Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team. Updated on December 18, 2020
What Causes Vaginal Dryness?
There are many reasons why you may be experiencing a dry spell in the area where the sun don’t shine. Some of it may be due to an allergic reaction to soap/perfume/etc, your menstruation cycle, or even your birth control pill. Luckily, this is a condition that can be easily identified and treated if you know what is causing it.
While vaginal dryness is most commonly associated with menopausal women (45-55 years old), women of all ages can experience it. Its symptoms include: discomfort, itchiness or burning, and/or pain during sex; some women feel these symptoms on the daily while others only notice when they’re unable to get “wet” (lubricated) before or during sex. In fact, between 3-5% of women on low-dose birth control pills encounter vaginal dryness.
Vaginal Dryness & the Birth Control Pill
Depending on the type of birth control pill you are on, some may be better than others. Pills with low levels of estrogen AND that contain drospirenone, desogestrel or norgestimate seem to have a largely negative impact on libido and vaginal dryness. Testosterone contributes to lubrication in the vagina but birth control pills lower a woman’s testosterone levels produced by the ovaries, which leads to vaginal dryness. Estrogen also helps keep your vaginal tissues lubricated so when there is less of it, meaning less blood flow to the tissue, the result is dryness of either the vagina or vulva. Quick tip: use a silicone-based lubricant (like one from Female Founded, Female Led Pulse) and hormonal creams (ask your doctor) to apply to the opening of the vagina to reduce the dryness.
Did You Know?
Research shows that 5% of women have a genetic variant that results in a defective or inefficient testosterone receptor. What this means is that some women require much more testosterone to keep the vulvar and vaginal tissue healthy and for their glands to function normally. The effects are not obvious until testosterone levels become lower than normal but that happens to some who take the pill.
In women with this genetic variant, the problem is threefold:
- The pill causes the ovaries to produce less total testosterone in a usable form.
- The synthetic progesterone found in newer birth control pills blocks the testosterone receptor at high doses.
- The testosterone receptor doesn’t work well, making it very dependent on high amounts of testosterone being present.
What Populations Are Most At-Risk?
Women who are going through menopause are at particular risk due to the decrease in estrogen that takes place leading to the vaginal tissue becoming thinner, dryer, and less elastic. If you have just given birth, your estrogen levels will be lower while your progesterone levels increase; in the postpartum period, the pituitary gland releases prolactin, a hormone that alerts your body to produce milk, thereby suppressing the ovarian production of estrogen, according to Tami Rowen, M.D., an ob/gyn at UCSF Medical Center.
If you are a tampon-user, consider switching to pads or, to be more environmentally and economically friendly, a menstrual cup — or simply skip your period altogether! Tampons may reduce the amount of natural moisture in your vagina (thankfully it should only last about 12-24 hours). Also, antihistamines dry out mucus membranes to relieve symptoms like congestion — great! But that means they also dry out your vagina — not so great.
Vaginal dryness can also be caused by Sjögren’s syndrome (an immune system disorder that produces dry eyes and a dry mouth) or a negative reaction with the skin. Thus, exercise caution when trying out a new detergent, bath product, or certain fabrics as these items could throw off your moisture balance.
Did You Know?
The vagina is self-cleaning, so no internal washing is necessary! In fact, douching can lead to a host of problems like bacterial and yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer, increased transmission of STIs, upper genital tract infections, and endometritis.
Is There Treatment for Vaginal Dryness?
Non-hormonal birth control methods such as the copper IUD or the mini-pill will most likely not lead to vaginal dryness, unlike the pill, so it’s best to go with one of these contraceptive options if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and it can’t be treated with lubricant. Be sure to talk with your doctor to figure out which birth control method works best for you!
Other solutions include: eating more healthy fats such as avocado, hummus, and peanuts, because they can enhance vaginal lubrication as well as reducing your caffeine intake so your body (and vaginal tissue) don’t get dehydrated! If you think your vaginal dryness is linked to sex, talk to your sexual partner about what it and isn’t working and consider spending more time on foreplay.
You can also look into products like vaginal moisturizers or lubricants and vaginal estrogen cream or tablets; if the issue is related to the birth control pill you are on, talk to a doctor about switching to a new birth control method.
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Frequently Asked Questions about Vaginal Dryness
Can birth control pills cause dryness?
Some pills may be better than others. Very-low-estrogen pills seem to have the greatest negative impact on vaginal dryness, so if you’re taking one of these, talk to your doctor about whether it’s contributing to any symptoms you might have.
Can dehydration cause vaginal dryness?
If you’re dehydrated your vagina can be affected. Although dehydration can disrupt the delicate balance of good yeast and bacteria levels in the vaginal microbiome, vaginal dryness isn’t necessarily related to how much water you consume daily.
What can I use for vaginal dryness?
Your doctor can prescribe medication, recommend over the counter products, or you can try home remedies that may help. Having regular sex or avoid hygiene products with fragrances and dyes that can irritate or dry out the vaginal tissue may help.
What does vaginal dryness feel like?
Symptoms commonly associated with vaginal dryness include vaginal itching, burning, irritation and intercours pain. These vaginal changes make it easier for infections to occur.
Can birth control cause itching and burning?
Birth control has not been shown to cause itching and burning.
Can birth control change your discharge?
Some people experience changes in vaginal discharge when taking the pill. This can range from an increase to a decrease in vaginal lubrication, an alteration in the nature of the discharge, and changes which can affect sexual intercourse.
Can birth control make you itchy?
Birth control has not been shown to cause itchiness, but for some women, it can change the vaginal pH balance and make them more prone to overgrowth of yeast or Bacterial Vaginosis. Both of these can cause dryness, irritation and itching.
Can you be allergic to birth control?
An allergic reaction to birth control is very rare, but not impossible. Less than one in a thousand women experience an allergic reaction. Consult your doctor if you are having allergy-like symptoms.
Can birth control give you a yeast infection?
The above information is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.