Does your vagina actually age? Here are 6 things that happen to your vagina as you get older
What do Seth Cohen, cheddar, wine, and your vagina have in common? They all mature with age. And if you think the only thing that will change about your vagina is your pubic hairs turning grey…well, you may want to think again.
“The vagina, like the rest of the body, changes as you get older,” says board-certified urologist and female pelvic medicine specialist Michael Ingber, MD with The Center for Specialized Women’s Health in New Jersey. And because of the sensitivity of the tissues down there and how affected the vagina is by hormonal changes, “It changes significantly as you age,” he says.
Dr. Ingber isn’t just talking about pubes going grey—though that certainly is one of the transformations. Generally, he says most vulva-owners around their mid-40s can also expect the way their vagina *responds* in the bedroom and feels and functions on the day-to-day to shift.
To get to the bottom of this mystery, we asked vaginal-health experts to dish on all the vagina changes you can expect as you get older—plus, what you can do to promote its health and happiness through later decades in life.
What happens to your vagina as you get older
1. You might get drier.
While there are thousands of reasons why your vagina could be on the dry side—medication, endometriosis, autoimmune disorder—for vulva-owners of a certain age, menopause is often the culprit. Women’s health expert Dr. Sherry A. Ross, MD, author of she-ology and she-ology. the she-quel tells HelloGiggles, “After menopause your ovaries stop naturally producing estrogen, which your body needs to produce natural lubricant.”
For some vulva-owners, store-bought lubes (like Sliquid Sassy or Pjur Women) are enough to help manage the symptoms, like pain during penetration, that go along with dryness. But for others, lube is insufficient because it’s not just sex that’s painful—it’s everyday life. Without natural lubrication to nourish and hydrate the vagina, the vaginal canal can become dry, itchy, and dehydrated, explains Dr. Ross. For these people “there are localized estrogen treatments, prescriptive remedies like Osphena (a non-hormonal prescription), and oral or vaginal estrogen creams and tablets that can help,” she says.
2. Your risk of STI’s may increase.
You can blame lower estrogen levels for this one, too. Reduced estrogen can cause the vaginal tissue to thin, which makes vulva-owners more prone to micro-tears, according to double board-certified in OB/GYN and director of perinatal services at NYC Health and Hospitals/Lincoln, Dr. Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG. “When there are little micro-tears in the vaginal wall, pathogens are more-easily able to enter the body, which increases the likelihood of STI transmission from an infected partner,” she says.
The solution here is two-part: First, use a barrier like an internal condom, condom, or dental dam with any partner who’s STI-positive (or whose status you don’t know). Sure, you might not be able to get pregnant once you’ve gone through menopause. But your age and post-menopause status do not guard you against STIs.
Second, use lube (and lots of it) to help reduce tear-inducing friction during penetration. Just remember: Oil-based lubricates degrade the integrity of latex barriers, so use a silicone- or water-based lubricant instead.
3. Your labia may look different.
The vaginal canal isn’t the only part of your body that can thin: the external parts like your vulva can, too. Dr. Gaither tells HelloGiggles it’s due to a combo of reduced estrogen levels, reduced collagen production, and the natural decrease of subcutaneous fat in the body as you get older. “The labia major and labia minor can become less full and skin can begin to sag,” she says. Basically, the same thing that happens to your neck skin happens to your honey pot.
This is totally normal and usually NBD. But for some vulva-owners, the length of their labia interferes with everyday life. If you frequently sit on your labia, they hang beyond your panties and are chaffed by your thighs, or they get tucked into your vagina during penetrative intercourse, Dr. Ingber recommends talking to your doc. “There are some innovative techniques like radio-frequency treatments, and micro-needling, that can be an effective way to reduce sagging and help the body to produce more sag-reducing collagen,” he says.
4. You may get more yeast, bacterial and bladder infections.
“The lack of secretions in the vagina also change the pH of the vagina, making it more alkaline than acidic,” says Dr. Ingber. “This creates an environment that is more optimal for bacterial and yeast growth.” As a result, some vulva-owners will experience an increase in number of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Fun! Dr. Ross says taking a daily probiotic, reducing dairy and sugar intake, and managing stress levels can all help keep the vaginal microbiome healthy.
Unfortunately, “Many vulva-owners also see an increase in occurrence of UTI’s after menopause due to thinning skin around the urethra,” according to Dr. Gaither. Things like going to the bathroom after sex, wiping front to back, and wearing breathable underwear may help reduce the presence of bacteria present in the urethra, which may stop a UTI in its tracks.
5. Your may need to commit to a strength program for your pelvic floor.
Likely, you’ve heard that after the age of 30, people lose about three percent of muscle mass a year. Welp, that’s true and according to Heather Jeffcoat DPT, a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in sexual dysfunction and incontinence, the muscles in the pelvic floor are not exempt.
As a refresher: “The pelvic floor muscles surround the vaginal canal, supports the pelvic organs including the bladder, uterus, rectum, and provide strength to the urethral sphincter and anal sphincter,” explains Dr. Ingber. Muscle loss and weakness here can result in a host of not-so-fun issues—which vulva-owners who have given birth multiple times may be more susceptible to—like vaginal, bladder, uterus, and rectum prolapse, and incontinence. For some vulva-owners, pelvic floor rehabilitation is all that’s needed. For others, surgery may be necessary.
The good news: “There are strengthening exercises vulva-owners can do as a preventative measure,” says Dr. Gaither, who recommends vulva-owners keep up with Kegel exercises to maintain pelvic floor tone. Or better yet: Meet with a pelvic floor therapist to learn how to properly Kegel (it’s not as simple as squeezing your fanny!). “Half of vulva-owners perform Kegels incorrectly, which can sometimes worsen symptoms.”
6. Your pubic hairs will turn grey.
If you keep at least some hair down there, there are two changes you can expect to notice with menopause: a change in texture and color.
Due to hormonal changes, “Pubic hair thins as you age, for some vulva-owners, [which can become] quite sparse,” explains Dr. Gaither. While there’s nothing you can do to make your pubes fuller once they start to thin, you can remove the hair altogether if you prefer that to a half-there look. To each their own.
You can also expect to become a below-the-bellybutton Silver Fox. Yep, we’re talking about grey pubes. Dr. Ingber explains: “The color of hair is due to something called a melanin pigment, which, as you age, leaves the hair follicle and results in grey-colored pubes.”
More or less, “When the hair on the body turns grey, it’s genetically predetermined,” according to Dr. Ross, who says there’s nothing you can really do to slow the color change.
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