WAP Part 2 - Causes of Vaginal Dryness
November 11 2021 | Written by Miranda Vanhaarlem (She/Her)
“Don’t be shy, if your vagina is dry”. This line came up on my Instagram feed the other day and it made me realize that it has been over a year since Cardi B blessed us with the line “Bring a bucket and a mop for this wet-a** p***y”, and to be honest with you, I am still thinking about it.
Why is my vagina so dry?
I am still thinking about the stigma attached to bodies with vaginas, and even now I am still thinking about the lack of mainstream education surrounding the everchanging vaginal wetness. Even though 1 in 6 people experience vaginal dryness! I speak for myself as a cis-woman when I say that I have caught myself internalizing misogynistic attitudes towards my own body. Whether it is worrying about the smell of my own vagina, pondering if it tastes correctly, hating the hair that sits on top, or contemplating if it is too wet or too dry, whatever that even means. In order to, let's say, nip these thoughts in the bud, it is important to normalize conversations about bodies with vaginas. And that my friends is what we are doing here, and what Marlow continues to do every day. I want to empathize that it is important to know your body, know your ‘normal’ and get to know your discharge, that way if and when something changes, you are aware.
Thank you Cardi B
Let’s circle back to Cardi. A previous blog, WAP 101 - A Guide to Lubrication, focused on the use of artificial lubricants and the stigmatization that comes along with it. We talked about the fluids naturally produced in the female body, why you should use a lubricant and how to pick the best one for you. We talked about how a dry vagina can make the thought of sex unbearable and using internal menstrual products uncomfortable. What we did not talk about, that I am excited to talk about now, is what the terms ‘vaginal dryness’ and ‘vaginal wetness’ truly mean. Let's talk about that, but first, allow me to refresh your memory.
What makes a vagina wet?
The dreaded word: discharge. I don’t know about you but I hate this word. Maybe that is also my own internalized misogyny that I need to work on. Discharge can be seen as an umbrella term for all the fluids that come out of the vagina. All of these fluids can act as lubricants:
- Menstrual blood: if you are up for it, menstrual blood can act as an excellent lubricant for masturbation or sex.
- Cervical fluid: particularly around the time of ovulation, cervical fluid can be used as an added lubrication. Around ovulation, cervical fluid tends to be wet and slippery which is perfect for lubrication, compared to the dry and sticky fluid that is made around menstruation.
- Vaginal/Arousal fluid: this fluid is produced by the glands in and around the vagina in response to sexual stimulation. It is usually wet and slippery and acts as an amazing lubricant.
What is ‘vaginal wetness’ and ‘vaginal dryness’?
Fun fact of the day: the vagina is a mucous membrane. This means they are capable of absorbing and secreting fluids at a higher rate than the skin. And if you didn’t think it got cooler, some of the external portions of the vulva, including the clitoris, are also mucus membranes. I am mentioning this because some folks think any discharge is abnormal. Mucous membranes secrete fluids, and for that reason, it is completely normal for a vagina to create discharge. The question is, how much is normal? To answer this question, like many other questions we have here at Marlow, I am turning to Dr. Jen Gunter. In her blog post, how much vaginal discharge is normal? I made a roux to demonstrate, Jen explains that most textbooks state one to four ml per 24 hours is the normal range. Okay great, but what does that even mean? Jen further explains that a thick streak of discharge on a pantyliner is around one ml. Jen states “I really want women to know what is normal” and that is why she went as far as creating a video showing us the normal amount of vaginal discharge.
If you are watching the video and thinking that there is no way your vagina produces that much discharge in 24 hours, do not worry. There are multiple reasons that may cause your vagina to be more dry than usual and that is where we are heading next.
Causes of Vaginal Dryness
I want to preface this by saying that everyone with a vagina has their own normal vaginal fluid levels. What may be dry to you, might be wet to someone else, and that is why it is extremely important for you to understand your own body. As annoying as the discharge in your underwear may be, pay attention to it so you will notice if/when there is a change.
So, what causes a vagina to be dry? More times than not vaginal dryness is caused by a drop in hormone levels, particularly estrogen. Estrogen helps maintain the vagina’s natural lubrication, thickness and elasticity. Lower estrogen levels = drying of the vaginal walls. Here’s the thing: there are many reasons as to why estrogen levels may be lowered and in return, numerous grounds for why you may be experiencing vaginal dryness. Let’s talk about some of them.
1. The Menstrual Cycle
Hormone levels are ever changing throughout the menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels are lowest in the days prior to bleeding and post bleeding. Thus if you find your vagina to be dryer than normal during these times, that is why.
2. Hormonal Birth Control
Because hormonal birth control alters hormone levels and production, one of the side effects may be changes in vaginal fluids. For the same reasons as above, pills with lower levels of estrogen (Yasmin, Levora, Ortho-Tri-Cyclen Lo, Estrostep or Ortho-Novum) may contribute to vaginal dryness. Some birth control pills lower the amount of testosterone produced by the ovaries and testosterone also plays a role in the amount of lubrication produced in the vagina. If you want to learn more about the side effects of birth control I would highly recommend reading the book This Is Your Brain On Birth Control: The Surprising Science Of Women, Hormones, And The Law Of Unintended Consequences by Sarah Hill.
3. Pregnant, Postpartum and Breastfeeding
Again, a change in hormones. Pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding individuals’s’ hormones are in a constant state of flux, which may result in a change in vaginal lubrication. During pregnancy, the circulating fluid volume increases around 50%, leaving the body more likely to become dehydrated, which can contribute to vaginal dryness.
During menopause, the ovaries stop producing the hormone estrogen and as its levels begin to decrease, a decrease in vaginal lubrication can follow. Approximately half of post-menopausal individual’s experience vaginal dryness. Despite menstruating individual’s spending ⅓ of their lives in a post menopausal state, the relationship between menopause and vaginal dryness is not talked about enough. If you would like to learn more about this, Women's Health Concern has created a toolkit that you can find here.
Chemotherapy has been known to cause generalized dryness throughout the entire body. This may lead to individuals who are going through chemotherapy to experience vaginal dryness.
6. Psychological and Emotional Factors
The state of our mental health has numerous impacts on our bodies and vaginal lubrication is one of them. Stress and anxiety has the ability to affect the flow of blood to the vagina which can lead to vaginal dryness in some.
Takeaway: There are many causes of vaginal dryness and it’s completely normal. We all need to talk about it more!
Try it: Lube is Your Friend
Whether you are close to starting your period or are in the middle of breastfeeding your newborn, lube can be your friend if you allow it to be. In our previous post, we went over the three different types of lubricants:
- Silicone based,
Make sure you check out that post to determine which is best for you, or have some fun and purchase all three because you never truly know until you try. We also went over what ingredients to avoid in a lubricant, including:
- spermicidal additives
- citric acid
- petroleum derivatives
- glycerols (warming sensation additives).
And if you don’t feel like reading the labels of 100 lubes, we made one without any of these ingredients. Introducing: The Marlube (coming soon).