21st January, 20227 min read

Why is my vagina dry?

Medical reviewer:
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author:
Jo Waters
Jo Waters
Last reviewed: 21/01/2022
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Vaginal dryness doesn’t just happen because of menopause.

Around 1 in 5 women aged 18 to 50 have a problem with vaginal dryness during sex. And it’s common to get a dry vagina after giving birth, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

As well as causing pain during sex, a dry vagina can make you feel generally uncomfortable and get you down. But the good news is that there are treatments available, as well as easy things you can do to help yourself.

Read on to learn about the common symptoms and causes of vaginal dryness and the self-care and treatment options available.

What are the symptoms of a dry vagina?

Common vaginal dryness symptoms include:

These symptoms can make you feel less like having sex, so a knock-on effect of vaginal dryness can be a slump in your sex drive and even relationship problems.

If you think you’re menopausal, read more about dry vagina symptoms in menopause.

If you have a dry, itchy vagina, read about the best home treatments for vaginal itching.

What causes vaginal dryness?

There are a number of other possible causes of a dry vagina – some of which may surprise you.

Low oestrogen levels

Oestrogen is a female sex hormone that has many jobs in your body, including keeping your vagina healthy and moist (lubricated). This most often occurs during menopause but it can also happen for other reasons.

If your oestrogen levels fall, this can lead to dryness, soreness and a thinning of the skin in and around your vagina, sometimes known as vaginal atrophy.

Several things can cause oestrogen levels to fall, including

  • childbirth and breastfeeding – your oestrogen levels rise during pregnancy, then fall dramatically after you give birth. If you breastfeed, your oestrogen levels will be even lower
  • womb removal (hysterectomy) – this causes a sudden drop in hormones, which is more dramatic if your ovaries are also removed
  • early menopause – if your periods stop before you’re 45, this is known as early menopause, which, like the menopause, involves a drop in oestrogen
  • perimenopause – in the months or years leading up to the menopause, your hormone levels vary, which can include a drop in oestrogen. Read more about the perimenopause here
  • chemotherapy – this cancer treatment can damage your ovaries and stop them producing oestrogen

Lack of sexual arousal

When you’re sexually aroused, or ‘turned on’ your vagina makes fluid for lubrication to make sex more comfortable. But if you’re not sexually aroused, your vagina might not make enough fluid, which can lead to dry, painful sex.

This can be due to lack of sexual attraction, not having enough foreplay before penetrative sex, or psychological reasons such as stress.

Medication side effects

Some medication can cause the thin, soft tissues that line the cavities of your body (mucous membranes) to dry out – including in your vagina.

Medication that may cause vaginal dryness includes

  • some antidepressants
  • allergy and cold remedies
  • some contraceptive pills
  • hormonal breast cancer treatments

Chemicals

Certain chemicals can have a drying effect on the vagina, including some of those found in everyday products such as soaps, body washes and washing powders, or used to treat swimming pools and Jacuzzis.

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions can cause vaginal dryness including

  • diabetes – having high blood sugar can damage blood vessels in your vagina, which can affect lubrication
  • Sjögren’s syndrome – this condition affects the parts of your body that make fluid, including your vagina. Other symptoms include dry eyes, mouth, and skin

Self-care for vaginal dryness

Self-help measures and treatments you can try for vaginal dryness, include

  • using vaginal moisturisers to ease everyday dryness and soreness – these need to be applied 2 to 3 times a week to keep your vagina comfortable. They’re available from pharmacies, but you may be able to get a prescription from your doctor
  • using water-based lubricants for sex – these can be applied before penetrative sex to reduce friction and make sex more comfortable. Again, they are available from pharmacies, but you may be able to get a prescription
  • spending more time on foreplay before penetrative sex – this will give your vagina more time to make fluid for lubrication
  • regular sexual stimulation – with a partner, or on your own – promotes vaginal blood flow and secretions, keeping your vagina moist and healthy
  • avoiding perfumed soaps, washes, douches and wipes – your vagina is self-cleaning and these types of products may cause irritation and make dryness worse

Read what treatments your doctor can prescribe below.

How is vaginal dryness diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose vaginal dryness from your description of your symptoms and medical history, but sometimes they may want to examine you – don’t be embarrassed – doctors are well used to doing these and it’s over in a couple of minutes.

They may also decide to do blood tests to check your hormone levels to rule out any underlying conditions.

When to see a doctor about vaginal dryness

In most cases, vaginal dryness isn’t a cause for concern, and there are several self-care measures and treatments you can try to help (see above).

Do see a doctor about vaginal dryness if:

  • the things you've tried haven’t helped after a few weeks
  • it’s affecting your daily life
  • you notice any unusual vaginal discharge
  • you have vaginal bleeding after sex or when you’re not on your period
  • you think you have a urine infection or are getting frequent infections

It’s also worth seeing a doctor if you’re breastfeeding and finding vaginal dryness is a problem, as they may be able to suggest treatment to help (see below). You can also ask to see a female doctor if this makes you feel more comfortable.

Treatments your doctor can prescribe

  • local oestrogen treatments – these include rings, tablets and creams that can be inserted into your vagina to restore oestrogen to your vaginal tissue. Some of these treatments are suitable if you’re breastfeeding, but they may affect your milk supply, so you should discuss this with your doctor
  • ospemifene – is an oral medication that can make your vaginal tissue thicker and less fragile. It’s suitable for after menopause (including early menopause) if you have moderate to severe vaginal atrophy and you can’t have local oestrogen
  • talk to your doctor about alternatives to certain medications – if your dryness is connected to medication side effects
  • get effective treatment for any underlying medical conditions that are causing your vaginal dryness, for example, diabetes and Sjögren’s syndrome
  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – available for perimenopausal menopausal and post-menopausal women to treat vaginal dryness. Read more about vaginal dryness and menopause.

What’s the outlook for vaginal dryness?

Vaginal dryness is a common problem before menopause and beyond and you may feel embarrassed about it – but you shouldn’t be. It’s worth getting over your embarrassment as it’s a highly treatable condition.

If you’ve tried using vaginal moisturisers and they haven’t worked, speak to your doctor about other treatments. If you are cringing at the thought of it, remember your GP will have had hundreds, if not thousands of conversations about it with other women (plus you can always ask to see a female GP).

Your health questions answered

Can I use vaginal oestrogen creams while breastfeeding?

Answered by: Healthily’s medical team

“Yes, local vaginal oestrogen products, such as creams, rings and tablets, can be prescribed while you’re breastfeeding. However, the UK Drugs in Lactation Advice Service advises avoiding them until your baby is 6 weeks old, because of the possibility of your milk supply being affected by absorption of oestrogen.”

Does vaginal dryness go away when you stop breastfeeding?

Answered by: Healthily’s medical team

“Yes, usually. Once you stop breastfeeding and your monthly menstrual cycle starts again, your ovaries will be making oestrogen and your vaginal dryness should go away. In the meantime, you can try using vaginal lubricants.”

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