Vaginal discomfort, which may be caused by a condition called
vaginal atrophy, or VA, is the "silent" symptom of menopause that
women rarely discuss because they think it is a natural part of
growing older and that nothing can be done.
In reality, VA is a
chronic condition caused by a decline in estrogens, and the symptoms
can be severe. VA is often characterized by dryness, itching,
burning or soreness in the vagina, bleeding during intercourse, pain
during urination, or pain in the vagina in connection with touching
or intercourse. If left untreated, it could lead to serious
Vaginal atrophy affects many aspects of quality of life,
including couples' relationships.
According to a recent survey of 1,010 post-menopausal American
women ages 55 to 65 who were living with this condition, and
same-aged male partners of post-menopausal women with VA, both
partners in a relationship experienced the negative effects of
The survey, conducted by global health care company Novo Nordisk,
found that more than half of women avoided being intimate with their
partner due to vaginal discomfort, while more than three out of 10
women reported they do not feel sexually attractive anymore and had
lost confidence in themselves as a sexual partner.
Sixty-five percent of the men reported that they were worried sex
would be painful for their partner because of her condition, and
almost a third of both men and women reported that they have stopped
having sex with their partners altogether because of the discomfort.
"Beyond the physical symptoms that the woman endures, the sense
of intimacy in the relationship, both emotional and physical,
declines," says prominent menopause expert James A. Simon, M.D.,
C.C.D., N.C.M.P., F.A.C.O.G., clinical professor of obstetrics and
gynecology at The George Washington University School of Medicine in
Washington, D.C. "The effects on sexual health and interpersonal
relationships are sizable. Women should stop suffering in silence
and start speaking up. Women are taking control of most aspects of
their health -- why not their vaginal health? Women should speak to
their doctors. There are treatments available."
[to top of second column]
How does a woman approach this problem?
Don't be embarrassed. Vaginal atrophy is still considered a taboo
subject, and many women are too embarrassed to discuss the
condition, even with their health care professionals, because they
think it is a private matter. Women should feel comfortable speaking
with their partners and health care professionals about their
symptoms and potential treatment options.
Speaking with a physician is an important first step. Most women
with vaginal discomfort do not seek medical treatment. Women should
speak with their health care professionals about available therapies
approved to treat vaginal atrophy.
Treatment options can provide relief. Many women self-treat using
over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers, which provide
temporary relief of symptoms and do not treat the underlying
condition. Of those surveyed who had tried local estrogen therapy,
more than half of women and their partners reported that sex was
less painful, and almost 40 percent reported that sex was more
satisfying for themselves and their partners.
Women who are experiencing vaginal discomfort can visit
to assess their symptoms and get tips on how to speak with their
health care professional.