Many of us spend a lot of time worrying about getting older, and seeking different ways of appearing younger and aging gracefully.
But now an expert has revealed how your vagina can appear different over time, suggesting that an understanding of changes to genital health will keep women feeling ‘healthy and feeling good’ about themselves.
Tania Adib, a consultant gynaecologist at The Medical Chambers Kensington, suggested vaginas are most likely to undergo changes while women are in their 30s, while they may become more ‘fragile’ later in life.
Tania also revealed the most common questions she is asked by women of different ages, as well as banishing myths about vaginas.
Tania Adib, a consultant gynaecologist at The Medical Chambers Kensington, has revealed how your vagina changes through the decades, as well as the common questions people of different ages have about their intimate area (stock image)
IN YOUR TWENTIES…
Common Question: Why does my vagina feel dry?
‘Your 20s should be a time your vagina and inside the vulva (the surrounding area) look pink and well-lubricated – ideally, everything should be in full working order,’ revealed Tania.
‘However, young women do sometimes experience vaginal dryness due to oral contraceptives, which put the natural hormonal balance out of sync.’
The solution: ‘You should speak to your GP or gynaecologist if this happens because changing to an alternative form of contraceptive may be helpful.’
Common Question: Why does it hurt to insert tampons?
Tania suggests a common reason some women find it painful to insert tampons is due to a condition called ‘vulvodynia’, which affects one in ten women.
‘Vulvodynia can cause much distress and is often not talked about. This chronic condition gives women the sensation of burning, stinging and stabbing,’ she explained.
‘We can’t say for sure what triggers it, but nerve damage or a genetic susceptibility may be to blame. It can cause issues with sex and putting tampons in.’
The solution: Tania suggests it’s ‘really important’ to speak to a gynaecologist who specialises in vulval problems so that they can discuss treatments which can help with the discomfort.
Common Question: I have a lot of white discharge, is this normal?
The expert says that when it comes to discharge, many women wonder what is considered normal.
She explained: ‘Because the vagina is self-cleaning and the mucus produced varies over the course of the month, you shouldn’t worry too much about changes and should avoid over-washing.
The solution: ‘When you do wash, I advise to use plain water and unscented soap around the outside of the vulva area – never put soap inside the vagina or on the moist inner tissue.’
Tania points to thrush as another possible explanation.
‘Thrush – also known as candida albicans – which is an imbalance of yeast, which can cause a thick, curd like discharge and itchy symptomsm,’ she said.
The solution: ‘Thrush requires treatment because it can also trigger bouts of cystitis, so seeking appropriate help and treatment is vital.’
Tania said it was ‘not surprising’ that many women in their thirties see changes in their vaginas because it is often the time people may have children (stock image)
IN YOUR THIRTIES…
Common Question: Why does sex feel different since having my baby? Why do I leak urine when I sneeze and cough?
Tania says it’s ‘not surprising’ that most women see changes in their vaginas in their 30s, because it is often the time that many in the UK have children.
She cites that 30 is the average age of women becoming mothers in the UK, while many people are surprised by how much their vagina changes after childbirth.
‘Many women find it surprising that after childbirth the outside of the vagina may look different,’ she explained. ‘It can have a more “open” appearance and may feel a bit wider, which is perfectly normal.
‘Intercourse may feel different and tampons may slip. For many couples however, this doesn’t cause any issues and intimacy can be just as satisfying.’
She continued: ‘You may experience leaks due to a weakened pelvic floor, which is something that will need to be addressed.
‘Characterised by having ‘accidents’ when laughing, coughing, sneezing, jumping, or passing wind can erode women’s confidence.’
The solution: Tania advises looking into physiotherapy and pelvic floor exercises to help, and points to some devices that can even train the pelvic floor for you.
WHAT IS BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common cause of unusual vaginal discharge.
It affects around one in three women at some point in their lives.
Although it is not an STI, it does increase a woman’s risk of catching a sexually-transmitted infection.
