Have you ever felt a little too dry down there? Pain during sex maybe? Some itchiness, perhaps? Before your mind wanders to everything and anything that might be wrong with you, don’t worry. It’s normal. What you’re experiencing is very likely vaginal dryness.
At first thought, vaginal dryness is usually associated with menopause. While this is a common symptom in women who are peri-menopausal or going through the menopause, it can also affect younger women. Many of us experience vaginal dryness, but don’t really talk about it. So, when we experience the discomfort, it can be very scary! But this is where we at Hormona come in – we’re here to explain what’s going on and talk about the possible causes.
First things first
Vaginal dryness can take different forms, but the reasons behind them can also differ. Dryness can appear as itchiness, a burning sensation, abnormal discharge, or pain during sex.
Our minds and bodies are connected, so what happens in one place will ultimately have an effect on the other.
What are some causes for vaginal dryness?
It may be as simple as not drinking enough water (general dehydration). It may be because you’re experiencing more stress than usual, or even because of some medications.
If you have just given birth, are breastfeeding, or are undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, your body is naturally producing less oestrogen. This means that the oestrogen necessary to keep your vagina moist isn’t being produced or released. There are other medications that can cause vaginal dryness, such as antihistamines and antidepressants. An antidepressant class that can make you feel drier than usual, is the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, abbreviated to SSRIs. Though SSRIs can be very effective for the treatment of anxiety and depression, there are some annoying side effects. (We will delve deeper into SSRIs in another article, coming soon.)
If you feel fine but notice that you are drier than usual, or drier than you’d like, during sex or masturbation, the culprit may be psychological. Even if we are enjoying what we are experiencing, an increased level of stress (cortisol!) can sometimes cause a low libido. Libido can be explained as the desire and drive for sex and arousal.
Another sex-related culprit can be a latex allergy. If you notice a burning sensation after sex with a latex condom, you could be allergic to the spermicide used on the condom, the lubricant, or the latex condom itself.
Hormonal causes for vaginal dryness
Progesterone and oestrogen fluctuations (more hormones!) during your cycle may be influencing your moisture. Vaginal dryness is closely linked to the levels of oestrogen that flow through our bodies. Depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle you are in, there can be an increase or decrease of oestrogen. Oestrogen tends to dip after ovulation and before menstruation. You may notice a decrease in libido after ovulation, accompanied with some more dryness than usual.
Alcohol and other substance use can cause dehydration in your body, and your vagina is not exempt. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can also numb your nerve endings and other tissue response. Let me clarify, blood flows through to your tissue and nerve endings, and in this case, in your vagina. Less blood flow can cause a less sensitive reaction to stimuli such as physical touch or sexual arousal. This means lower libido as mentioned above, and less lubrication.
Fragranced Products resulting in vaginal dryness
Another cause for vaginal dryness can be the most seemingly innocent of them all, scented soap, cream, laundry detergent, fabric softener and even scented toilet paper. There’s nothing like that fresh feeling after stepping out of the shower, with all those wonderful smells wafting around you. However, those intense fragrances can be irritating to your vulva and create sensitivity and, you guessed it – vaginal dryness.
Ok, so what next?
Well, depending on when you noticed the sensitivity and irritation occurs, a solution for you could be relatively straightforward. If you notice itchiness and dryness after using a new product then immediately discontinue use. If you only have an issue during or after sex, try something relaxing to lower your stress levels to enjoy yourself more. You can also try switching out latex condoms for non-latex. There are many alternatives available that can keep sex safe and pleasurable. If you are on an SSRI (such as escitalopram or sertraline), it may be useful to give a water-based lubricant a try. This can be especially useful if you have found the medication to be working with other mental distress and you don’t want to stop taking them.
A good thing to consider when you start feeling any type of irritation or dryness is to ask yourself what has come into direct or close contact with your vulva and vagina. This can include any changes from new toilet paper, to medications, to your routine.
When should I see my doctor about vaginal dryness?
If you feel like you have stopped or changed everything that may be causing the irritation, but you are still experiencing dryness, it may be useful to reach out to your doctor or GP. There is usually no cause for alarm, but having an expert take a look can provide more insight.