Vaginal dryness is a widespread dilemma with lot of stigma attached, which can make people experiencing it feel dysfunctional. When our body doesn’t do the things society tells us are normal, it can feel like something’s wrong with our reproductive/sexual hardware. At the same time, medical providers may not take complaints of vaginal dryness — and its related impacts like vulvar discomfort or painful sex — seriously. As such, people with vulvas are expected to cope with it in silence and problem-solve on their own.
Why does Vaginal Dryness Happen?
If no one’s ever told you, let us be the first to do so — vaginas get dry sometimes, for a slew of reasons. Hormones are wacky things, and when they fluctuate, bodies are affected in various ways. Vaginal dryness is but one of these.
Frequent causes of vaginal dryness include:
- Chemotherapy and radiation
- Childbirth and breastfeeding
- Hysterectomy and other surgical procedures
- Various medications, including hormonal birth control, some antidepressants, and antihistamines
The severity of dryness varies; mild to moderate vaginal dryness might make certain sexual activities uncomfortable or even painful, while severe vaginal dryness might cause near constant pain during simple everyday activities.
Impacts of Vaginal Dryness
A lack of “natural” moisture in the vagina can cause sex drive to drop — it’s not necessarily always the other way around. There’s a misconception that vaginas “get dry” when their owners don’t feel turned on. Actually, a physiological, hormonal problem might cause vaginal dryness which, in turn, can reduce sex drive. There’s a lot of shame involved in vaginal dryness; someone with a vulva might feel like their body is betraying them, or like they’re somehow inadvertently doing something wrong. Stress like this has an effect on sex drive and desire.
Often, severe, chronic vaginal dryness is known as “vaginal atrophy” or “atrophic vaginitis,” which both sound like pretty substantial medical conditions. A doctor might diagnose you with either condition, but take it with a grain of salt — vaginal dryness is a fixable issue, and it does not mean you’re broken.
If left unaddressed, vaginal dryness can cause tearing and bleeding in the vagina from insufficient lubrication during penetration. Vaginal dryness can also cause general vulvar pain and aching throughout the pubic/genital area. Sometimes, lube is enough to remedy this issue; depending on the severity of the dryness, however, it might not be. Vaginal dryness usually becomes severe or unbearable during menopause, or during radiation and chemotherapy during cancer treatment. When it becomes severe, chronic vaginal dryness can cause itching, pain, and burning, even when there’s no sexual activity taking place. It can also contribute to chronic urinary tract or bladder infections and incontinence. A doctor can help you with hormone-based therapy — whether that’s hormone replacement therapy or an estrogen-infused moisturizer — but over-the-counter moisturizers and lubes might be a good place to begin before choosing hormonal remedies.
Moisturizers for Vaginas
Because the mucosal tissues around and in the vagina are very delicate, a regular body lotion isn’t going to help vaginal dryness. Fortunately, there are a number of products designed specifically to soothe and lubricate sensitive genital skin. Many over the counter vaginal moisturizers are categorized as sexual lubricants, but there are some important difference between the two. Vaginal moisturizers are intended for topical use as needed, and help keep the vagina hydrated throughout the day. Lube is meant to be used during sexual activities, whether that’s masturbation or partnered sex. Some vaginal moisturizers can be used as lubricants, and vice versa.
Sutil is an environmentally-friendly lube that feels a lot like silicone but is, in fact, coconut water-based. It’s long-lasting, thick in consistency, pretty much tasteless, and safe for use with any and all toys. Since Sutil is water-based, it’s great for a little added moisture.
System Jo makes an organic lube that’s a hybrid of water and coconut oil. We don’t recommend using this product with condoms, because coconut oil will degrade latex. For solo play, use with toys or dildos, or if you and a partner don’t use latex barriers, this lube is a great option. It’s a very thick, creamy, long-lasting lube, and coconut oil is super-hydrating.
Good Clean Love’s Bio-Match Restore is specifically designed for use as a vaginal moisturizer. Good Clean Love’s other products can be used, too, but Bio-Match Restore is a bit more long-lasting as a moisturizer than some of the others.
Sliquid Naturals Satin is specifically marketed as a moisturizer; Sliquid’s website states that “only a few drops” will provide a great deal of comfort. Sliquid Satin contains carageenan, aloe vera, and vitamin E, all of which are soothing and nourishing.
YES water-based lubricant is another 2-in-1 lubricant and moisturizer. When applied, it soothes discomfort — from there, you can either go about your day or engage in sexual activities. Up to you! It works for both.
Lubing up for Play
For use during sexy times, a low-ingredient silicone lube like Uberlube or Pjur can be a useful addition to a vaginal moisturizing regimen. Some people are leery of silicone lube, saying it isn’t “natural.” It’s true that silicone is a chemical, technically, but it’s the third-most common ingredient in the world, hypoallergenic, and, because it is an inert substance, silicone lube is totally body safe. We don’t recommend using a silicone lubricant as a vaginal moisturizer because silicone lube is not absorbed by the skin. However, silicone lube can be great for use by itself or in tandem with a water-based lube during sex to reduce friction and make sexual activity less painful for people experiencing vaginal dryness.
As far as products to definitely avoid, we do not recommend that you ever use Vaseline or petroleum jelly to moisturize the vagina. These products are known to upset the vagina’s pH levels, and are linked to yeast infections. The same goes for baby oil. We also do not recommend using a topical anesthetic. Often, pain is your body’s way of sending you important messages that you shouldn’t ignore. If you’re experiencing stinging, aching, and general pain when you have sex, that could mean that your vagina is tearing slightly, which can lead to bleeding, pain, and an increased risk of infection. Sex should be pleasurable and fun; you shouldn’t need to numb yourself in order to get through it.