Vaginal dryness: common causes, potential remedies, and more

Medically reviewed by William Ross Perlman, PhD, CMPP on January 10, 2020. Written by Caitlin Boyd. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Experiencing a decrease in vaginal lubrication can leave you wondering about the cause—among other questions and concerns you might have. So read on to learn about the common causes of chronic vaginal dryness—plus possible treatment options and more.

Common causes of vaginal dryness

Perimenopause and menopause

In the United States, women reach menopause around age 51, on average. What happens during menopause? While transitioning into menopause (a stage of life known as perimenopause), your estrogen levels fluctuate and your period may become irregular. Once you have gone a year without a period, you have entered menopause and estrogen levels begin declining permanently.

Perimenopause and menopause often come with a number of symptoms. Vaginal dryness is a common menopausal symptom—and results from changes in estrogen levels. Possible signs of menopause include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Breast tenderness
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal discomfort during sexual activity
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Trouble sleeping

Easily check key hormones that may indicate if you are transitioning towards menopause with the Everlywell at-home Perimenopause Test. To check in on your hormone balance after menopause, consider taking our at-home Postmenopause Test.


Childbirth and breastfeeding

During pregnancy, estrogen levels increase steadily. But once a woman gives birth, her estrogen levels drop. Most women can expect low estrogen levels for the first few months after giving birth, and breastfeeding may keep these levels low for several months or years. This decline in estrogen can lead to a lack of vaginal area lubrication and vaginal discharge, as well as a loss of sexual desire.

Ovary removal

During a woman’s reproductive years, the ovaries produce most of the body’s estrogen. The ovaries continue producing estrogen, but production tapers off with the arrival of menopause.

So if you have your ovaries surgically removed to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer (a procedure known as an oophorectomy), the body no longer has its main source of estrogen production. As a result, women who have their ovaries removed enter menopause right away—and may experience vaginal dryness as one of the possible symptoms.

Anti-estrogen medications

Some gynecological conditions, like fibroids or endometriosis, are linked to high estrogen hormone levels. If you have one of these conditions, your provider may recommend anti-estrogen medications. These medications can help bring your vaginal symptoms under control, but anti-estrogen medications trigger unpleasant side effects in some women—including vaginal dryness. Notify your health care provider if you experience this or other side effects to learn what steps to take next.

Antidepressant side effects

A class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can cause side effects related to sexual dysfunction—including lack of normal vaginal lubrication. If you’re experiencing this, it’s best to bring this to the attention of your healthcare provider and/or psychiatrist. In many cases, switching to or adding another medication can reduce or eliminate this side effect.

Vaginal dryness treatment

Treating vaginal dryness depends on the underlying cause. For example:

  • If you have low estrogen levels, your provider may suggest hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to boost your levels. By increasing estrogen levels, HRT helps encourage the body to produce more natural lubrication. (However, HRT may not be safe for everyone—so your healthcare provider can help you weigh the risks and benefits of HRT.)
  • If vaginal dryness is triggered by an SSRI you’re taking, then your healthcare provider may recommend an alternative medication or supplement your therapy with an additional medication that may help counteract this side effect.

To learn what treatment approach may be best for you, discuss your symptoms with your gynecologist.

Remedies for vaginal dryness

If you struggle with vaginal dryness, over-the-counter remedies may help. Drugstores often carry a variety of vaginal lubricant and vaginal moisturizer options. For some women, these products can provide immediate relief of vaginal dryness symptoms.

Common questions about vaginal dryness

If you’re experiencing a dry vagina, you may also notice:

  • Vaginal soreness
  • Vaginal itching or burning
  • Painful intercourse
  • Bleeding after intercourse

What causes vaginal dryness?

A lower estrogen level is frequently responsible for a lack of vaginal moisture. Possible reasons for low estrogen include perimenopause or menopause, childbirth and breastfeeding, and surgical removal of the ovaries.

There are other potential causes of vaginal dryness. For example, certain medications (such as various antidepressants) can cause vaginal dryness as a side effect.

If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, consider speaking with your healthcare provider to learn more and find out what next steps they recommend for you.


Easily check key hormones that may indicate if you are transitioning towards menopause with the Everlywell at-home Perimenopause Test. To check in on your hormone balance after menopause, consider taking our at-home Postmenopause Test.


References

1. Gutzeit O, Levy G, Lowenstein L. Postpartum Female Sexual Function: Risk Factors for Postpartum Sexual Dysfunction. Sex Med. 2020;8(1):8-13. doi:10.1016/j.esxm.2019.10.005

2. Jing E, Straw-Wilson K. Sexual dysfunction in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and potential solutions: A narrative literature review. Ment Health Clin. 2016;6(4):191-196. Published 2016 Jun 29. doi:10.9740/mhc.2016.07.191

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