9 Helpful Tips if Your Partner Has Vaginal Atrophyby Beth Shapouri Health Writer
Sex makes the world go round, and it can be a big part of our relationships. So when your partner is struggling to enjoy intimacy due to a painful condition, it’s extra tough. Because that’s just what vaginal atrophy (also known as genitourinary syndrome of menopause) can do. Marked by symptoms including vaginal dryness and urinary problems, this chronic condition can be frustrating for the people who have it and the partners who love them. Here are some tips for how you can help keep sex comfortable for your partner with VA and stay closer than ever.
Talk With Your Partner About VA
“This is where communication is very important,” says Brittany Robles, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist at Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. Having an outlet to discuss the intimate details of vaginal atrophy can be a stress reliever for both parties. One thing to keep in mind: While conversations should flow both ways, the first step is to pay attention to how much you’re listening to your partner and her feelings—understanding her perspective will help you know how to lend assistance or just hear her.
Research Ways to Get Intimate Safely
When it comes to being a loving partner for a woman with VA, says Dr. Robles, education is always the best approach. “(You) must have an understanding of the symptoms that the partner is going through,” she adds. A medical condition like VA can cause people to feel alone, so offering to do research on the condition, treatments, and doctors can make a world’s difference in helping the two of you feel like you’re in it together (because you are!).
Ask to Attend Doctor Appointments With Your Partner
One surefire way to make your partner feel supported is to offer to accompany them to the doctor, says Dr. Robles. Since the condition can affect personal relationships by causing a strain in your intimate life, what better way to show your support than by going to the doctor with your partner? It also helps you stay informed of treatment plans (such as estrogen therapy and pelvic floor physical therapy) and gives you an opportunity to ask questions of your own, when appropriate.
Make Plans for Connection
Setting the mood for love may not only help increase pleasure, but also allows you to connect to your partner with VA. “Figuring out how to set up the occasion in a way that’s inviting and pleasurable is important. It takes a little bit more preparation—and less spontaneity—but it can help,” says Caroline Mitchell, M.D., director of the vulvovaginal disorders program at the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Think: A proper date night, with no expectations but connection.
Don’t See ‘No’ as a Rejection
It may be hard some days, but experts urge you not to take the condition personally. Dr. Mitchell recommends to partners that “they not have their feelings hurt when their partner says, ‘It’s just a little too painful today.’” That’s when looking to other ways of being intimate—or just postponing to another day when you have a better chance at having satisfying sex—can be of help. Communicating understanding in the meantime can help make it all feel more like teamwork.
Stock Up on Some Helpers
Using lubricant is one of the top recommended ways of easing the pain that can come with the condition by combating dryness and reducing irritating friction—and it’s always helpful for both members of the couples to embrace it in the bedroom. Another item Dr. Mitchell suggests to have on hand is a bumper or buffer, a silicone sleeve that sits at the base of the penis. For men, she explains, “it allows the sensation of full penetration even when it isn’t physically possible for the female partner.” Try The Ohnut, $50 for 4, ohnut.co.
Do What Works
Sex with VA can be so painful—and forcing it can lead to physical and emotional hardships. When these situations occur, Dr. Mitchell suggests pivoting. Happy people are those who’ve “figured out how to remain sexual without the penetrative intercourse part.” Try exploring each other’s bodies in different ways. Sex doesn’t always have to be about penetration! Remember that you have lots of body parts that are fabulous for achieving intimacy.
Increase Your Foreplay
One of the key strategies sexually active women cited in a focus-group qualitative study in the journal Climateric for successfully having sex with VA was foreplay—which makes sense, after all, because it can help up natural lubrication. But Dr. Robles sees a psychological element as well, explaining that as a display of desire, it “may help the woman feel wanted and boost her self-confidence, despite what is happening in her body.” So get prepared to take your time. Which leads us to…
When a partner starts a new treatment for VA, give it a beat to see if it has an impact—and talk to her about having her take the lead in the meantime. “Often times, it can take up to 3 months to notice an improvement in symptoms” after starting a new therapy, says Dr. Robles. “During this time, it is perfectly normal for the woman to not want to be intimate.” When she’s ready again, armed with these tips, you too should be prepared to meet her exactly where she is with VA.