Say bye-bye to feeling dry… what you need to know about vaginal dryness
Your vagina can look after itself most of the time. It doesn’t need special washing products, nor Gwyneth-Paltrow-style steaming, herbal detox pellets, tightening sticks or ‘vagacials’. It’s self-cleaning, and self-pH-regulating. However, there is one area that it sometimes needs help with: lubrication, for sex (or inserting a tampon, or a smear test), and for everyday hydration to keep it feeling comfortable. Vaginal dryness (VD – unfortunate initials when you’re old enough to remember ‘venereal disease’ posters in public toilets!) affects women of all ages, and has many causes, apart from menopause, including: chemotherapy, medication, stress (perhaps caused by… a global pandemic), type 2 diabetes, Sjögren’s syndrome (which affects fluid production throughout the body) and hysterectomy.
Menopausal VD, caused by reduced oestrogen production, is also known as vaginal atrophy, or vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA), which sounds alarmingly like shrivelling up and withering away. Thankfully, it’s not so dramatic as the medical terminology sounds, but it does affect up to 60% of post-menopausal women.
The vagina’s natural lubrication
This lack of natural lubrication as we get older doesn’t just make sex uncomfortable; it can cause itching, burning and sensitivity at any time, making it uncomfortable to walk or run, or even just sit on a seat, never mind a bike saddle.
Your vagina naturally produces two types of lubrication: the ‘everyday’ kind that keeps it clean, evident as a white or clear discharge. The other lubrication is stimulated by sexual excitement: Bartholin’s glands at the entrance secrete friction-reducing, slippery mucus. Less of this can lead to increased friction and discomfort during sex.
If you’re experiencing VD, you can use vaginal moisturiser for everyday comfort, and lubricant, for having sex.
As with tampons, you can apply these with a finger, or an applicator.
Yes Vaginal Moisturiser is the world’s only organic VM. It contains water and natural gums, formulated to be odourless, colourless and non-sticky. This really feels like my own everyday lubrication. Each application lasts three days. It’s available on prescription – find out more here.
Sylk Vaginal Lubricant & Moisturiser (£9.99, 40g) is NHS approved, with a main ingredient extracted from kiwi fruit. It’s available on prescription and you can get a free sample.
Vaginal lubricants for sex
As well as VD, lower oestrogen levels make vaginal tissues less elastic and thinner, which can lead to discomfort, pain and bleeding during sex – guaranteed to ruin the moment.
Saliva is always to hand, but lacks lubricity (or slipperiness). Other things not to use include body lotion, or anything containing glycerine and parabens (found in many lubes), which can both cause thrush.
There are three main lubricant types: water, oil or silicone.
1. Water-based lube is safe with toys and condoms. It doesn’t last very long in use, but you can refresh it by sprinkling on a little water. And it’s not messy.
Yes WB, which contains aloe vera, flax extract and plant gums, in three sizes and two applicator packs, from £9.99, 100ml. It’s certified organic, rehydrates, is pH-balanced, feels like natural wetness and has absolutely zero smell.
No-frills Lovehoney Enjoy is free from glycerine, £5.33 for 100ml.
2. Oil-based lube is best for prolonged sessions and can be used in water (shower, bath, sea, hot tub…) because oil doesn’t dissolve in water (which means it’s messier). Don’t use it with latex or polyisoprene condoms as it can weaken them, which could cause tears. It’s safe for polyurethane condoms.
Yes OB, made with cocoa butter and shea butter, sweet almond oil and sunflower oil, plus a little beeswax (various sizes, from £5.99 for 40ml) is certified organic and feels like it has more ‘body’ than water-based.
WooWoo Bliss oil (£9.99, 30ml, Superdrug) has a main ingredient derived from coconut oil, plus cannabis seed oil and aloe vera.
For a super-slippery experience, try water-based and oil-based together. Yes has a Double Glide pack of 100ml of WB and 80ml of OB for £16.99.
3. Silicone-based lube is also safe to use in water, as it’s not absorbed by the skin. It’s safe to use with all condoms, but not with silicone-containing sex toys, as it can damage them. Silicone lube needs more cleaning up and can stain.
Try Boots Silicone Lubricant (£7.99, 50ml)
Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor.