Vaginal dryness can be problem for women at all ages, but it is more common in older women, particularly after menopause. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to relieve vaginal dryness.
What is vaginal dryness?
Vaginal moisture is mainly produced at the top of the vagina by the cervix. The moisture is slightly acidic to fight against infections, such as thrush.
When women have sex, two glands (called Bartholin’s glands) produce extra moisture to provide good lubrication during intercourse. However, lack of moisture during sex can become a problem.
Any woman can be affected by vaginal dryness, although it is most common in women who have experienced the menopause. It affects over half of women aged 51 to 60 years. Around a quarter of women in this age group experience dryness during sex and some women experience pain. If you are in pain, talk to your doctor about what can be done to help, including possible medicines you can take.
What causes vaginal dryness?
The most common cause of vaginal dryness is reduced levels of oestrogen, the female hormone that maintains normal vaginal lubrication, tissue elasticity and acidity.
Many women find vaginal dryness a problem after menopause as a result of the lack of oestrogen in their bodies. As a result of this, the vagina loses elasticity and the lining becomes thinner and dryer. Further irritation can also occur as the vagina becomes less acidic and loses some of the bacteria used to fight against infections.
There are a number of other causes of vaginal dryness. These include:
- not enough foreplay or arousal
- use of hygiene products, such as feminine sprays and harsh soaps
- use of swimming pool and hot tub chemicals
- use of certain washing powders
- breastfeeding, as a result of low oestrogen levels
- some types of contraception
Certain medicines, such as allergy treatments or antidepressants, can also dry the vagina and vaginal tissues.
Pre-menopausal women who have had their ovaries removed during a hysterectomy may also have a dry vagina as a result of a loss of oestrogen. Women who have had chemotherapy for cancer may also experience this.
How is vaginal dryness treated?
Many women are reluctant to talk to their doctor about vaginal dryness but there are treatments that can help.
Lubrications and vaginal moisturisers can ease the symptoms of a dry vagina. Water-based lubricants can be used for intercourse (non-water based lubricants can damage condoms). You can buy these products at your local pharmacy or supermarket and you do not need a prescription.
If you are menopausal, hormonal treatments, such as vaginal oestrogen creams and tablets can also help. Talk to your doctor about the options.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your vaginal dryness, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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Last reviewed: October 2019