“Am I wet?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Not yet, but you will be,” my husband replied.
No, this isn’t the beginning of an erotica scene. Far from it. This had been my life for a few months. After my husband and I would have sex, not only was my vagina dry, we’d look around to find blood, massive amounts of blood.
“Like period blood,” I described to my gynecologist, “except I haven’t had a period for 150 days.”
“You shouldn’t be bleeding after sex,” she replied. “Let’s take a look. I do see some vaginal atrophy,” she said. “But that’s normal for someone approaching menopause.”
Good grief, I thought. I knew what muscle atrophy was. It’s when you stop working out and then your muscles shrink. Shit. Is my vagina shrinking? I hadn’t stopped working it out, so why would this happen? I didn’t have the bandwidth to ask. Instead, I cried, another perimenopause symptom increasing in frequency.
And no, how frequently women have sex is not the only reason for vaginal atrophy. It’s actually a common occurrence due to low estrogen. It is not tied to a woman’s level of sexual desire or anything other rationale we’ve developed to explain vaginal lubrication.
“Aw don’t cry,” the gynecologist said, handing me a tissue. “It’s just a phase, like puberty but in reverse.”
Sadness turned to anger. I wanted to kill her. I wish people would stop saying that. Perimenopause is not like puberty at all. The fact that she had to say “in reverse” proves the difference. At this phase, women lose their hormones, never to be seen again, and they may develop things like, drumroll please—vaginal atrophy.
Vaginal atrophy (atrophic vaginitis) is thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls that may occur when your body has less estrogen. Vaginal atrophy occurs most often after menopause.Mayo Clinic
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“Well, there are different lubes. There’s water based and oil based.”
She explained the difference between each one and I began to tear up again at the thought of having to do one…more…thing to feel like my pre-perimenopausal self. The list is piling up and it’s weighing on me.
My husband and I decided on The Honeypot’s Organic Agave Moisturizing Lubricant. The first time we used it was seamless and perfect. It felt natural.
Right before we had sex the next time, my husband looked at me and said, “Do we need some jelly?” And we both busted out laughing.
“I don’t think that’s what it’s called,” I said, still cracking up.
Guess what? We didn’t need it. And such is perimenopause life. Hormones are in flux, which requires women to face new norms and to have new strategies on hand. Lube, as my gynecologist called it, is just one solution. Others can be found here, here, and here.
On a separate note, I almost didn’t share this, because quite honestly, who wants to tell the world about the state of her vagina? It’s embarrassing, and even though one of my colleagues wrote about her effects, it’s something women generally don’t discuss, not even with their gynecologist, for fear of being judged. However, I thought about my overall purpose for this space, inhaled, and exhaled this post. As I keep saying, “we’re all we’ve got,” so it’s better that we share, learn, and grow, than to suffer in pain.
Vaginal health is women’s health, and in the words of Mona Eltahawy, sometimes it requires you to Moisturize Your Vagina.
Post-script: It is also worth mentioning that I saw my gynecologist that day to discuss what I’d determined I needed: a supplement and progesterone. She agreed and said I knew as much as she did, that what I’d decided was what she was going to suggest. Since then, I’ve also found out that vaginal atrophy is an outdated term, as you can probably understand why. It sounds awful. Insert face palm here. It’s either time for me to seek a new professional, or it’s time for the medical profession to get up to speed on women’s bodies.
- The 4 Cs of Midlife: Women are Like Diamonds
- 10 Things We’ve Learned in Our 40s
- Diary of a (Peri)-Menopausal Woman: Vaginal Atrophy/Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause
- Diary of a (Peri-) Menopausal Woman: What’s Really Going on with Our Bodies?
- Takeover Tuesday: I Was 37, Perimenopausal, and Clueless