atrophic vaginitis

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Sex and Menopause

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Many women fear that aging and menopause will affect their sex lives negatively. The truth is that sexual satisfaction can and should last a lifetime. Menopause does present a few new challenges, but they can be easily overcome with the right information and a little patience.

First of all, if you are having sexual problems related to menopause, talk to your doctor about it. It may feel awkward, but your doctor can help you find effective solutions. Your doctor should take your concerns seriously. Your sexuality is an extremely important part of your life, and the basic human need for sexual contact does not diminish or go away just because we get older.

One of the problems women experience during menopause is painful intercourse. This is a symptom of atrophic vaginitis, which is characterized by dryness and painful intercourse as well as other related symptoms. If left untreated, atrophic vaginitis can lead to long-term sexual dysfunction and accompanying emotional distress. This condition is easily treatable with a 2-3 week course of estrogen cream applied to the vagina. Studies such as this one also show that continued, regular sexual activity encourages vaginal elasticity and lubrication.

Besides atrophic vaginitis, some of the other menopausal changes in a woman’s body can negatively affect her sex life if not addressed. The vaginal tissues naturally become thinner and drier, and vaginal secretions and lubrication often decrease. In addition, a menopausal woman is likely to take longer to achieve natural vaginal lubrication – several minutes, as opposed to the 30 seconds or so that younger women need.

These problems can be overcome simply by using a water-based lubricant such as Astroglide, and by being patient with yourself as well as expecting patience from your partner. Your thinner vaginal lining may also become more sensitive, so you should avoid products containing warming agents, flavors, artificial colors, or other chemicals that might cause irritation.

Waning energy is another issue menopausal women sometimes face. The sleep problems experienced during menopause can exacerbate the problem of diminished energy. Take steps to reduce stress and improve sleep, such as staying away from the computer for a couple of hours before bedtime, avoiding exercise late in the evening, and making your bedroom a relaxing (and sensual) sanctuary using soothing music, colors, or scents. Improving the amount and quality of your sleep will give you more energy all day long.

The bottom line is that sexual fulfillment can last the entire span of a woman’s life, and the more sexually active she is through the years, the fewer problems she is likely to experience in the bedroom later. In fact, nonexistent fears of pregnancy, more free time, and fewer inhibitions than younger women often have can make sex even better as you age. For more information on this topic, see my book, Inside Information for Women.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.