sex

Who knew? Your va-jay-jay ages in its own special way.

Disclaimer: I’m about to throw around the word moist quite A LOT during this story. For that I apologise in advance – but it really is unavoidable.

Because here’s the thing, women’s vaginas, up until a certain age, are usually quite naturally supple and (I’m sorry) moist. Once you hit menopause though –  WHAM! It’s like the damn El Niño hit down there.

Yet even though we try to counteract the lightly etched wrinkles around our eyes with any number of “miracle creams” and dye our hair to the point of pattern baldness to stave off greys, little thought goes into maintaining our nethers.

Maybe it’s because it’s covered up, or perhaps because it’s a bit embarrassing to talk about: I mean, it’s not like it’s an easy topic to segue into at a dinner party, is it?

But here’s a newsflash ladies: If you want the word “moist” back in you daily life, you need to know a few things about your ageing vagina. Pronto.

Here's a guide to help you know, as you mature, if what you're experiencing (or not experiencing) is normal.

The hair down there.

Whether you're the kind of woman who landscapes her "lady garden" or the type who prefers to go au naturale, nothing can prepare you for your first grey pube. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, discovering one of these is bloody confronting - and completely normal, unless you got a really bad shock and it happens overnight.

And going grey downstairs won't be the only surprise as you get a little older. After menopause, you can expect to thin out and and lose quite a bit of hair. You won't lose it all, but it will be noticeable. This isn't so bad. Just think of it as nature's Brazilian.

Your vulva

It's a common misconception that the vulva and vagina are the same thing. The two are closely connected, but they are, in fact, very different parts of your anatomy. This isn't going to be a science lesson because nobody has time for that, so to put it very basically: the vulva is the outside (lips, clitoris, labia majora, labia minora, even the urethra) and the vagina is the canal.

Your vulva will remain largely unchanged, probably even through your '50s. It will, however, at some point become paler and smoother due to a decrease in oestrogen that is a direct result of menopause. Whether you find this a bad thing or not is over to you.

The vagina

It's a different story for your vagina: it's going to change a fair bit as you age due the decrease in the "sex hormone" oestrogen. The vaginal opening and its length can shrink. You may also suffer from irritation because the vaginal walls will become thinner and lose elasticity, and therefore lose its natural "moisture". Also not fun (and completely unfair after everything you've already been through up until this point) you can start to get irritations, burning sensations and itching, especially during and after sex. This is annoying but easily remedied.

Fixing the itch

Ha! You thought your days of sneaking into the chemist to buy a tub of vaseline were over, didn't you? Think again - you might very well need some if you are 'getting it on' in your 50s, 60s and beyond. A good lubricant will help with irritation and dryness during sex.

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Also handy for the bathroom cupboard are vaginal washes and moisturisers that can be used at least twice a week, just to keep the vagina (and excuse me while I use this hideous word for the last time) moist.

If you are sexually active, you are encouraged to have sex as often as you can. Regular intercourse helps the vagina remain supple and flexible.

Infections

Here's the good news: Ageing doesn’t necessarily mean more yeast infections.

But here's the bad news: Ageing could mean more of those other kinds of infections. (Hey Nature - give us a goddamn break already!).

Without oestrogen, the flora of the vagina changes and the tissue around the urethra is thinner, so we become more prone to urinary tract infections. Also, as the epithelium becomes thinner, it makes women more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Cheery, huh? The message to take away: just because you can't get pregnant any more, this doesn't mean you shouldn't have protected sex when you are unsure of a partner's sexual health record.

Libido changes

A woman's sex drive will more than likely change as she gets older, and not necessarily in a bad way. Many women actually find that they have an increase in libido (watch out, guys) but it really does depend on a range of factors, from hormones to your emotional state to physical limitations. Every woman is different. Either way, you can make sex a more enjoyable experience - and keep your vagina lubricated, pliable, and healthier - by you know, staying in practice.

And hey, there’s no reason to worry if you’re "flying solo". There are lots of things women can use - dilators and vibrators for example. Because as the saying goes: if you don't use it, you'll lose it.

LBL (light bladder leakage)

Urinary incontinence  is an extremely common condition, affecting as many as 45 per cent of women. The causes vary, but life events such as previous pregnancy, childbirth, hysterectomy and getting older are generally the cause. Aren't we lucky?

Many women experience mild, occasional leakage when they are younger, then note a sudden worsening around menopause. This is no coincidence: oestrogen helps to keep the connective tissues of the pelvis and urinary tract healthy. With the decline in oestrogen that accompanies menopause, support to the bladder and urethra weakens. Also, bladder capacity reduces as we get older, so we need to go to the bathroom more often.

So if you've noticed that you can no longer jump on the trampoline or sneeze without an involuntary leak, welcome to the cool kids' club. The good news is this: it is treatable and manageable. The recommended treatment options depend greatly on the type of incontinence you're experiencing, with pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegels) being just one therapy. They're easy to do: in fact, you could probably knock out a lazy 10 while you read this story. If the LBL persists, see a doctor. It could be easy to treat.


Of course, none of the above situations are a given. You might experience them all or you might get through it all unscathed. The one thing to keep in mind however, is that if something doesn't feel right down there, please seek medical advice.

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