A healthy vagina self-lubricates as an essential part of sexual arousal and vaginal hygiene. Some women experience a lack of lubrication called vaginal dryness.
Vaginal dryness is an unpleasant condition that can have a significant negative impact not only on intimate relationships, but also on a woman’s health and quality of life.
A taboo subject
Although vaginal dryness is a common phenomenon, many women are reluctant to talk about it, even to their doctors, because it’s such an intimate subject. However, avoiding this issue can seriously damage your health as well as your sex life.
The vagina is normally self-lubricating, and will produce a colorless, transparent substance upon arousal. This not only makes sexual intercourse possible, but also helps create pleasant sensations. If there is no natural lubricant, sexual intercourse can be unpleasant or even painful. This may lead to avoiding sex in order to avoid discomfort, which can cause problems within relationships.
However, if a woman chooses to agree to sex despite vaginal dryness, the dry mucous membrane may be traumatized during intercourse. Rubbing and touching can create small tears which are an open gate for infection.
This may also leave a psychological impact—if a woman begins associating unpleasant sensations such as itching and burning with intimate acts, she may develop an unhealthy relationship with intimacy overall, which can lead to further problems.
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Good sex starts in brain
Problems with lubrication during intercourse may be due to a lack of physical arousal—something that requires time, attention, and adequate stimulation.
Rushing intimacy can create psychological pressure, which is counterproductive. Creating an intimate bond takes time so a careful and gradual approach often works best, especially at the beginning of a relationship. Partners who don’t know each other well can be a little shy at first, and so can their bodies. Learning to communicate with your partner is key to figuring out what works and what doesn’t—active listening and giving feedback will help create verbal and nonverbal cues for communication during intercourse.
There is a saying—good sex starts in the brain—and indeed, as you and your partner learn to correctly interpret each other’s signals consistently, the positive associations you make with words and other cues can be just as arousing as physical stimulation.
It is important to remember that every person is different. An approach that one person enjoys might be unpleasant for another. And there will be days when nothing works, which is absolutely okay. Sometimes even the most thoughtful approach can be unsuccessful, for example if your partner is exhausted or suffering from emotional distress.
Under no circumstances is it acceptable to force yourself upon your partner. Sexual assault is a criminal offence.
Hormones, hygiene and hair removal
If you have no issues with intimacy or communicating with your partner but are still experiencing problems with natural lubrication, there might be a different issue.
Vaginal dryness can be caused by overzealous intimate hygiene (washing too frequently or using inadequate products can disrupt normal vaginal microflora and the vagina’s natural acidity of pH 3,8 – 4,2). The use of anti-allergy and anti-cold medications may also be to blame, as they contain antihistamines that contribute to drying mucous membranes.
In other cases, the misuse of tampons, hygienic pads, or menstrual cups during menstruation can disrupt vaginal microflora and lead to vaginal dryness. Even the correct use of feminine hygiene products can create unpleasant side-effects for some women, although this is usually temporary. If you experience lasting discomfort consult your doctor or gynecologist.
Regular hair removal from the body’s intimate zones can also have this effect. Wearing pants or underwear that that are too tight or made of materials that cause irritation can also contribute to changes in the vaginal flora resulting in vaginal dryness, as can cycling regularly in hot weather, especially in clothes that don’t “breathe”.
Vaginal dryness may also be caused by low levels of estrogen. Estrogen affects a wide range of biological responses in the body, including proper moisturization of the vaginal lining, which ensures healthy elasticity and acidity.
Estrogen levels may decrease if a woman has recently given birth or is breastfeeding her baby.
Perimenopause and menopause, smoking and drinking alcohol, immune system disorders, and the use of certain medications can also affect estrogen levels.
Another potential culprit is Sjogren’s syndrome, which is a disorder of the immune system. The two most common symptoms are dry mouth and dry eyes. The condition is often accompanied by other immune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Sjogren’s syndrome affects the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands—the eyes and mouth are usually affected first—resulting in decreased production of tears and saliva. Although you can develop Sjogren’s syndrome at any age, most patients are over 40 at the time of diagnosis. The condition is much more common in women. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.
Solutions may vary
There are a number of methods for preventing and treating vaginal dryness. Here are a few suggestions that may help:
Use personal lubricants when engaging in sexual intercourse. These are products specially designed to simulate vaginal secretions, moisturizing the vaginal mucosa and preventing irritation. Such lubricants can contain hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, calendula, and/or other moisturizing agents. Only use lubricants that are meant for your erogenous zones!
Avoid wearing undergarments that are irritating, rough, or synthetic. Preference should be given to cotton, silk, and other natural materials. You can also try wearing loose-fitting clothing, and if you do wear something tight, limit the time you spend wearing it.
Gentle products should be used for intimate hygiene—choose washes with a neutral pH that won’t disrupt the natural microflora of the vagina as it is an important part of body’s natural defence system.
Use more good fatty acids in your diet—they stimulate natural vaginal hydration “from the inside”, protect against inflammation, and promote the healing of small wounds. Fish oil, borage, and night primrose oil have been shown to be effective. These products can be purchased as dietary supplements but do consult you gynecologist or pharmacist about their use and possible interactions with medication.
If vaginal dryness persists despite taking excellent care of your body, visit your doctor for testing and diagnosis.
In some cases, your doctor can prescribe creams that contain estriol, an estrogen molecule. Herbal remedies containing phytoestrogens can be used to counteract the hormonal changes that take place during menopause.
Your gynecologist may recommend the use of vaginal suppositories containing hyaluronic acid 2-3 times a week to calm irritations of the mucosal tissues. Intra-vaginal injections of hyaluronic acid are effective for at least 6 months.
If vaginal dryness has become a burden on your intimate relationship, consider consulting a family psychotherapist or psychologist. It is essential that both partners are involved in this process. Placing blame won’t be helpful—work with your partner to find a solution and cultivate a healthy relationship.
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