams, creams, or gels. These can adversely affect the vaginal tissue and lead to drying.
- Regular sexual activity may help. This improves blood circulation in the vagina, which helps counter dryness.
When to call your doctor about vaginal dryness
Contact your doctor if the home remedies don’t relieve vaginal soreness, burning, itching, or painful sexual intercourse.
What your doctor will do
Your doctor will perform a pelvic exam, specifically checking the health of vaginal tissues. Hormone levels in the blood may also be evaluated.
Topical estrogen creams or a low-dose estrogen ring such as Estring may help ease vaginal dryness in older women. The estrogen ring is about the same size as a diaphragm. It’s placed in the vagina and releases estrogen in a controlled fashion for 90 days. The estrogen creams and rings avoid the side effects associated with taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which raises estrogen levels throughout your body. Ask your doctor to advise you about using these products.
Also see Vaginal Odor: Causes and Treatments.