Pain and discomfort during sex is something we don’t often talk about. We don’t talk about it when it follows childbirth – we are distracted by the baby and the feeding schedule and “are you getting enough sleep?”
We don’t talk about it during menopause. We hear phrases like “hot flush” and “hormones going crazy” but we don’t talk about sex. If it’s painful or still enjoyable. If it’s even possible.
We need to change this. We need to talk about sex and vaginal discomfort and lubrication. Because pain during sex is an everyday occurrence for so many women, of different ages and stages in life. Commonly, it’s caused by vaginal dryness as a result of normal hormonal changes.
“If you’re experiencing pain with sex or self-pleasuring; a burning, itching sensation; painful vulvae, or frequent urinary tract infections; these are all common symptoms of vaginal dryness,” sexual health nurse and midwife Kate Allardice told Mamamia.
“Vaginal dryness is usually caused by a drop in the hormone estrogen. This often occurs during menopause, or after childbirth and during breastfeeding. We need estrogen for moisture, so a lot of women may find that their return to sex is dry and uncomfortable after they’ve had their babies.”
While breastfeeding and menopause can be common factors leading to vaginal dryness, there are certain other conditions, and treatments, that might result in symptoms of dryness and discomfort.
"Breastfeeding and menopause can be common factors leading to vaginal dryness." Image: iStock.
“Chemotherapy or pelvic radiation for breast or ovarian cancers; aromatase inhibitors that women often take following breast cancer treatment; autoimmune conditions like Sjogren’s Syndrome; some anti-depressants and anti-histamines; these have also been linked to vaginal dryness,” Allardice said.
“Lifestyle factors like smoking and excessive alcohol, as well as lack of sexual activity, can also contribute.”
No matter what the cause, vaginal dryness can take its toll both physically and emotionally. It usually arises after big life changes – having a baby, cancer treatment, menopause – and experiencing a reduction in sexual pleasure alongside these changes can be emotionally exhausting.