Vaginal discomfort, which may be caused by a condition called vaginal atrophy (VA), is the “silent” symptom of menopause that women rarely discuss because they think it is a natural part of growing older and that nothing can be done.
When in reality, VA is a chronic condition caused by a decline in estrogens and the symptoms can be severe. VA is often characterized by dryness, itching, burning or soreness in the vagina, bleeding during intercourse, pain during urination, or pain in the vagina in connection with touching and/or intercourse. If left untreated, it could lead to serious complications.
Vaginal atrophy impacts many aspects of quality of life, including couples’ relationships.
According to a recent survey of 1,010 post-menopausal American women ages 55 to 65 who were living with this condition, and same-aged male partners of post-menopausal women with VA, both partners in a relationship experienced the negative effects of vaginal discomfort.
The survey, conducted by global health care company Novo Nordisk, found more than half of women avoided being intimate with their partner due to vaginal discomfort, while more than three out of 10 women reported they do not feel sexually attractive anymore and had lost confidence in themselves as a sexual partner.
Sixty-five percent of the men reported that they were worried sex would be painful for their partner because of her condition, and almost a third of both men and women reported that they have stopped having sex with their partners altogether because of the discomfort.
“Beyond the physical symptoms that the woman endures, the sense of intimacy in the relationship, both emotional and physical, declines,” says prominent menopause expert James A. Simon, M.D., C.C.D., N.C.M.P., F.A.C.O.G., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. “The effects on sexual health and interpersonal relationships are sizeable. Women should stop suffering in silence, and start speaking up. Women are taking control of most aspects of their health, why not their vaginal health? Women should speak to their doctors. There are treatments available.”
How does a woman approach this problem?
Don’t be embarrassed. Vaginal atrophy is still considered a taboo subject, and many women are too embarrassed to discuss the condition, even with their health care professionals, because they think it is a private matter. Women should feel comfortable speaking with their partners and health care professionals about their symptoms and potential treatment options.
Speaking with a physician is an important first step. Most women with vaginal discomfort do not seek medical treatment. Women should speak with their health care professionals about available therapies approved to treat vaginal atrophy.
Treatment options can provide relief. Many women self-treat using over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers, which provide temporary relief of symptoms and do not treat the underlying condition. Of those surveyed who had tried local estrogen therapy, more than half of women and their partners reported that sex was less painful, and almost 40 percent reported that sex was more satisfying for themselves and their partners.
Women who are experiencing vaginal discomfort can visit myvaginalsymptoms.com to assess their symptoms and get tips on how to speak with their health care professional.