Vaginal dryness is a painful symptom that many people may experience at some point during their lives. This symptom can be caused by a decrease in hormone levels, breastfeeding or certain medications. It’s commonly linked to menopause. Treatment options for vaginal dryness typically depend on the cause.
Vaginal dryness is a painful symptom that affects a person’s quality of life. It can cause pain during sitting, exercising, peeing and sexual intercourse. Normally, your vaginal lining is lubricated with fluid that helps keep it thick and elastic. Vaginal dryness happens when the tissues in your vagina are dry, thin and not well-moisturized. This leads to discomfort, especially during sex.
Vaginal dryness occurs at any age. It’s most common in women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) during or after menopause when estrogen levels decline. The hormone estrogen helps keep your vaginal lining moisturized and healthy. Low levels of estrogen cause your vaginal walls to become thin and dry. This is a common condition of menopause called vaginal atrophy.
Many safe and effective treatments are available for vaginal dryness.
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Around 17% of people assigned female at birth (AFAB) age 18 to 50 report problems with vaginal dryness during sex, even before menopause takes place. Over half experience vaginal dryness after menopause.
In many cases, vaginal dryness happens when estrogen levels decrease. This occurs naturally as you age or during menopause. Menopause is when your menstrual period ends and you can no longer become pregnant. When estrogen levels decline, the skin and tissues of your vulva and vagina become thinner and less elastic, and your vagina can become dry.
Certain health conditions or treatments for health conditions and can also cause vaginal dryness. Vaginal dryness can result from:
Vaginal dryness is usually most apparent during sexual penetration. Without enough vaginal lubrication, the friction (or rubbing) during sexual intercourse can cause pain and discomfort. Take time before sex to make sure you’re fully aroused. Engage in foreplay with your partner and try to relax. Using water-based sexual lubricants can also help. Unfortunately, painful sex can lead to loss of interest in sex or loss of intimacy with your partner. As embarrassing as it may feel, discuss your symptom with your partner so they can help you.
Vaginal dryness causes discomfort and pain in your vagina, especially during sex. A dry vagina may also cause:
Less moisture in your vagina leads to less moisture in your vulvar area (external genitals). This means you can feel dryness or irritation when putting on your underwear or during normal activities like walking or sitting.
Healthcare providers diagnose vaginal dryness based on your medical history and a physical exam. To find the cause, your provider will ask about your symptoms and any medications you take. They may perform the following tests:
Your provider may also test a sample of your vaginal discharge to rule out other causes or to check for signs of infection.
There are many treatments available for vaginal dryness and painful intercourse (dyspareunia) associated with vaginal dryness.
Medications work by either replacing or acting like estrogen in your body. They’re available with a prescription only.
Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of medication containing estrogen or estrogen-like substances. Estrogen may not be safe for people who’ve had breast cancer or who are at high risk of breast cancer.
Lubricants and moisturizers are available without a prescription and can be purchased at drug or grocery stores. They work by replenishing your vaginal tissue and making it wet, which can help with pain during sex. You shouldn’t use moisturizers (such as for your face or body) that aren’t meant for your vagina.
There isn’t much research about specific foods you should eat to increase vaginal lubrication. Drinking water and staying well-hydrated helps your body retain its moisture.
Natural oils such as grape seed, olive, vegetable, sunflower or coconut oils may be a safe home remedy for vaginal dryness. Natural oils should be used as an external lubricant before intercourse. However, oil-based lubricants can damage condoms, so if you are of childbearing age, use only water-based lubricants.
Some providers recommend regular sexual stimulation to help encourage your vaginal tissues to become moist. Another thing to try is a longer period of foreplay before intercourse. Vaginal moisture is tied to arousal. Look for ways you and your partner can increase your pleasure before intercourse.
A dry vagina is usually not a sign of a serious medical condition, but you may feel embarrassed to talk to your healthcare provider about it. But many treatment options are available for this common symptom. Contact your provider if vaginal dryness:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Vaginal dryness is a common symptom you’ll likely experience at some point in your life. Several conditions and factors cause your vagina to become dry such as menopause or taking certain medications. This dry feeling can lead to painful sex or burning, itching and soreness in your genitals. Reach out to your healthcare provider for help if your vaginal dryness doesn’t go away with over-the-counter treatment or if your symptoms worsen.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/26/2022.
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