Why we need to talk about vaginal dryness…

All you need to know about menopause’s silent symptom…

We caught up with Embarrassing Bodies’ TV doctor and women’s health specialist Dr Dawn Harper to get her views on this ‘hidden symptom’ of the menopause and why, we shouldn’t be suffering in silence.

Hot flushes, sleep disturbance, weight gain, mood swings… we’re definitely better at talking more openly about those bothersome menopause symptoms. Yet new research from Vagisan reveals many women are still keeping ‘schtum’ when it comes to one very common menopausal condition.1 Vaginal dryness affects almost half of women during and after menopause (46%).2

Many first notice symptoms after experiencing discomfort during sex. As a result, over half (58%) are having less sex or even avoiding it altogether for fear of it hurting.

Despite this, the findings showed almost three quarters (68%) don’t speak to their GP about it, with over a quarter (29%) saying they are too embarrassed.

Do women really not discuss vaginal dryness?

If I stopped the first 100 people I met and asked what the symptoms of menopause were, I’m absolutely confident I’d be told mood swings, irritability, hot flushes, night sweats and disrupted sleep.

In nearly all of my surgeries I see women suffering with these common menopause symptoms. As the Vagisan research showed, one symptom women don’t tend to mention proactively is vaginal dryness. 

Why aren’t people talking about it?

Embarrassment is a big factor. Two in five women feel the condition is ‘not something to be talked about’.

If women feel too embarrassed to tell me they are struggling with vaginal dryness, they probably aren’t telling anybody else. Over a quarter of women are surprised by the condition, often mistaking it for an infection like cystitis or thrush.

Some women assume they’ve gone off their partner due to the lack of lubrication during sex. It’s a real shame as it can be easily treated.

How do you know if it is vaginal dryness or something else?

Vaginal dryness can feel like a prickling sensation, sometimes with itching, burning, soreness and pain in the intimate area.

When I do talk to women who have been suffering for weeks, months, even years, with vaginal dryness, many assume that they’ve got thrush. Of course, after spending a fortune on thrush treatments, the symptoms don’t improve.

One in five women are unsure whether they are suffering from vaginal dryness. The same number find urinating uncomfortable because of vaginal dryness.

Symptoms can be very similar to vaginal or bladder infections. So it’s really important to speak to your GP for the right diagnosis and treatment.

Is the impact just felt by women?

Definitely not! I’ve seen many women who are avoiding any kind of intimacy with their partners, even handholding, for fear of it leading to painful intercourse.

You know sex is supposed to be fun. If it hurts or its uncomfortable, that’s not a good thing. More than half of women (59%) aren’t talking to their partner about it, however. I have seen relationships fall apart because of this. My advice is don’t be shy about mentioning it. It is easily treatable.

So, what should we use to treat the condition?

Nearly half of women suffering do not treat it due to embarrassment. Of those that do, over a third (39%) are actually using all sorts of non-specialist products – Vaseline, coconut oil and Sudocrem – on their most intimate area. You name it, they’ve tried it.

Often these are simply not as effective as using a product specifically designed for the problem. When my patients have used a specialist product, it has revolutionised their lives.

The vaginal skin is very delicate. I recommend using a cream rather than a gel as a cream contains a lipid component which will moisturise and soothe.

Why is it so important to talk about it?

We’ve made amazing progress in breaking down menopause stigmas. I don’t think it is a ‘taboo’ anymore. We are getting there with vaginal dryness. It’s SO important to continue talking about it because a) it’s very common and b) it doesn’t go away like the other symptoms. The other symptoms like mood swings and sleep disturbance often settle down. Vaginal dryness persists.

If we keep talking about this as a normal thing that happens to around half of menopausal women, it makes it easier to deal with. Help is out there, please don’t think twice about asking for it.

Vagisan carried out the survey of 1000 women (aged 45 and 65) to better understand the behaviour and attitudes of women when it comes to vaginal dryness and menopause. 

  1. Research conducted by MonkeySee, October 2019 with 1025 women, aged 45-65, who were going through or have gone through the menopause. ABC1C2 social grade.
  2. NAMS, Management of symptomatic vulvovaginal atrophy: 2013 position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause, 2013. 20(9): p. 888-902.