Sex is one of the most intimate forms of communication between partners. It connects them emotionally and strengthens their level of commitment.
But sometimes, problems within our bodies create a gap that complicates that intimacy. While lots of drugs and advertisements address the sexual disorders men suffer from, like erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, less is reported on factors that can hinder a woman’s satisfactory sexual experience.
It’s a Young Woman’s Problem, Too
Vaginal dryness is a sexual disorder that affects a sizable population of women. Previously thought to only affect women in menopause, it’s now known that 17 percent of women between the ages of 18 to 50 experience vaginal dryness during sex. This disorder can make sex a painful and uncomfortable experience for women, one that many try to avoid, which can lead to complications in one’s relationship. It can also lead to an increase in urinary tract infections and make women more prone to making trips to the bathroom. Medical experts say it’s a much wider epidemic in young women than previously known.
“According to surveys, 62 percent of young women have complained about vaginal dryness once in awhile,” says Dr. Christine Collins of My Gyn LA in Beverly Hills. “Vaginal dryness is a common complaint in young women, but it’s more of a short-term issue rather than a chronic condition seen in menopausal women.”
The causes of vaginal dryness in younger women exist for a variety of reasons, including the use of oral contraceptives, the act of breastfeeding, and even receiving chemotherapy. But there are a bunch of chemical and environmental factors that also come into play for vaginal dryness in younger women. Medications like antihistamines and those that control blood pressure can affect a woman’s vaginal secretions. Also, the toxins and pesticides found in tampons and feminine hygiene products can interfere with the vagina’s natural flora and lubrication.
Dr. Collins points to other specific factors that can cause the disorder in women. “Swimming pools and hot tubs cause vaginal dryness, but so does having a low libido which is often the result of stress and antidepressants,” she says. “Lack of adequate foreplay is another reason for the disorder. This is something many young women are uncomfortable talking about with their partner. The dryness makes sex painful and this creates more anxiety and less lubrication the next time she has sex.”
It’s Most Common in Menopausal Women
Unfortunately, for menopausal women between the ages of 51 and 60, vaginal dryness is a natural byproduct of aging. It occurs in over 60 percent of women who are experiencing menopause and happens when a woman’s body changes due to the production stoppage of the female hormone estrogen.
When levels of estrogen decrease in a woman’s body, the amount of lubrication that is secreted during sexual intercouse also decreases. But there are preventative measures that women can take as they approach that age, or when they are experiencing menopause.
“Diet and exercise is still the most important factor in overall health and can help prevent vaginal dryness. One rich in omega-3 fatty acids and isoflavones is beneficial. Cardiovascular exercise will increase the blood flow to the vagina,” says Dr. Collins.
“Supplements such as sea buckthorn is very helpful as are herbal supplements such as maca. Many women will still need vaginal lubricants despite the above recommendations. But again, the natural lubricants are the safest. I recommend coconut oil, jojoba or olive oil, and vitamin E suppositories.”
Treatments for Vaginal Dryness
The only way to treat vaginal dryness is to replace the estrogen in the body that the ovaries are no longer producing. The best methods are topical estrogen therapy and oral estrogen therapy. Women can be successful in combating this disorder if they use these methods on a regular basis. “I prefer the direct vaginal application of estrogen in the form of an estriol cream from compounding pharmacies. The other estradiol creams and pills available are also very effective,” adds Dr. Collins. She says there are new advances in the treatment for vaginal dryness that are coming out of Europe.
“There is now a treatment that was developed in Italy just for vaginal atrophy. It is a CO2 laser called the Mona Lisa Touch. This laser helps to rebuild the collagen and hyaluronic acid in the vaginal walls starting 48 hours after the first treatment,” says Dr. Collins. “The laser is painless and takes only 5 minutes to perform. Most women will need three treatments, 6 weeks apart the first year and then just one treatment per year after this. It is a fantastic alternative for women who cannot use estrogens or who find them messy and difficult to use.”
These treatments are essential to the upkeep of women’s bodies of all ages. Sex can once again be an act of enjoyment, providing an instant connection versus something painful that is often avoided. Treatment for vaginal dryness has other benefits as well. “Once the vagina is elastic and the moisture has returned, women have less vaginal infections and less urinary tract infections. They also have less urinary incontinence [involuntary urine leakage],” says Dr. Collins.
“This is such an embarrassment for women and once the incontinence is treated they feel like they are back in control of one of their most basic bodily functions. [After being treated for vaginal dryness] women tell me they feel like they got their life back.”
Ronke Idowu Reeves is a writer and journalist who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Her news and entertainment stories have appeared on WABC-TV-New York, Fox News Channel, VH1, BET.com plus in Sundance Film Festival’s Sundance Daily Insider and People Magazine.