Vaginal dryness is a common problem experienced by up to one in three women1, particularly those who are going through menopause or those who experience early menopause symptoms. The female sex hormone oestrogen is responsible for maintaining your natural lubricant. When your oestrogen levels decrease you are more likely to experience vaginal dryness.
Normally, glands in your cervix produce a natural lubricant that keeps your vagina moist. This natural lubricant travels down your vagina, which helps to maintain a clean and healthy environment. A small amount of white discharge is a healthy sign – your vagina is naturally well lubricated and keeping itself clean.
Menopause is the name for the time when women stop ovulating. Therefore, menopause stops women from having periods and their ability to get pregnant. The average age for menopause in the UK is 51, but some women may experience it earlier or later.
Menopause happens because your oestrogen levels naturally decrease. Oestrogen normally controls your periods, so that’s why your periods end when you reach menopause. With less oestrogen in your body your vaginal walls become thinner and you naturally produce less lubricant in your cervix. Therefore it’s completely natural for your body to change and for you to experience vaginal dryness.
If you’re not experiencing symptoms of menopause, vaginal dryness may occur because:
- During foreplay or sex you’re not sexually aroused
- You’re using perfumed products in or around your vagina, including regular soaps or body washes
- You’re taking anti-depressants or other medication
- You’re taking the contraceptive pill
- You’re breastfeeding and have low levels of oestrogen
- You’ve had a hysterectomy
- You’ve had chemotherapy
If you plan to visit your doctor to discuss vaginal dryness, think about the affecting factors above and whether they are relevant to you in order for your doctor to best be able to help treat your vaginal dryness.
1 Grady D et al (2006) Management of Menopausal Symptoms. NEJM 355:2338-47