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Post Menopause Sex: The Symptoms Women Keep to Themselves

Post Menopause Sex: The Symptoms Women Keep to Themselves

It isn’t just young people who are constantly being barraged with articles and advertising designed to make us feel inadequate about ourselves, and especially our sexual attractiveness. This can be particularly true for women who’ve gone through menopause.

Just like the effects of puberty in our youth, menopause brings about some fairly profound bodily changes. We hear about a lot of these changes pretty frequently. We all know about how menopause can cause hot flashes and night sweats. We’ve heard that some women experience moodiness and forgetfulness. Most of these we feel no problem in discussing with friends or even strangers. But when it comes to vaginal pain caused by dry, thin vaginal tissues, we’ve had an unfortunate tendency to keep that “bad news” to ourselves.

Otherwise known as vulvovaginal atrophy, this condition is caused by the drop of estrogen in our systems. It can make having sexual intercourse extremely painful. Lubricants can help, but they aren’t always enough to get the juices flowing. In youth-dominated culture, we are loath to face growing older and discovering that what was once so easy may now require a little extra effort and planning. Many of us aren’t aware of the commonness of the condition, nor do we know about some of safe over-the-counter and prescription therapies that can help.

AARP Magazine addressed this issue in a recent article and provided some insight into the problem and a glimmer of good news. In the article, Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, chief of the division of behavioral science at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, talked about a recent study she conducted about the level of silence around this issue. The study, which was published in the May issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, looked at more than 3,000 women ages 45 to 75, and “found that many women suffer silently with vaginal pain, mostly because of embarrassment about bringing it up.

Kingsberg was quoted in the article as saying, "There is a tremendous lack of communication around vaginal discomfort." She says the condition is both "underdiagnosed and undertreated" in older women, thanks to a lack of communication between health care providers and their postmenopausal patients. The study found that “nearly 60 percent of the women said vaginal dryness and irritation had affected their enjoyment of sex, yet only 44 percent had discussed the problem with their health care provider.”

Kingsberg went on to surmise that “part of the reason for women's reticence may be that they don't realize that their symptoms are common and directly tied to menopause." Only 24 percent of the participants attributed their discomfort to menopause's hormonal changes. Many of the women said that if it were common, they would expect their doctors to bring it up and they weren’t.

It’s clear that we all need to do a better job communicating. As patients, we need to speak up when changes in our body are affecting our quality of life. Your AOA physician can help set your mind at ease. You aren’t the only person with these symptoms and there are safe and effective treatments available to keep your intimate relations on track. We’ll do our best to ask all the pertinent questions, but when we miss something, please speak up. We’re here for you!

Learn more about vaginal atrophy and treatments available: