New research says estrogen creams act as a safe and effective alternative to HRT by reducing vaginal dryness for better sex, even after menopause
Hot flashes and mood swings may get all the attention when it comes to menopause symptoms, but there's another common culprit we aren't talking about enough. Pain during sex due to vaginal dryness afflicts 50 to 60 percent of women going through the change—and it's every bit as awful as it sounds. But a new study from Columbia University found that women who used a vaginal estrogen cream reported significantly less dryness, a higher sex drive, and (obviously, based on those results) more overall happiness with their sex lives.
While vaginal dryness certainly isn't as serious a heart attack, it can seriously impact a woman's life and wellbeing by interfering with her sex life. As a woman ages, her estrogen naturally declines, causing the mucous lining of the vagina to thin out and lose moisture. Not only does this make the vagina more vulnerable to infections but it can make sex very painful, lessening pleasure and increasing the risk of tearing, bleeding, and abrasions (ouch!). And while menopause is the most common reason for vaginal dryness, the Mayo Clinic notes that hormonal changes associated with menstrual cycles, childbirth, and breast-feeding can also reduce estrogen, causing the painful condition. (Learn more about The 20 Most Important Hormones for Your Health.)
A couple of decades ago, doctors thought they found a solution to vaginal dryness—and most menopausal symptoms—in hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Studies found that a mere 13 percent of menopausal women taking a daily hormone pill reported dryness down under. Unfortunately the Women's Health Initiative study showed that the artificial hormones used in HRT had some serious side effects—including an increased risk of breast cancer and heart attacks—so in 2002 doctors stopped prescribing it.
Now, though, women don't have to resolve themselves to living the last half of their lives enduring sex instead of enjoying it, as the estrogen cream appears to be a safe alternative, the Columbia researchers note. When applied directly to the vagina, estrogen cream builds the mucous lining back up and replenishes moisture. But because very little of the estrogen enters the blood stream, the doctors said it minimizes the risks associated with hormone therapy.
And as most women know, a moist vagina is a happy vagina! (Need help in that arena? Here's The Best Lube for Any Sex Scenario.) So it's no surprise that women using the cream also reported higher sex drives.
Better sex through all phases of our lives? Yes, please!