A thin layer of moisture coats the walls of the vagina. This moisture provides an alkaline environment that sperm can survive in and travel in for sexual reproduction. These vaginal secretions also lubricate the vaginal wall, reducing friction during sexual intercourse.
As a woman ages, changes in hormone production can cause the vaginal walls to thin. Thinner walls mean fewer cells that secrete moisture. This can lead to vaginal dryness. Hormonal changes are the most common cause of vaginal dryness, but they are not the only cause.
Vaginal dryness can cause:
- Loss of interest in sex
- Pain with sexual intercourse
- Light bleeding following intercourse
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) that do not go away, or that reoccur
- Vaginal itching or stinging
- Discomfort in the vaginal and pelvic regions.
Falling estrogen levels are the chief cause of vaginal dryness. Women begin to produce less estrogen as they age. This leads to the end of menstruation during a time called perimenopause.
However, menopause is not the only condition that causes a decrease in estrogen production. Other causes include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Excessive stress
- Immune system disorders, such as Sjögren syndrome
- Rigorous exercise
- Some cancer treatments, such as radiation to the pelvis, hormone therapy, or chemotherapy
- Surgical removal of the ovaries
- Some medications
- Fragrance feminine products
- Surgical removal of ovaries
- Allergies and cold medications
- Certain antidepressants
- Not enough foreplay before sex
Hormone therapy may not be the right treatment for everyone. Some women are not good candidates for hormones because of a past history of disease, such as cancer.
Replacing natural estrogen can help with dryness but can also trigger side effects. These include:
- Weight gain
- Fluid retention
- breast tenderness
- Spotting of the skin
- Increased risk of stroke, blood clots, and breast and ovarian cancers
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No matter what the cause, if left untreated, vaginal dryness can cause sores or cracking in the vagina’s tissues and painful intercourse. Consult a doctor for best advice.