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10 Things That Can Cause Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness can be as a result of hormonal changes, irritants to delicate tissues, anxiety, and more. Here’s how to keep a lack of vaginal lubrication from causing painful intercourse.

Causes of vaginal dryness range from physiological factors, such as hormonal changes or medication side effects, to emotional and psychological issues, like a lack of desire or even anxiety. Fortunately, there are nearly as many options for dry vagina relief as there are causes.

This may be good news for the two-thirds of women over 60 who list vaginal dryness as one of their top two sexual health problems — the other being lack of interest in sex — as part of a survey of more than 800 women to identify sexual health challenges. The results were published in the August 2015 issue of the Journal of Women’s Health. Vaginal dryness can also be a concern for women younger than 60, however.

The first step in treating vaginal dryness is figuring out the source of the discomfort, especially if a dry vagina is causing painful inter-course. A number of conditions can lead to a lack of vaginal lubrication:

  • Changes in hormones

One of the most common causes of vaginal dryness is a decrease in estrogen levels during menopause or perimenopause, after childbirth, or during breastfeeding, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to the pelvis can also lead to low estrogen and a decrease in vaginal lubrication. “The vagina depends on estrogen for health,” says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of Sexual Medicine at Alvarado Hospital and San Diego Sexual Medicine in California.

  • Medications

Allergy and cold medications containing antihistamines as well as asthma medications can have a drying effect inside the body and cause reduced vaginal lubrication, according to Dr. Goldstein.

  • Insufficient arousal

In some cases, vaginal dryness may be caused by a low libido or sexual problems with a partner. “If a partner has poor performance and early ejaculation, it can contribute to vaginal dryness,” Goldstein says.

  • Irritants

The chemicals in soaps, hygiene products, dyes, and perfumes may cause problems. “Many women have allergies to detergents and soaps,” Goldstein says. “There can be irritants on things like underwear or towels.” Other allergens can actually include lubricants and objects that may be placed in the vagina, he adds.

  • Anxiety

Psychological and emotional factors like stress and anxiety can also interfere with sexual desire and lead to vaginal dryness when normal vaginal lubrication does not occur. “When a woman is anxious, there is insufficient blood flow,” Goldstein says, “so she will have dryness.” 

  • Douching Can Cause Vaginal Dryness

    Although less common than it once was, says that in the United States, almost one in four women 15 to 44 years old douche on a regular basis. This is a surprising stat considering studies have not found any health benefit to douching but have found that douching is linked to many health problems, including vaginal dryness.

    So this one seems simple enough, if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness yet you’re still putting douche up into your business — it may be time to ditch the douchebags!

  • Smoking and Drinking Can Cause Vaginal Dryness

    Sorry party girl, if you want to keep your vajayjay moist and healthy, you’ve got to snuff the butts and chill out on the booze. Why, you ask? According to Dr. Laura Berman, PhD in her article at Everyday Health, “Cigarettes can decrease circulation, which could intensify vaginal dryness. Alcohol can decrease your sensations and lead to a dry vagina, so limit yourself to only one or two glasses of wine, especially if you plan on having sex later.”

  • Childbirth/Nursing Can Cause Vaginal Dryness

    9 Causes of Vaginal Dryness: childbirth and nursing

    At first, it may seem surprising to hear that new mothers experience vaginal dryness. After all, the body is creating and discharging so many fluids to aid in the birthing and nursing process during this time, one might think that providing vaginal lubrication would be at the top of mother nature’s to-do list. Not so, say the experts at Parents Magazine.

    “While you’re nursing, your body produces less of the hormone estrogen, which can cause the tissues in your vagina to be thinner and drier than usual. The good news is that things should get back to normal after you wean your baby. Until then, you can use a water-based vaginal lubricant.”

    What if you’re not breastfeeding but still experience vaginal dryness after giving birth? This could be a temporary hormonal imbalance that your body will regulate on its own. But if you’re concerned or the symptoms persist, ask your doctor for their advice.

  • Menstruation Causes Vaginal Dryness

    It’s normal for a woman’s hormone levels to dip while she’s on her period. One of the primary hormones responsible for keeping your vagina moist during menstruation is estrogen. When your estrogen levels are depleted, vaginal dryness can be an irritating side effect, especially when it comes to inserting a tampon.

    One quick fix for this is to apply a small amount of personal lubricant on the applicator to make it easier to slide the tampon in. Better yet, you may want to consider avoiding tampons, which can, by their absorbent nature, dry out the inside of the vagina. Try using a pad instead, at least on days with high menstrual flow. You may want to refrain from wearing panty liners when you’re not on your period, as these can also wick natural moisture away from your most sensitive parts.

  • Strenuous Exercise Can Cause Vaginal Dryness

    Please note the importance of the word “strenuous” here, and keep in mind that regular exercise is actually a key component to maintaining your overall health — including the health of your vagina. Confused? Don’t be. Just think of how many times you’ve heard the phrase “everything in moderation” and realize that when it comes to avoiding vaginal dryness, intense rigorous exercise has been known to dry a vagina — at least immediately following said workout.

    Find that healthy balance so that you’re maintaining your overall health and circulation without causing too much stress on your body.

How to Prevent and Treat Vaginal Dryness

Treatment for vaginal dryness depends on the cause. Women who experience problems with vaginal lubrication because of hormonal changes can often benefit from estrogen therapy, according to ACOG.

In some cases, doctors recommend localized treatments like vaginal estrogen inserts. For other women, especially those who have symptoms such as hot flashes in addition to vaginal dryness, an oral medication or a skin patch that releases estrogen throughout the body is an option, according to ACOG. And, in some cases, both approaches can be used together to effectively treat vaginal dryness. “Local estrogen hormone treatments that are inserted into the vagina in the form of a ring, pellet, or cream can complement systemic medications that raise systemic levels of estrogen,” Goldstein says.

In addition to estrogen-based therapies, other approaches that may bring relief, especially from painful sex, include:

  • Lubricants. “There are a plethora of lubricants that can help vaginal dryness,” Goldstein says. They include silicone-based, oil-based, and water-based products, according to ACOG. Lubricants are usually used to make sex less uncomfortable rather than for long-term vaginal lubrication.
  • Moisturizers. Over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers can be an effective way to minimize vaginal dryness over several days with one application. Goldstein explains that “moisturizing agents help introduce water into the tissue of the vagina.”
  • Avoid personal hygiene sprays. Chemicals in these products can be irritating to delicate tissues that line the vagina.

Vaginal dryness is a common and frustrating condition, but there are ways to alleviate the discomfort. If a lack of lubrication is causing painful sex, be sure to talk to your doctor about all possible treatments.

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10 Things That Can Cause Vaginal Dryness


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