Nowhere near menopause? Blame vaginal dryness on your mood, meds, or even your soap. Here, common causes and the lubricant-free fixes
Lubrication is essential for pleasurable sex. In fact, not getting wet enough down there can make intercourse straight-up hurt. And sure, there are plenty of lubes in drugstores and even your kitchen cabinet (hello, coconut oil) that can provide a temporary fix. But still, if you’ve been experiencing vaginal dryness more than usual, you probably want to figure out why, stat. According to Lauren Streicher, M.D., author of Love Sex Again, one of these six problems is likely to blame.
“Sex is mental as well as physical—especially for women,” says Streicher. “If you’re very stressed or sad, the last thing you’ll want to do is have sex, so you’re going to have a hard time getting aroused and you’ll notice a decrease in your lubrication.” When your mood returns to normal, so should your sexual function. Until then, use lube. Self-consciousness about your body during sex can also trigger dryness, adds renowned sex therapist Sabitha Pillai-Friedman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Human Sexuality Program at Widener University. (Don't forget these 7 Conversations You Must Have for a Healthy Sex Life.)
Streicher often sees women who think their dryness is making sex hurt—but in fact, the discomfort came first. When sex is painful for whatever reason, your body responds by going into “defense mode,” says Streicher. Your pelvic muscles contract (to block penetration) and your vaginal tissue dries up. Sometimes, this can become a recurring problem, even once sex stops hurting. Treatments like biofeedback therapy can help; see your doctor to discuss options. (Learn 8 Reasons Why Sex Hurts.)
Antihistamines work by drying out your mucus membranes to relieve symptoms like congestion—but they also dry out your vagina, says Streicher. The same is likely true for decongestants, she says, though they’ve been less well studied. Luckily, once you stop taking the meds this symptom should go away. (Read about other Scary Side Effects of Common Drugs here.)
Most women know that birth control pills can cause issues like weight gain, low libido, and acne. But between three and five percent of women on low-dose birth control pills experience vaginal dryness, says Streicher. If you think this is the cause of your dryness, ask your doctor about other birth control options, like an IUD—after all, it may be the Best Form of Birth Control.
Menopause, and the resulting shortfall in sex hormones, is a huge trigger for vaginal dryness, says Streicher. The symptom tends to crop up at two times: after menopause and during perimenopause (when you’re still menstruating, but are experiencing some of the hormone fluctuations characteristic of menopause). If you think this is the cause for your dryness, see your doctor to rule out other culprits and discuss your options.
Put down the douche—using vaginal deodorants, sprays, and douches can trigger dryness, says Pillai-Friedman. Get The Down Low on Down-There Grooming.