Vaginal atrophy (VA) affects women physically and emotionally.
When a woman reaches menopause, her estrogen levels naturally decline. However, estrogen is important for keeping the vagina moist and flexible. When levels fall, many women experience vaginal dryness and discomfort. Some women have itching, burning sensations, and vaginal discharges. Sex can become uncomfortable or painful.
Vaginal atrophy can have an emotional impact, too. Recently, researchers conducted a survey of 4,100 postmenopausal women with VA symptoms and 4,100 men who were in sexual relationships with postmenopausal women with vaginal discomfort. The participants answered questions about vaginal atrophy, its symptoms, and how it affected quality of life.
Half of the women said they were upset that their body didn’t work like it did when they were younger. Forty percent said they felt old and that they had lost their youth. Others felt that they were no longer sexually attractive and lost confidence in themselves as sexual partners. Some believed that the symptoms would never go away and worried about their future sex lives.
Vaginal atrophy affected the sexual activities of the survey respondents, too. Over half of the men and women said they had less sex. Sixty-two percent of the women and 76% of the men said they avoided sexual intimacy. Some put off having sex or found sex to be less satisfying. Almost a quarter of the participants stopped having sex altogether because of vaginal atrophy.
The study results show that vaginal atrophy can hurt a woman’s self-esteem and make her anxious about sex. Relationships may suffer because couples do not share the same level of intimacy they once enjoyed. Often, couples avoid talking about the issue.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options for vaginal atrophy. Women who have any kind of genital pain or discomfort should see their healthcare provider. They are also encouraged to talk to their partner about the discomfort. The survey results showed that many men are open to talking about vaginal atrophy and may not realize that sex has become uncomfortable for their partner. Keeping lines of communication open can help the couple work through the problem.