BV is caused by a change to the delicate bacterial balance in a woman’s vagina.
The most common symptom is a fishy-smelling discharge, particularly after sex.
There may also be a change to the discharge’s colour or texture, such as it becoming grey or watery.
But half of women with BV experience no symptoms.
If a woman suspects she has BV, she should go to her GP or sexual-health clinic to confirm it is not an STI.
Once diagnosed – via a cotton bud ‘smear’ – BV is usually treated via prescribed antibiotic tablets, or gels or creams.
BV often returns within three months.
Those who get it more than twice in six months will need treatment for up to half-a-year.
BV can be prevented by using just water to wash the genital area and opting for showers over baths.
Perfumed soaps, vaginal deodorants, douches, strong detergents and even smoking raise a woman’s risk of the condition.
BV is more common in those who are sexually active, have recently changed their partner or have ‘the coil’.
If ‘caught’ during pregnancy, BV can lead to a premature birth or miscarriage.
Worried pregnant women should speak to their GP or midwife.
Source: NHS Choices
Common Question: I have smelly discharge. Is this normal?
Tania suggests thrush is a common issue for women in their 30s, but many are more likely to recognise the symptoms and understand their triggers – such as sugar and alcohol.
The solution: If discharge does have an ‘unpleasant fishy odour’, women should go to their doctor and have it checked, because it could be bacterial vaginosis (BV).
She reveals this could be caused by more women using the contraceptive coils in their 30s.
IN YOUR FORTIES…
Common Question: Why are my periods more irregular?
As women enter their 40s, it’s typically the period of their life which doctors refer to as the perimenopause.
‘It’s the time when the ovaries start to produce less oestrogen, and symptoms of the menopause become more pronounced,’ explained Tania.
‘The age this happens will vary, but because the average age of the change in life is 51, by the late 40s, most women will have noticed some changes.’
She added: ‘The well-known hot flushes may not be a surprise, but the altering condition of the vagina is something that is often less spoken about, including vaginal dryness.
‘As oestrogen levels go down, many women experience very heavy periods.
‘This heavy bleeding, along with wearing tampons for longer, can cause the vagina to be even dryer and cause infections, such as BV and thrush.’
Common Question: I look different down there. Is that because I’m getting older?
Tania says that often women in their forties notice changes in the appearance of their vagina.
‘Outwardly, women may notice their pubic hair becomes sparser – some of us won’t mind about that,’ she said.
‘The labia may look looser, because the natural fat content decreases due to lowering oestrogen. Like everywhere else on the body, skin becomes slacker, less plump.’
She added: ‘Some people fare better than others, but it is part of the natural ageing process – it is nothing to worry or be ashamed about.’
IN YOUR FIFTIES AND BEYOND
Common Question: I’m experiencing vaginal itching, burning and discomfort. What can I do about this?
Tania explains that women who hadn’t experienced vaginal changes in their 40s would almost certainly see them in their 50s.
They may be particularly obvious if women are not taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
‘The skin around the vagina will become paler and internally, the skin may be more fragile,’ said Tania.
‘Vaginal dryness, also known as Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM), is a recognised condition that affects many women in their 50s.’
‘GSM can cause some distressing symptoms, such as pain during sex, itchy, dry sensations and an urgent need to urinate.’
The solution: Tania says it’s vital for women to ‘maintain their quality of life through the menopause, revealing: ‘There are various safe, effective treatments available for vaginal dryness, burning and discomfort.’
She points to vaginal moisturisers and topical oestrogen creams that can provide relief, as well as longer lasting solutions, including laser treatments which are a proven, effective solution for vaginal dryness symptoms, eliminating troublesome itching, irritation, and in some cases, pain.
For more information on vaginal dryness or leading laser treatment, MonaLisa Touch®, visit www.TakeOutThePause.co.uk or to book an appointment with Miss Tania Adib, call The Medical Chambers Kensington on 0207 881 418.