Normally the walls of the vagina stay lubricated with a thin layer of clear fluid. Vaginal dryness is problematic as moisture in the vagina serves the dual role of helping protect the vagina from infections such as thrush and to provide good lubrication during sex.
According to NHS Direct vaginal dryness affects over half of 51-60 year-olds, with around a quarter of women aged between 50-59 experiencing dryness during sex.
What causes vaginal dryness?
The hormone oestrogen helps maintain fluid in the vagina and keeps the lining of the vagina healthy, thick, and elastic. After the menopause a drop in oestrogen can result in the vagina losing its elasticity and the lining becomes thinner and dryer.
Women may also experience vaginal dryness prior to this - during sex due to insufficient foreplay or arousal. Some hygiene products such as feminine sprays and harsh soaps may cause dryness, as can some medications for example allergy treatments of antidepressants. Premenopausal women who have had their ovaries removed during a hysterectomy may also experience dryness due to a loss of hormones.
How is vaginal dryness treated?
Treatment will depend on the cause. If vaginal dryness is caused by low levels of oestrogen, then hormone replacement therapy may be prescribed. This is often in the form of a cream, pessary (application that gets inserted into the vagina), or vaginal ring which contains oestrogen. This restores oestrogen to the vagina without giving oestrogen to the whole body.
Vaginal moisturisers or creams can be used up to 2-3 times a week to keep the vagina more lubricated. Water-based lubricants such as K-Y jelly or Astroglide can also be used to keep the vagina moist and should be applied around the labia (lips of the vagina) before sex to make intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable. Petroleum jelly can also help but these should not be used with condoms as the oil will damage the condom.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
Take your time before having penetrative sex to ensure you are fully aroused.
Avoid using douches, scented soaps, lotions or bubble baths around the vaginal area. These products can make dryness worse.