As menopause hits, estrogen levels drop, and what often follows is dryness and thinning of the vaginal tissues. The uncomfortable symptoms can include a sensation of tightness, dryness and severe pain or burning—hardly a sexy scenario.
A dry vagina is not only bothersome but can mean painful sex, a common complaint of as many as 46 percent of postmenopausal women. And the numbers are likely higher, because many women feel a stigma or are too embarrassed to talk about it.
Medically known as dyspareunia, this pain—which can happen before, during and after sex—may develop as a result of the vaginal dryness, known as vulvovaginal atrophy. It also may have other psychological or physical causes, including vaginismus or genital injury. Vulvovaginal atrophy—the thinning, drying and inflammation of vaginal tissues—is common around menopause, due to declining levels of estrogen.
Whatever the cause, vaginal pain can put a strain on the best of relationships, sap self-esteem and affect a woman’s quality of life.