There are many conditions that can cause vaginal pain during intercourse; one is vaginal atrophy. This condition often stops women from taking part in lovemaking, let alone enjoying it. The worry is that penetration will hurt them, and with that worry, their sex drive falls flat on the floor. Although the condition can affect women of any age, it is mainly after menopause sets in it is experienced.
Vaginal atrophy can seriously affect relationships, and yet very few women talk about their experiences. Some are embarrassed, while others don’t know where to go for help, accepting that it is a part of life and that nothing can be done about it¹. But atrophy is a serious condition as if it goes untreated; it can cause the vaginal walls to close up. Regular intercourse is necessary for healthy vaginal walls, though it isn’t a guarantee that regular lovemaking will stop vaginal atrophy.
What is vaginal atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy is when estrogen levels decrease, and the vaginal tissue becomes thinner, drier, not as elastic, and more fragile. The symptoms of vaginal atrophy includes²:
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal burning
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal inflammation
- Genital itching
- Light bleeding after intercourse
- Discomfort with intercourse
- Shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal
Vaginal atrophy is not only uncomfortable and painful, but it can cause urinary issues too, such as:
- Burning with urination
- Urgency with urination
- Frequent urination
One woman’s experience
Today, a client told me she had experienced penetration, feeling like sandpaper being rubbed on the inside of her vagina with some bleeding following intercourse. I asked what had made her carry on making love rather than stopping; after all, there are many other ways to be intimate. Her response saddened me greatly. She said:
“I love my partner, and I love making love with him. I want to hold on to our love life; I don’t want him to think I’m broken.”
She had experienced this pain increased over the past few months and hadn’t known what to do or where to go for help. I’m glad she came to see me.
Take action, don’t suffer
This is a condition that no woman needs to suffer with. However, there are a few things that can be done to help ease vaginal atrophy, returning the enjoyment of lovemaking to the relationship:
- A menopause specialist will help with all the specific symptoms you have. They are usually able to prescribe vaginal lubricants with estrogen and advice you on how to use them. I have only heard positive feedback from women who have sought their advice.
- Over the counter, vaginal lubricants can help. They are available at a chemist or online; I noticed vaginal lubricants being available even on Amazon. The ones I recommend to my clients are either YES or Sylk. If you contact either via their online chat facility, they might offer you some free samples so you can try them before you buy.
- Your doctor will also be able to help, and some general practitioners have a menopause-trained nurse attached to the clinic. It’s worth asking.
It is worth taking a look at the menopause NICE Guidelines to gain insight into what you should expect from the care you are seeking. The NICE Guidelines were developed in 2015 while menopause training became available for nurses in the UK.
If you or your partner is suffering from vaginal atrophy, seek the available help. Your relationship need not be without intimacy, and you should be able to enjoy it as much as you ever have.
Making love as we get older
As we get older, we need to take it easy, slow lovemaking down and enjoy more touching, stroking, kissing of bodies, and holding³. Many couples of a certain age coming to psychosexual therapy have spent years rushing through the act of lovemaking resulting in one or both losing interest. That might be all we have time for when our children are young, and we are working at succeeding in our careers, but with age, our bodies tend to respond differently. We are no longer able to get the rush of excitement we used to.
Taking our time to be intimate together will give our bodies a chance to catch up with what we are doing. The added extra is that it becomes much more enjoyable too. Towards the end of psychosexual therapy, couples in this age group often report that they enjoy touching so much the intercourse is simply a plus rather than the aim.
Having an enjoyable sex life into very old age is the spice of life and will keep us truly alive for longer. Don’t let vaginal atrophy stop you from getting close, seek the help available, and magic can become a reality.