We need to talk about the ‘V’ word.
VAGINA. It’s one of the words that people have trouble saying out loud, let alone having a conversation about it. I wasn’t going to even mention the other ‘V’ word—vulva- but the writer in me decided it needed to be here too.
Both words are actually medically accepted nouns that refer to body parts of females. They’re even in the dictionary FFS!
In the last 10 years or so I’ve gotten used to saying “vagina”… I’m working on “vulva”. They’re not words that pop into conversation easily unless you’re a gynaecologist or obstetrician.
Last year I went to a women’s event. It’s always a hoot. My favourite part was when someone produced a bunch of stickers and t-shirts that said “Dance Like Your Vagina’s On Fire”! ???Talk about heralding in a new era of mid-life awesomeness. I love women. I especially love mid-life women: those gals will say anything. ♀
After that weekend I started thinking about the fact that we need to listen to what’s on our mind, in our heart and maybe make a note of our menopausal symptoms. They’re actually coming from our body… she’s done a great job getting us this far.
So, have you noticed a decrease in sexual desire?
When I was around 51 I thought I’d turned into someone else. I literally went from ‘Normal Sharon’ to ‘Inbetween Stage Sharon’ overnight. ‘Normal Sharon’ was kidnapped (‘Normal Sharon’ is who I thought I was)! Turns out she didn’t go anywhere… she was taking a break so that ‘Inbetween Stage Sharon’ could run the show for a while. Now at 54, I’m ‘New Sharon’ and I like her more.
So here’s the down-low (get it?! down-low)… in addition to all the other cray-cray stuff that’s happening to all of our nooks and crannies, we’re suddenly confronted with our sex lives potentially heading south as well. WHAAAATTTT?!?!?!?
Here’s a list of some of the ‘fun’ (not fun) experiences you too can experience in your nether-regions:
- waning sexual desire
- vaginal dryness
- dyspareunia (fancy name for pain during intercourse)
- vaginismus (fancy name for painful spasms in the vaginal muscles)
- loss of clitoral sensation
- and touch sensation impairment
It’s difficult to determine the cause of sexual problems without knowing that sexual function is complex. When you’re 20, 30 or even 40 it doesn’t seem that complex. By the time 50 rolls around, let’s just say it gets complicated.
Some of the causes and comorbid conditions (things that occur together) are:
- Hormones waxing and waning
- Physical health and aging
- Ovaries objecting to everything
- Cardiovascular system
- Spinal cord
- Peripheral nervous system stuff
- Don’t like your partner anymore or don’t want a new one
- Want to jump the fence or have a foot in both camps
- Underlying psychological influences
- Sociocultural BS (like women our age don’t have sex anymore because we’re babysitting all day and all night)
- Addiction: alcohol, sugar, food, work, smokes, sedatives… Whatever floats your boat
The 10 most common changes to sexual function (and they’re apparently associated with NORMAL peri-menopause symptoms): ?wtf ?wtf ?wtf ?wtf ?
- Increased sexual desire
- Change in sexual orientation
- Decreased sexual activity
- Vaginal dryness and loss of vaginal elasticity
- Pain or burning with intercourse
- Decreased clitoral sensitivity
- Increased clitoral sensitivity
- Decreased responsiveness
- Increased responsiveness
- Fewer orgasms, decreased depth of orgasm, increase in orgasms, sexual awakening
Bloody Hell ?????
Notice that with peri-menopause, menopause and postmenopause, you’re either getting decreased something or increased something! Our body can’t seem to make up her damn mind.
It’s important to note that during any part of menopause, with all of the changes we experience, a woman’s libido may go underground for a while. It’s as if we need to re-prioritise our lives.
This is perfectly normal apparently. And it can be temporary. I’m told that there’s no reason for diminished sex drive to become permanent after menopause. And, while some women truly do notice a decline in libido at menopause, others actually experience heightened sexual desire and activity after menopause (Who are these women? We need to interview them immediately).
And now for a spot of bad news. Vaginal atrophy.
I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.
It’s estimated that up to 60% of post-menopausal women suffer from vaginal atrophy. OMFG. SIXTY PERCENT. 60%.
Due to embarrassment or some other silliness we think up, many women just don’t feel comfortable speaking to their doctor about their sex lives.
So we button up and suffer in silence.
So what is vaginal atrophy?
I’m glad you asked.
Vaginal atrophy (also known as atrophic vaginitis) is caused when there is thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls. It’s often attributed to a decline in estrogen and occurs most often after menopause. It can start as early as a woman’s late 30s (seriously crying now ??)!
Vaginal atrophy is considered to be a chronic and progressive condition that can affect the quality of life for women and their partners. Symptoms can include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Thinning of the vaginal walls
- Pain or burning sensation, especially during intercourse
- Decreased lubrication during intercourse
- Spotting after intercourse
- Shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Urinary incontinence
Sounds like the end of my life as I knew it ??
There’s good news though: we can get treatment for vaginal atrophy
Vaginal atrophy is a common condition that is easily treated. The two best ways to treat this condition is to use a vaginal moisturiser and have more sex! Yaaayyyy ???
I’m told that sexual activity increases blood flow to your vagina and helps to keep vaginal tissues healthy.
When it comes to choosing a vaginal moisturiser, there are options.
- Try over-the-counter vaginal moisturisers and lubricants. Good luck asking for that from the fifteen-year-old behind the counter at the chemist!
- Go natural. Some of us are sensitive or allergic to some ingredients in over the counter products. Try Vitamin E gel caps. You’ll need to puncture the gel cap and then squeeze the gel into your vagina (sounds hilarious and something you could get some, AHEM assistance with (just sayin’ ?)). Aloe Vera is another one and can be used as both a moisturiser and lubricant (I can see it now… me walking into the garden centre asking for an aloe vera plant). Then there’s the other two kitchen favourites: coconut oil or olive oil. There’s a warning for the peri-menopause gals: don’t use these with condoms.
- Try herbal remedies like: Pueraria mirifica (this can also be used vaginally), black cohosh, wild yam, Dong Quai or chasteberry.
- See the Doc. If you experience painful intercourse that is not resolved by using a vaginal moisturiser, you may need a low-dose estrogen preparation, such as estriol vaginal cream.
If you’ve read this far without fainting… then congrats!
If you have any of the terrifying things described above let us know in the comments below.
We’ll send prayers and digital chocolate too if it existed. ??
Who knows we might start a band: Princess vulva and the vagina sisters!
Have you ever wanted to be in a band? Are you a raging mad woman? Get the midnight to 6:30am sweats?
TELL US IN THE COMMENTS.
P.S. So that we can keep you in the loop you can subscribe to our mostly fortnightly dispatches. You’ll get to know more about menopause by walking in other women’s (probably sensible) shoes. And hopefully get some of the confidence and know-how to find out how to stop the insanity & symptoms (if that’s possible), so you can start doing your life YOUR WAY.
Warning: Sharon’s F-bombs pop-in here and there… but they’re kept to a minimum. ?
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