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Talking about Sexual Problems. Or Not.

Talking about Sexual Problems. Or Not.

by Dr. Barb DePree

This is the third post in our occasional series inspired by the results of a survey we co-sponsored with PrevaLeaf, makers of natural products for intimate wellness. You can read our first post and the second, too: You spoke. We’re listening.

Those of you who responded to our survey are a chatty bunch! I’m thinking that, if you’re visiting the Prevaleaf and MiddlesexMD websites, you’re probably looking for information about sex and menopause. Ergo, you’re probably informed and willing to talk about it.

In our survey, we asked four questions about who you talk to regarding sexual problems, such as vaginal dryness: Do you talk to your doctor? To your friends? To your significant other? And how comfortable are you about discussing the issue, seeing as it’s not dinner-party banter?

In our sample of just over 100 women:

  • 64 percent have spoken with their doctors, at least “sometimes.”
  • 78 percent have spoken with their partner, at least “sometimes.”
  • 45 percent talk about vaginal dryness with their friends
  • 67 percent are either “very” or “somewhat” comfortable talking to anyone about the topic

Compared to national surveys, you guys knock it out of the park!

Normally, women just don’t talk about problems like vaginal dryness, even when it seriously impacts their sex lives. In a recent study of 3,000 women ages 45 to 75, Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, chief of behavioral medicine at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, reports that although 60 percent suffer from vaginal dryness, only 44 percent mentioned it to their doctors.

The same study found that, while half the women expected their doctors to broach the topic, only 13 percent of them did. “There is a tremendous lack of communication around vaginal dryness,” says Kingsberg in a recent AARP article. It’s “underdiagnosed and undertreated.”

That lack of communication may result from embarrassment and timidity on both sides about bringing up a sensitive personal issue, but Kingsberg speculates that it comes from ignorance as well.

In Kingsberg’s study, 24 percent of women didn’t know that their vaginal symptoms were related to menopause. We all do a lot of girlfriend talk about hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. Vaginal dryness? Not so much. Fair enough, then, that it comes as a surprise and that we don’t automatically associate it with menopausal changes.

All of which sometimes leads women to home remedies and desperation measures for relief.

In a small study last year of 141 women by the University of California at Los Angeles, 17 percent used petroleum jelly and 13 percent used various oils as a vaginal lubricant, resulting in far higher levels of yeast and bacterial infections than for women who used lubricants made for vaginal use.

That’s because the microbial environment in the vagina is finely balanced to fight infection. Mess with that by using products that upset that balance (vinegar douches, saliva, oils), and you’ve got trouble.

We talk about hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings. Vaginal dryness? Not so much.“I have always been fascinated by the vast array of commercially available over-the-counter products marketed to women to modify their vaginal environment,” Joelle Brown, lead researcher in the UCLA study told Reuters Health by email. “In most pharmacies you can find entire aisles dedicated to vaginal douches, suppositories, and gels that are meant to make your vagina smell like a tropical splash or a cookie.” Here in my small Midwestern city, there are 15 moisturizers or lubricants on the shelf at Rite-Aid, 38 at Walgreens. Are we willing to stand there long enough to figure out which are healthy and helpful for us at midlife?

I may be preaching to the choir here, ladies, given your amazing survey result, but we need to start talking about our bottoms. To our doctors. To our partners. And to our friends.

I’m thinking that some good, informed conversation among girlfriends might help to shed light on this common yet misunderstood problem. And if you have any questions or unresolved issues, don’t wait for your doctor to bring it up. You may have to start the conversation yourself.


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