5 Things That Can Cause Vaginal Dryness


There are many possible causes of so-called dry vagina, including hormonal changes, irritants to delicate tissues, and even anxiety. Here's what you can do to keep a lack of vaginal lubrication from causing painful sex.

Causes of vaginal dryness range from physiological factors, such as hormonal changes or medication side effects, to emotional and psychological issues, such as lack of desire or even anxiety. Fortunately there are nearly as many options for dry vagina relief as there are causes.

The first step in treating vaginal dryness is figuring out the source of the discomfort, especially if a dry vagina is causing painful sex. There are a number of conditions that can lead to a lack of vaginal lubrication:

  • Changes in hormones. One of the most common causes of vaginal dryness is a decrease in estrogen levels during menopause, perimenopause, after childbirth, or during breastfeeding.
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to the pelvis can also lead to low estrogen and a decrease in vaginal lubrication. “The vagina depends on estrogen for health,” says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of Sexual Medicine San Diego, part of Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, Calif.
  • Medications. Allergy and cold medications containing antihistamines as well as asthma medications can have a drying effect inside the body and cause reduced vaginal lubrication.
  • Insufficient arousal. In some cases, vaginal dryness may be caused by a low libido or sexual problems with a partner. “If a partner has poor performance and early ejaculation, it can contribute to vaginal dryness,” says Dr. Goldstein.
  • Irritants. Some women are allergic to chemicals in soaps, hygiene products, dyes, and perfumes. “Many women have allergies to detergents and soaps,” says Goldstein. “There can be irritants on things like underwear or towels.” Other allergens can actually include lubricants and objects that may be placed in the vagina, says Goldstein.
  • Anxiety. Psychological and emotional factors such as stress and anxiety can also wreak havoc on sexual desire and lead to vaginal dryness when normal vaginal lubrication does not occur. “When a woman is anxious there is insufficient blood flow,” says Goldstein, “so she will have dryness.”

How to Prevent and Treat Vaginal Dryness

Treatment for vaginal dryness depends on the cause. Women who experience problems with vaginal lubrication due to hormonal changes can often benefit from estrogen therapy.

In some cases, doctors recommend localized treatments such as vaginal estrogen inserts. For other women, especially those who have symptoms such as hot flashes in addition to vaginal dryness, an oral medication or a skin patch that releases estrogen throughout the body is an option. And in some cases, both approaches can be used in conjunction to effectively treat vaginal dryness. “Local estrogen hormone treatments that are inserted into the vagina in the form of a ring, pellet, or cream can complement systemic medications that raise systemic levels of estrogen,” says Goldstein.

In addition to estrogen-based therapies, here are some other approaches that may bring relief, especially from painful sex:

  • Lubricants. “There are a plethora of lubricants that can help vaginal dryness,” says Goldstein. They include silicone-based, oil-based, and water-based products. Lubricants are usually used to make sex less uncomfortable rather than for long-term vaginal lubrication.
  • Moisturizers. Over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers can be an effective way to minimize vaginal dryness over several days with one application. “Moisturizing agents help introduce water into the tissue of the vagina,” says Goldstein.

Vaginal dryness is a common and frustrating condition, but there are ways to alleviate the discomfort. If a lack of lubrication is causing painful sex, be sure to talk to your doctor about all possible treatments.

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