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Ladies, let’s face it – the vast majority of the time, we have no clue what’s going on with our vaginas. Unless we’re experiencing discomfort or pain, we generally just assume that everything is working properly down there.

A funny thing starts happening to our vaginas as we get older though. Vaginal dryness starts becoming commonplace, and yet, we’re all too embarrassed to openly talk about it. It’s not exactly a sexy topic to bring up over cocktails with your girlfriends, partner or even your gyno at your yearly checkup, which is why only seven percent of women get treatment. Yes, you read that right. Seven percent. To help raise that shocking number and shed the long-held stigma related to the topic, we sat down for an insightful conversation with trusted physician and CTV News Medical Consultant, Dr. Marla Shapiro.

Know the Basics

“It’s simple. All women will have dry vaginas; half will have vaginal atrophy, which is the thinning of the vaginal walls that can lead to painful intercourse, or other symptoms of distress, and only seven per cent will seek treatment. It’s a startling number and we have to change that,” Dr. Shapiro emphasized.

Typically beginning in your forties (your perimenopausal state) and then leading into menopause, your body will naturally be depleted of estrogen. “In most women, this leads to common symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, which do get better over time. The one thing that gets progressively worse is vaginal atrophy and all the symptoms associated with estrogen depletion,” she explained. “The further you are in menopause, the more estrogen depletion you’ll have going forward. It doesn’t get better and the symptoms can be progressive over time.”

It’s nothing to be ashamed of

“Vagina is a tough word for people to openly say, and when was the last time you actually took a mirror and looked at yours?” Dr. Shapiro asked. “Women are ashamed to speak about their vaginas honestly, even to their closest girlfriends. So when vaginal dryness occurs, it causes a lot of problems during intimacy and can even irrevocably harm [their] quality of life. The one thing that may drive a woman to the pharmacy is painful intercourse, and that would be something that they’d eventually have to come in to talk to their gynecologist about, because it’ll ruin their intimacy with their partner, and even their sense of self.”

Knowing that vaginal dryness is normal and that you’re not alone — not by a long shot — means that you’ll feel more confident about your body.

Painful sex isn’t the only symptom

“Women think painful sex is the only symptom related to vaginal atrophy, but for many women, that’s not even the most bothersome symptom. For women who aren’t sexually active or intimate, they still can experience irritation, a burning sensation, and, conversely, irregular discharge. As the pH increases with the loss of estrogen, all the normal cells that live in the vagina disappear, and everything changes,” Dr. Shapiro clarified.

Your skin dries out over time, and so does your vagina

“There are changes over time that happen to your vagina that you’re not even aware of,” she explained. “The same thing that’s happening to your skin on your face is happening to your vagina, only worse, because it’s estrogen depleted. We need to replace that moisture, even before the problem starts. Just like how moisturizing your skin is an ongoing practice, you need to do the same for your vagina.”

Vaginal Moisturizers and Lubricants 101

There’s a wide range of moisturizers and lubricants that are clinically tested and recommended by doctors to treat vaginal dryness.

“You just have to be very careful which products you use,” warned Dr. Shapiro. “When you get something over the counter, your doctor may not know what you’re doing and you may not know what you’re doing. So to understand that, when I talk to my patients about moisturizers, I emphasize that it must be fragrance-free, because we don’t want any allergic reactions, preservative-free, so no glycol and such that can cause irritation. They must be pH neutral because, in some cases, the products can be too acidic and traumatic to the environment.”

Replens makes a vaginal moisturizer recommended by doctors that delivers moisture for up to three days. The trusted brand also makes a silky, smooth personal lubricant that alleviates vaginal dryness and promises to make intimacy more enjoyable.

Talk to your Partner

“There was a study done on women all around the world, and it looked at the impact of partner intimacy on people experiencing these very same issues. What it found was that the responses among men and women were mirrored. Women thought that they’d lost their youth and their attractiveness and their sexuality, but men felt the same way. Men are empowered to talk about erectile dysfunction all over the place, but women aren’t empowered to talk about this, ” Dr. Shapiro expounded. “You need to feel empowered enough to open up to your partner about what you’re going through. It’s all part of intimacy that will make your sex life healthier and even better. ”

It’s never too late to accept what’s happening to your body — you’ll feel confident to live your best life, no matter what your age is.