How the Ageing Process Changes Female Genitalia
As women age, the vagina and surrounding area undergo many changes. Unfortunately, these changes are seldom discussed, so women generally remain uninformed and ill prepared for the realities.
The vulva (the outer part of a woman’s genitalia, including labia and the clitoris) will vary little from your late teens to your 40s or even into your 50s. However, the onset of menopause, and the resulting gradual loss of the female sex hormone estrogen, can lead to vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA), otherwise known as genito-urinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). This condition, while not regarded as a serious medical issue, can cause the vulva to lose its fullness, the tissue to get smoother and more pale, and the labia to become less distinct.
VVA can also bring about a dramatic transformation in the function and appearance of the vagina (the canal inside your body). Both the opening of the vagina and the length can shrink. Irritation will occur if the walls of the vagina lose elasticity and moisture, and up to 50 percent of women experience itching and a burning sensation, which, during sex, can escalate from discomfort to pain. VVA distress can be eased by moisturizers and lubricants to relieve the feeling of dryness but are not solutions to the underlying tissue problems. It’s advisable to try them first on a less sensitive area, such as the forearm.
Thinning of tissue due to lack of estrogen also makes women more susceptible to urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Women can also become more prone to bacterial vaginosis, which disrupts the balance of bacteria in the vagina. Local estrogen therapy, which delivers treatment directly to the vagina, can help to safeguard against infections. It is advised that you see a gynecologist regularly if you are on any type of hormone therapy.
Changes After Childbirth
Besides the natural ageing process, childbirth can bring about radical changes to the vagina for many women. Whether the vagina remains stretched after childbirth depends on genetics, the size of the baby, and how many children you’ve had. After giving birth, it’s normal for the vagina to be larger than it was before, particularly in the case of a big baby. This stretching is caused by relaxation of muscles in the pelvic floor, which will lose their tone with each successive birth. Women can help to tighten these muscles by doing Kegel exercises.
Kegel exercises, when performed on a regular basis, can also help to prevent prolapse. Prolapse occurs when body parts begin to move out of position because of weakened pelvic floor muscles. The same job is done by contractions during orgasm.
When to See a Doctor
An annual gynecological examination is recommended to maintain vaginal health. You should also consult a doctor if you experience unusual symptoms such as pain, chronic itching, discharge, odor or bleeding. Women are now being offered a new treatment called ThermiVa for problems such as vaginal looseness, enlarged labia and incontinence. Find out whether ThermiVa is right for you.