Survey Highlights Women's Reluctance to Discuss Vaginal Dryness, Painful Intercourse

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • While going through menopause, many women may decide to put their copy of The Joy of Sex on the top shelf (or in pile to go to the resale book shop). It turns out that you may be making a rash decision.

    A new HealthyWomen survey that polled 1,043 U.S. postmenopausal women ages 40 and older found that 56% said they experienced vaginal dryness while 26% reported experienced painful intercourse.  Yet, postmenopausal women are describing a reluctance to discuss vaginal and sexual symptoms of menopausal, even though possibilities for relief exist.

    "There appears to be a general reluctance to discuss or address the vaginal and sexual symptoms of menopause, unfortunately resulting in many postmenopausal women learning to live with these symptoms," said Dr. Laura Berman, an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and one of the survey consultants. "The lack of communication around these common symptoms often causes women to just shut down sexually and avoid intimacy altogether.  More than half of the survey respondents who are in a committed relationship reported that their condition puts a strain on their sexual relationship."

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    The survey’s findings related to communication with medical professionals were:

    • Forty-five percent of those surveyed who reported experiencing vaginal dryness did not indicate that they had talked about their condition with a health care professional. Forty-one percent who said they experienced painful intercourse indicated they had not talking to their doctor about the issue.
    • Of those respondents who did speak to their health care providers, 39% who had experienced painful intercourse and 27% who had vaginal dryness said they had waited for more than two years before bringing up the topic.
    • The largest percentage of study participants who had not discussed their issues with their doctor said they didn’t do so out of embarrassment (30% vaginal dryness, 33% painful intercourse) or their belief that nothing could be done medically for the condition (20% vaginal dryness, 27% painful intercourse).

    Postmenopausal women also for the most part did not discuss these issues with their partners. The survey found:

    • Fifty-nine percent of those who reported vaginal dryness did not discuss this condition with their partner. Their top reasons for not communicating were that their partner would not understand (18%) or that nothing could be done to help (16%).
    • Sixty-two percent who reported painful intercourse didn’t discuss this condition with their partner. Of these respondents, 24% cited embarrassment, 21% said their partner would not understand, and 21% said nothing could be done to help the issue.

    Yet there are ways to treat these issues. In her book The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause, Dr. Holly Thacker, who directs the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health, recommends local estrogen therapy or over-the-counter products such as water-soluble ointments (K-Y Jelly and Astroglide) to deal with dryness. She notes that women who choose to use these over-the-counter lubricants should consider using a vaginal moisturizer a few times a week rather than only before having intercourse. In addition, vitamin E oil or olive oil can serve as a combination vaginal moisturizer and lubricant.

  • Women who have painful sex may suffer from atrophic vaginitis. Dr. Thacker recommends vaginal and/or systemic hormone therapy to treat a thin vagina caused by extremely low estrogen levels. There are also non-hormonal options, such as vaginal moisturizers, vitamin E oil and olive oil. Dr. Thacker recommends talking to your doctor to determine which option is more suitable for you.

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    The moral of this particular sharepost is that if you’re experiencing distress, please communicate that information to your partner and, perhaps more importantly, to your medical provider. “Painful intercourse and vaginal dryness are common symptoms of menopause, but unfortunately, they do not go away on their own and can get worse over time,” said Dr.  Michael L. Krychman, the Medical Director of Sexual Medicine at Hoag Hospital and Executive Director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine, who served as the other consultant for the HealthyWomen survey. “Women should speak to their health care professional to discuss safe and effective treatments that can help to manage these symptoms."

Published On: October 05, 2011