Most women know that they might need, um, some extra lubricant down there as they age. Due to decreased levels of the hormone estrogen, vaginal dryness after menopause is typical and expected, according to the National Institute on Aging.
But what if you’re younger—even decades from menopause? Is it normal to have vaginal dryness in your thirties or twenties, too?
Vaginal tissue stays lubricated thanks to adequate estrogen levels. Any drop in estrogen can lead to a drop in natural lubrication. As estrogen levels wane, vaginal tissue thins out, which can lead to inflammation and vaginal dryness.
For younger women, vaginal dryness is often related to taking birth control pills and other medications, according to Jennifer Wu, MD, an ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Patients are often surprised by this, and they don’t see it right at the start of the birth control use; they’ll see it perhaps after a year or two.”
Here are other possible causes of vaginal dryness in younger women, according to Dr. Wu:
Because of their effect on hormones, certain medications used to treat conditions such as breast cancer, fibroids, infertility, and endometriosis can often affect vaginal lubrication too.
Vaginal dryness can make sex painful, cause burning when you pee, and lead to soreness and itching. Not surprisingly, dryness is a common cause of low libido in women.
But here’s the thing: Vaginal dryness is treatable. “For patients that have vaginal dryness because of low estrogen—this may be patients who are menopausal or patients who are breastfeeding—we can actually replace the estrogen in the vagina [with] estrogen cream,” says Dr. Wu.
Vaginal estrogen creams moisten the vaginal lining (and might be more convenient than using lubricants right as you’re … well, trying to get busy.) When applied a couple times a week, estrogen cream can usually improve natural vaginal lubrication, according to Dr. Wu.
Is Your Hygiene Routine Causing Vaginal Dryness?
But a drop in estrogen isn’t the only reason you might be drying up. “If a patient is experiencing vaginal dryness due to some type of contact irritant, I have them eliminate it from their daily use,” says Dr. Wu. Irritants to avoid that can cause vaginal dryness include:
Scented soaps and bubble baths
These irritants “can kill the good bacteria in the vagina, and [then lead to] an overgrowth of the bad bacteria,” says Dr. Wu. “This can result in result in a discharge that’s very fishy; it’s something called bacterial vaginosis.” This infection is the most common vaginal infection among women ages 15 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Psst … making these underwear mistakes can also lead to a bacterial infection.)
But good news: The best treatment for vaginal dryness, according to Dr. Wu, is more sex. “You want the vagina to be used to having sex, and regular sex—one to two times a week—can keep the vagina flexible and lubricated,” says Dr. Wu.