More than one-half of all women who are post-menopausal experience vaginal dryness which can cause pain and discomfort during sex.  Fortunately, there are over-the-counter and prescription treatments that help. Even so, only about one-fourth of these women talk with their doctor or seek any type of treatment.  For many, it is an embarrassing topic but keeping quiet means you deal with the pain and discomfort or you give up sex, creating problems in your relationship.
Causes of Vaginal Dryness
Although post-menopausal women experience vaginal dryness more often than pre-menopausal women, it doesn’t occur only after menopause. Some of the other times/reasons for vaginal dryness include:
- Not being sexually aroused because of stress or lack of foreplay
- Use of feminine sprays or harsh soaps
- Chemicals in swimming pools or hot tubs
- Certain medications and chemotherapy
- Surgery where ovaries are removed
- Sexually transmitted diseases
Vaginal dryness after menopause is caused by lower levels of estrogen and this also happens at other times, such as immediately after pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding. Decreases in estrogen cause your vaginal lining to thin and become drier.
Your vaginal lining can shrink and become drier from lack of sex. The saying "use it or lose it" applies to sex. Your vagina can actually shrink, making sex more difficult if you have not been sexually active for quite some time. "Sex" can include becoming intimate with yourself, you don’t necessarily need a partner.
Many women find that over-the-counter and simple changes help to reduce vaginal dryness. If you aren’t ready to talk to your doctor you can try some of the following:
- Change to non-perfumed soaps and avoid using any harsh soaps, sprays or chemicals in or near the vaginal area. Avoid douches.
- Use a personal lubricant. There are many different lubricants available over-the-counter. You can usually find these in the feminine hygiene aisle of your local pharmacy or food store. You may need to try a few different ones to find the one that is best for you.
- Increase the time you spend on foreplay. Sexual arousal causes the glands in your vagina to produce lubrication. Talk to your partner about what types of foreplay you like and what arouses you.
- Drink plenty of water. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day helps keep your body hydrated, including your vagina.
If these treatments don’t help, you should talk with your doctor. Many women find this conversation embarrassing. If you have trouble discussing this topic, write down what you are experiencing and any questions you have before your appointment. This helps you remember what you want to discuss. If you need to, print out some information that explains your symptoms. You can use this as a starting point for the conversation.
Your doctor may suggest local estrogen therapy. There are local estrogen treatments, such as creams, rings or tablets. Rings are inserted into your vagina and continue to release estrogen for about 3 months. Tablets are also inserted into the vagina and last only a few days. Creams are applied to the vagina on a regular basis. Because this type of estrogen therapy is localized, it may not have the same side effects as oral estrogen therapy.
If you are experiencing other symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings, your doctor might suggest hormone replacement therapy. This type of therapy is usually used short-term as long-term use has been linked to heart disease.
Vaginal dryness can impact your life and relationships. While it may be difficult to talk about, there are many ways to treat it. You should not have to live with it.
  "Focus on"Vaginal Dryness," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Women’s Health Concern, LTD.
"Vaginal Dryness," 2012, Staff Writer, North American Menopause Society
"Vaginal Dryness and Vaginal Arophy," Date Unknown, Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D., MedicineNet.com
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.