How To Increase Intimacy If You Struggle With Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness can strike at various times throughout our lives, for reasons unrelated to age (i.e., breastfeeding, birth control methods, and more). However, research shows that about 50% of postmenopausal women1 will experience vaginal dryness, making it a nearly inevitable part of growing older.
The impact of vaginal dryness can vary from mildly annoying to full-blown disruptive. Aside from being uncomfortable, it may also lead to painful sex, urinary tract infections, and as a result: low libido.
How vaginal dryness affects sex.
Less lubrication makes for not only difficult penetration but also less arousal and engorgement of the delicate vaginal mucosa. This can decrease overall pleasure or cause pain and tearing with sex.
Because the urinary tract is similar to the vagina, bladder infections or sensations mimicking bladder infections, are commonly associated complaints. Of course as the vaginal milieu changes, so does the normal microbiome and pH. And while you technically can have sex with a UTI, it will likely lead to more irritation.
It's important to note: Some people will experience vaginal dryness as a reaction to condoms, spermicides, and using the wrong kind of lubricants. Make sure to find the products that work well for you so you don't exacerbate the dryness you're experiencing naturally.
How to deal with vaginal dryness (and enjoy sex again!).
If you struggle with vaginal dryness, the first thing to do is see an experienced medical professional. A gynecologist or nurse practitioner that specializes in sexual health is really key here.
While some over-the-counter products can be helpful, it's always important to be sure you don't have an infection (bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, bacterial overgrowth, or a sexually transmitted infection), which can feel like dryness or irritation. Assessing the root cause will go a long way toward creating a solution that fits you.
Lubricant & moisturizers.
If the dryness is caused by a decrease in estrogen levels during menopause, then a vaginal moisturizer or lubricant can help. Personal moisturizers that encourage pH balance are also helpful for daily nonsexual use.
Some folks do well with more natural options, like coconut oil, but just because it grew on a tree, doesn't mean it's right for you. Word to the wise: Always spot-test for allergies and sensitivities!
In my work as an OB/GYN, I've found silicone-based lubes are generally the best for sex—they stay slick a long time, and they neither pull fluid out of nor put fluid into tissue. This is important to decrease friction and maintain pleasure. Cannabis-based lubes and suppositories can also increase pleasure by relaxing the pelvic muscles, as well as increasing blood flow and feel-good factors provided by the endocannabinoid system.
(Still not sure what lube to buy? Find a list of mbg's favorite natural options here, or ask your OB/GYN for a recommendation.)
If the lubricant isn't enough, talk to your doctor and see if a vaginal dilator is right for you. These tube-shaped devices range in size from smaller to larger and are meant to help gradually and gently stretch the vaginal canal.
Energy-based treatments, like radio frequency and carbon dioxide laser treatments, could also be an option. These are designed to help to increase blood flow and collagen production in the vaginal canal and vulva. But please, if you're interested, only get this treatment from an OB/GYN or other women's health specialist—we are trained to treat the whole person, not just the cosmetic side.
A note on what not to do: Never use essential oils in your vagina! And while steaming was all the rage for a while, decoupling traditional practices from the entire holistic system—and a culture from which they are derived from—is questionable at best, dangerous at the worst, and a form of cultural appropriation.
If intimacy with yourself or a partner is affected by vaginal dryness, communication, patience, lots of foreplay, and the right lube are game-changers. If that's not enough, see a professional to figure out the best way to manage the symptoms, and consider pelvic floor physical therapy.
The most important thing to know is that vaginal dryness signals an opportunity to communicate, learn, and grow. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution, but there is a special one just for you!
Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, M.D. is a nationally renowned doctor, expert, speaker, advocate for integrative women’s health and author of the book "Menopause Bootcamp". She is also the Senior Medical Advisor for Kindra, the leading direct-to-consumer sex-positive vaginal health company for women over 40.
As a partner at Women’s Care of Beverly Hills, she’s performed thousands of deliveries and continues to help women transition through important phases of their lives, from adolescence to post menopause. Her expertise covers all aspects of gynecology including sexual health, fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and the science of self care.
Dr. Suzanne received her Bachelor's in Psychology from Wesleyan University and her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Southern California. Her diverse background combining her degrees in conventional medicine, Ayurveda, and holistic medicine are key factors to what make her the integrative women’s healthcare expert that she is. Her mission is to not only explore what it means to be a woman in this culture and age, but to also support growth as individuals and how people show up in their communities.
Since 2006, Dr. Suzanne has reached millions through television, print, and dozens of online platforms. As the landscape of women’s health changes, networks such as CNN, NBC, and Fox look to her for answers on new medicine and technological developments for postpartum depression, fertility, HPV, and sexual wellness.