You say that penetration is becoming increasingly difficult, although you’re using lubricants. This is normal progression: In the absence of estrogen due to menopause, our genitals atrophy. The vulva and vagina get smaller, the vagina narrows, there’s a significant loss of volume of the genital tissues, including the clitoris. There are fewer folds in the vagina (I’ve talked about a transition from a pleated skirt to a pencil skirt to give an idea of the change in elasticity). The tissues become thin, pale, dry, and fragile, and the pH level changes.
These changes are what we in medicine consider to be “chronic and progressive,” so without treatment, there’s no question that the changes will continue. The most basic “treatment” is regular sex or external and internal use of a vibrator (if you don’t have an available and willing partner), which improves blood supply to the area and restores some comfort and tissue health. Using a vaginal moisturizer daily or at least twice a week can also help somewhat to keep tissues healthy.
There are also prescription therapies that are designed to really reverse the atrophy. They are all very effective. They include localized estrogens, the oral non-estrogen Osphena, and now, the newest, the non-estrogen daily vaginal insert Intrarosa. A discussion with your health care provider would be very helpful to determine next steps.
Sometimes the use of dilators can be helpful to stretch the vaginal tissues to maintain capacity. But without prescription treatments like those listed above or, possibly, systemic hormone therapy, the tissues are not very elastic, which limits the degree of stretch you can obtain.
With some investigation and follow-through, you can “keep the shop open”!
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.