Sex should always be enjoyable for you. But if you’re one of the many women who suffer from vaginal dryness — at any age — that’s not always the reality. Instead, having a dry vagina can make sex a lot more painful, way less enjoyable, and can lead to other issues, such as urinary tract infections.
The good news is there are currently drugs out there that can treat the issue. Treatments that include the hormone estradiol have been known to help older women, in particular, deal with painful sex caused by vaginal dryness. The bad news is the cost of creams, vaginal rings, and tablets that contain estradiol has been steadily rising in recent years.
As reported by The New York Times this week, some women are currently paying more than $200 a month for drugs to treat vaginal dryness. To make matters worse, many insurance plans refuse to cover certain products over others (i.e. oral tablets vs. creams). Some even require patients to pay high out-of-pocket costs.
But unlike drugs used to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, drug makers can increase prices on these products without public backlash — because vaginal dryness is not something women like to talk about.
It’s considered “embarrassing” to some, and that stigma causes women to suffer in silence — especially women who are nowhere near menopause and feel like they’re too young to not be “wet” during sex. But if you have vaginal dryness, you’re not alone. A 2013 study found that one in five women suffer from this issue, yet 90 percent don’t treat it. Nearly 20 percent of women don’t have sex at all due to shame, and a third of women say the issue has affected their relationship.
“Many women have vaginal dryness, and several factors play a role in how ‘wet’ a woman is,” Dr. Michael Ingber of The Center for Specialized Women’s Health told HelloGiggles. “The first and most important factor is the hormonal status of the woman.”
As menopause approaches, estrogen levels drop and the mucosa (or skin of the vagina) thins out and loses its superficial cell layer that provides lubrication, which then causes vaginal dryness. But according to Dr. Ingber, it’s not something that only happens to menopausal or postmenopausal women.
According to Dr. Ingber, there are several drug options to treat vaginal dryness that are known to be pretty effective. These include creams such as Esterase or Premarin, a vaginal insert like Vagifem, or a vaginal tablet like Yuvafem. Non-hormonal options can also be helpful. But the rising cost of drugs is a “common issue” he says those in his field deal with.
So what are your options if paying over $200 a month to treat vaginal dryness is too much?
1 Use water-based lube
This isn’t exactly a home remedy, but lube is super accessible and easy to get online or in store, so we’re including it in this list. Plus, it’s time we de-stigmatized lube use (especially among young women). Don’t feel embarrassed if you need lube to make sex feel more enjoyable — tell your partner what you need and if they have a problem with your lube request, get outta there!
“Vaginal lubricants act quickly and provide temporary vaginal dryness relief,” Dr. Cristina Palmer, from Cedars-Sinai’s Comprehensive Urology team, told HelloGiggles. Lubricants limit the friction commonly associated with “thin, dry genital tissue,” and are sold in liquid or gel form.
When it comes to lube, finding the right one that works for your body is key. According to Dr. Ingber, you should always avoid lubricants that contain alcohol. “These may give the vagina a cool sensation, which initially feels good,” he said. “However, this can cause worsening dryness to the vaginal mucosa over time, as this should be a moist surface.”
According to a 2014 study published in the journal Pharmaceutics, many popular lube brands contain chemicals that can alter the pH balance of your vagina. “Glycerin-containing lubes can also create an environment which breeds yeast and other bacteria,” he said. “We typically recommend a water-based lubricant for most women.”
2 Try coconut oil
You may have heard that some women put coconut oil in their vaginas for lubrication. But is it safe?
As OB/GYN Dr. John Thoppil told HelloGiggles, “It’s safe to try, but for some women, this can lead to a change in pH and increase the risk of vaginal infection.” So be mindful of that if you’re thinking of using coconut oil long-term. Consider the same issues if you’re thinking of using olive oil as lube.
3 Consume more plant fats and soy-based products
“Herbal supplements sometimes are used to treat vaginal dryness, and these supplements include black cohosh, soy isoflavones, and hormone-regulated supplements,” Dr. Palmer says.
Soy isoflavones, which are present in soy beans, tofu, and other soy-based products, have been shown to hep reduce vaginal dryness. A 2014 study also found that the essential fatty acids contained in sea buckthorn oil were also helpful in treating vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women.
4 Stay hydrated
“Staying hydrated is always helpful when it comes to having more intimate lubrication,” Dr. Courtenay Poucher of the Labiaplasty Center of Los Angeles told HelloGiggles. According to her, most people are running low on their daily water intake. When this happens, it can cause dryness. So always be mindful of how much water you’re drinking.
If you have vaginal dryness, it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Every body works differently. You shouldn’t keep having painful sex or avoid sex altogether because you think you’re the only one going through this. You’re not. There are ways to deal with it, many of which don’t require expensive drugs.
But the more we speak up about these issues, the more options we’ll have. If you need lube, use lube. If you need to see a doctor to deal with any sex issues you may have, then don’t be afraid to talk to your OB/GYN. Remember, it doesn’t make you any less of a woman.