How to have the healthiest vagina
I’ve learned a lot about vaginal dryness since founding Damiva. The My “Aha” moment filmed for MaRS Discovery District describes how I learned about vaginal dryness in 85% of women with menopause and went to the pharmacy shelf and couldn’t find anything that I would use for 30 years.
I was 43 at the time and looking back, I knew virtually nothing about peri-menopause and menopause. I knew that menopause signalled the end of fertility but I hadn’t even heard of the word peri-menopause. I remember feeling shocked to learn that I was in peri-menopause and thinking about menopause, “Wow, I have 3 graduate degrees and am so ignorant about this period that I’ll be in for thirty years of my life.”
While I first started with learning about the physiological symptoms of dryness, I became quickly aware that the issues with vaginal dryness are emotional, psychological, and, of course, extend to relationships.
Here are my 3 key learnings about vaginal dryness:
#1. It’s virtually impossible to prevent vaginal dryness; it’s like preventing age.
After menopause, the majority of women will indeed have vaginal dryness. Think of it like wrinkles; we are bound to get them. As you feel your skin dry, your mucous membranes (mouth, nasal, eyes, gut and vagina) are also losing moisture due to hormonal loss.
Even as your body betrays you, your mind denies it.”
Do you feel that your body is betraying you? I often do. Just as I hit my forties and feel that I have figured out a lot of things - about motherhood, career, love and life - my hormones are in flux and declining. And it’s reasonable and logical that our minds deny it. I hear a lot of denial about menopause and vaginal dryness; I’m absolutely guilty of it myself. It takes a lot of discipline to confront uncomfortable issues such as vaginal dryness and it’s important to take the stigma out of talking about it by recognizing that it’s just a fact of life.
#2 - Vaginal dryness worsens over time.
I have been asked by many women, “Will this get better?” Many menopausal symptoms that are caused by hormonal fluxes - such as hot flashes and headaches - will indeed get better over time. For some women, however, these fluxes can last years, even up to 15 years.
However, vaginal dryness - because it’s due to hormonal loss, not flux - will worsen over time. As will our wrinkles, dry mouth, dry eyes and joint pain. As with any chronic, deteriorating condition, it’s important to try and prevent a rapid decline as much as possible.
So that brings us to the fun learning that I had, #3 below.
#3 - The best maintenance is to exercise your vagina.
Yes, it’s all about use it or lose it, as with any organ. I recently met a woman over 70 who didn’t have vaginal dryness and her secret was to “use your body in the way it was meant.” For her, that meant having children, breast-feeding, and having regular sex. She pointed out that the last one was the most difficult because it involves working hard at relationships. While we can’t all make the same, or even similar, choices as she did, we can be aware of how important it is for our holistic health to address vaginal health.
Here are my tips for the best maintenance program for slowing down vaginal dryness:
- Regular intercourse and orgasm. Find a sexy toy and practice self-stimulation or engage with your partner. Ensuring blood flow to the genital region increases metabolism and tissue pliability.
- Use of the best vaginal products such as pH balanced cleansers and lubricants. Up to 40% of women experience pain with intercourse so it is important to be proactive about using products and not use them when it’s too late.
- Avoidance of the many types of drugs that have side effects of mucosal and vaginal dryness. The common ones are anti-depressants, anti-histamines and birth control.
I wasn’t aware of how important vaginal health is for our well-being and especially after age 50. Vaginal dryness can lead to atrophy (shrinking of tissues), which can precipitate into incontinence and even prolapse (organ collapse or protrusion such as the uterus through the vagina).
This is the part that partners like to hear: It really is about “using it or losing it.” It’s not just the exercise to the vagina and surrounding tissues through orgasm, it’s also about getting a wonderful dose of high-powered sex hormones to feel like a teenager again, but with better judgement.