Just like other parts of our body, our vaginas may change drastically as we get older (is nothing sacred?). Here's what to do about the dryness, recurring yeast infections and irregular flow issues that can come with aging.
There was a study done at Duke University that surveyed people on the amount and quality of sex they had. What was deduced from that study was that if you have more than 200 orgasms a year, you can reduce your physiologic age by six years. Needless to say, dryness will not work in this equation. When you notice that the climate is starting to become less, well, tropical than it once was, sex can get complicated and uncomfortable unless you increase the amount of lubricant you use. And even outside of the bedroom, symptoms like itching and burning associated with vaginal dryness can sometimes feel similar to infection.
Luckily, there are loads of options for counteracting vaginal dryness in both hormonal and non-hormonal formulas once you’ve ruled out the possibility of an infection. If you’re concerned about disrupting the vaginal microbiome, or the “good” bacteria, gynecologist Felice Gersh, MD, recommends going for a formula with ingredients that err more on the side of natural, and at the direction of your doctor. (Options may include: Osphena, Estradiol, or Estriol.) Over the counter, for daily lubrication, you may want to explore options like Vmagic Feminine Lips Stick, which has been described as Chapstick for the lips beneath your hips.
And seriously, don’t skimp on the lubricant during intercourse. Sex is so much more fun that way. Promise.
Recurring Yeast Infections
Remember that vaginal microbiome we talked about? When that and your vagina’s pH are knocked off-kilter, the risk of getting an infection runs higher. “As vaginal dryness progresses and as estrogen levels decline, the pH in the vagina goes up. When that happens, different bacteria are able to grow in there,” says gynecologist Margaret Nachtigall, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center. “There can be an increase in yeast infections, and just by lowering the pH, you can decrease the likelihood that these infections are going to survive.”
Constantly taking antibiotics and hitting the Monistat are far from reasonable options (especially the latter, because that stuff BURNS), but once the situation is under control, ask your doctor for solutions that can restore the balance of your pH, as well as the natural flora and fauna. Probiotics can help, but you should also avoid using products with loads of chemicals in the area, as they can disrupt the microbiome, allowing bad bacteria to crop up.
Just when you thought the perimenopausal plotline would entail your periods becoming lighter until they eventually tapered off, your hormones throw you for yet another loop by bringing on irregular periods—sometimes heavier than what you’d normally experience. Cool, thanks a lot, hormones!
Think back to the time following your first-ever period; It took a while before your cycle eventually became regular and your hormones balanced out, right? This same idea is true as your body adjusts to the end of your series of monthly bleeds. “Estrogen levels can become like a roller coaster, both higher than they were before, and lower than they were before,” Dr. Nachtigall explains. “The answer is likely perimenopause, but irregular periods can also signal a thyroid or a pituitary problem.” Have your doctor assess the situation just in case, and once you receive word, keep calm and take comfort in the fact that this is typical in the time before you reach menopause—and this too shall pass. But don’t put away the box of tampons just yet.