This is the fourth 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 here and the rest by scrolling through our blog: You spoke. We’re listening.
Most of you who responded to our survey about vaginal dryness can skip this post. Take the dog for a walk. Give yourself a pedicure. And congratulate yourselves because the majority of you (78 percent) have spoken with your partner at least sometimes about the vaginal dryness you’re experiencing.
The rest of you, listen up.
After all those years together (even if the partner is new and there haven’t been so many years), your partner probably has some sense of your monthly rhythms. Some vague idea about when you’re feeling hormonal or when you might be more approachable—or when to tread very lightly. Your mate may not be able to articulate it, exactly, but I’ll bet there’s a subliminal red light/green light awareness going on.
So, even if you don’t talk about it, you probably can’t completely cover up the more distressing menopausal symptoms that have begun to throw you for a loop. It could be the vaginal dryness that has become painful and distressing; it could be lack of interest in sex. It could be embarrassing bodily changes—sags, bags, and weight gain.
You can try to carry on; you can try to hide. Some women simply give up on sex, often to the detriment of their relationships and their own well-being, not to mention that of their partner. But those issues simply become the elephant in the room that you may ignore but that will never go away.
I understand that it’s embarrassing to gradually (or suddenly) become too dry for sex. Not getting wet is the female equivalent of erectile dysfunction, and it’s just as common. It makes you feel inadequate and less feminine. And, heaven forbid, old.
Vaginal dryness is easy to fix, but fixes take time and the patience to experiment. You need your partner on board, since your sexual issues are, by default, your partner’s as well. And that’s the trick—working together to address issues that affect you both. Ideally with a sense of playfulness and humor.
Here are some conversation-starters:
- Beginning the dialog. Choose a relaxed, private time to talk about the changes you’re experiencing in a way that invites dialog. Beyond complaining about your symptoms, you want to explore various approaches and solutions. Maybe you should focus on intimacy as a couple and take it easy on vaginal penetration for a while. Maybe you want to try new lubes during sex, and you want your partner’s opinion on how they feel to him. Maybe you need more or different foreplay. Or a vibrator. Or a different position. We all get into sexual ruts, but what used to work in the past may not now. Can you talk about it together?
- Doctor says. Schedule a visit to your ob/gyn and include your partner in the planning or in the actual visit. Our partners’ objective opinions about the changes they observe could be really helpful. Do they have questions or concerns? What do you both need? Then, a discussion of the visit may be in order—what did the doctor say about your options and how might things progress?
- Their turn. We aren’t the only ones experiencing change, sexual or otherwise. Our partners may be struggling with age-related issues, too. Opening the door to dialog might allow you both to talk more frankly—and understand each other better.
- Charting a path forward. The conversation isn’t over. Everything isn’t resolved, but maybe the door to difficult communication about midlife change is open a crack. Do you have some idea about what to try next? How to keep the intimacy and tenderness alive? Do our partners know how you feel and maybe what you need? Do you? Do they know that they’re still attractive to you and that you’ve been avoiding pain, not sex?
While vaginal dryness, among other menopausal issues, can be relieved despite your age, it’s a lot more effective to begin treatment early, according to Dr. James Simon, professor of ob/gyn at George Washington School of Medicine. “It's easier to fix something if it hasn't been broken too long, so it's typically easier to prevent serious atrophy by starting [estrogen therapy] early.”
"Relationships go bad for a whole bunch of reasons, but why not take vaginal atrophy out of the equation," he said in this article.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.