photo of couple walking outdoors
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Your Vagina Is Going Through Some Things

Just like the rest of your body, your vagina ages. Once you get close to menopause, its parts don't look or function the same they did when you were younger. Dryness, drooping, and a lack of lubrication are all issues at this stage of life. These changes are natural, though their effects on your bathroom habits and sex life may not be welcome.

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woman in desert
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It's Pretty Dry

The hormone estrogen keeps the tissues of your vagina healthily plump and moist. When estrogen levels drop around the time of menopause, those sensitive tissues are left high and dry. Dryness is one of the more distressing symptoms of menopause. It can make sex uncomfortable or even painful. Use a water-based lubricant to reduce friction. And have sex regularly to keep up the moisture you still have.

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thinning hair on scalp
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There's Less Hair Down There

Your hair goes through natural cycles where it grows for a period of time and then falls out. As your hair gets older, its growth cycle shortens. At the same time, a drop in estrogen makes testosterone your body's dominant hormone. Testosterone fuels hair loss. When more hair falls out than your body can replace, you'll start to see areas of thinning. It happens on your scalp, and it happens down there, too.

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draped fabric
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Your Labia Is Looser

Skin tone gets worse because of the age-related loss of elastin and collagen -- proteins that once kept it taught. That's true for the skin on your face as well as your labia -- the folds on either side of your vagina. Sagging is less obvious when it's inside your pants, but if it bothers you, there are surgical procedures to plump and firm up your labia.

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photo of posterior prolapse
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There's Drooping

The muscles of your pelvic floor act like a sling that supports your uterus, bladder, rectum, and the top of your vagina. Childbirth and menopause weaken these muscles, which can make the organs in your pelvis droop. This is called prolapse. Sometimes an organ falls all the way into the vagina and creates a bulge. Devices and medical procedures can give your pelvic organs a lift and treat prolapse.

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gray color swatches
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You're Going Gray

You might expect the hair on your head to go gray as the years pass, but finding your first gray hair down there can come as a big shock. Your pubic hair turns gray for the same reason that the hair on your head does. As you age, the pigment cells inside each hair follicle die and stop producing the chemical melanin that gives your hair (on top and down below) its color. As melanin production slows, your pubic hair turns gray or white.

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couple embracing in bed
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You Have Shrinkage

The loss of estrogen around the time of menopause makes the once-stretchy tissues of your vagina thinner and less elastic. This is definitely a case of "use it or lose it." If you don't have sex often enough, your vagina can get shorter and narrower. So when you do have sex, it will hurt. Maintaining a healthy sex life (with a partner or a vibrator) will keep your vagina loose and limber.

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biting lip in pain
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Sex Makes You Sore

You'll feel the loss of estrogen when you try to make love. Dryness plus thinning of tissues in the vagina add up to painful penetration. Over time, the delicate tissues can tear and bleed. Don't let fear of pain keep you from a healthy sex life. When you avoid sex, it can make the problem worse. Use a water-based lubricant. If that doesn't help, ask your doctor about estrogen therapy or other treatments.

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hand mirror
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Your Vulva Isn't the Same

You may not be well-acquainted with your vulva -- the opening and outer lips of your vagina. But if you've held a mirror down there recently, you may have noticed some changes. For one thing, it's probably paler than it used to be. The lighter color is due to reduced blood flow from lower estrogen levels. The inner lips have shrunk for the same reason, and they may be drier than they were before.

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mycoplasma bacteria
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You Get More UTIs

Sudden urges to use the bathroom or pain when you pee could be signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI). Your vagina is home to lots of bacteria -- some good, some bad. The loss of estrogen around menopause changes the climate down there, leaving more bad bacteria than good. That's why women have more UTIs as they age. Vaginal estrogen therapy can increase helpful bacteria and reduce the number of infections you get. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/21/2020 Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 21, 2020

 

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES: 

American Society of Plastic Surgeons: "Why do the labia majora lose tone?" 

Cleveland Clinic: "6 Things You Should Know About UTIs in Older Adults," "Aging & Painful Skin," "Vaginal Prolapse," "Your Guide to Aging, Thinning Hair: 5 Simple Tips." 

Harvard Medical School: "Testosterone, prostate cancer, and balding: Is there a link?"

The Journal of the American Medical Association: "Urinary Tract Infections in Older Women."

KidsHealth.org: "Why Does Hair Turn Gray?"

Mayo Clinic: "Vaginal dryness -- Symptoms, causes, and remedies," "Women's Wellness: Painful sex after menopause."

Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Vulvovaginal Atrophy."

The North American Menopause Society: "Changes in the Vagina and Vulva," "Pain with Penetration," "Vaginal dryness."

Urology Care Foundation: "Understanding UTIs Across the Lifespan."

 

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 21, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.