Have you ever considered just how unique, intricate, and nuanced your vagina truly is? It’s fascinating to think about. The vagina has its own ecosystem that can adapt to any number of factors, especially with age. Just like a rain forest has a canopy, under story, and forest floor, the vagina has multiple layers that work together to maintain moisture levels, ward off harmful bacteria, and stay healthy in general.
And just like you, your vagina is always evolving. Let’s take a look at the major life events that can change your V, and how to prepare for them - especially before and after menopause.
Vaginal Changes during Puberty
Remember puberty? It marks the first major change for your vagina. Your vulva - that is, the area outside your vagina that includes that outer labia, clitoris, and the openings of the vagina and urethra - can change a lot. During puberty, the labia becomes enlarged and may change color, something that can throw off any teen. Puberty brings with it pubic hair and daily discharge from the vagina. And then, of course, is your first menstrual period, which marks your official welcome into womanhood.
Vaginal Changes During Childbirth
Not every woman will experience childbirth, but those who do know how much it can dramatically change the look and feel of the vagina. With a vaginal childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles stretch and tear. The extent of vaginal stretching during childbirth depends on a lot of things, including the size of your baby, genetics, and whether or not you did pelvic floor exercises (also known as Kegels) before the birth. Even those who give birth via C-section can experience some vaginal stretching since the baby can put a lot of pressure on the vaginal area.
Immediately after childbirth, most women feel a lot of soreness and dryness in the vagina and perineum, especially if there’s a tear in the area. In the long-run, the vagina may feel wider or looser than before - you did effectively push something larger than a cantaloupe out of your vagina, after all.
For some women, their vagina never quite feels the same. For others, it can take anywhere from 12 weeks to a year for things to feel closer to normal down there. The good news is that the vagina is incredibly resilient, and has the elasticity to contract close to its original structure - you might even enjoy sex more. Post-childbirth, pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen the muscles around your vagina, helping with incontinence post-childbirth and improving sex.
Vaginal Changes in Perimenopause
After childbirth, the next life event that affects the vagina in a big way is perimenopause. Perimenopause is the 5-10 year period before menopause that officially kicks off the decline of estrogen. Less estrogen typically means less moisture and can lead to thinner skin, less elasticity, and a whole lot of vaginal dryness - otherwise known as vulvovaginal atrophy. It sounds alarming, but it’s incredibly common and massively under reported among menopausal women. Sex can actually help ward off vaginal atrophy by increasing blood flow to the vagina and keeping vaginal tissues healthy.
But sex during menopause isn’t always pain-free, especially for those already experiencing vaginal dryness. Lubricants aren’t a solution for vaginal dryness either, as they’re intended only for sexual activity and not for long-term relief. To relieve vaginal dryness, it’s important to use a water-based vaginal moisturizer regularly - preferably one with hyaluronic acid.
For some, the changes that begin during perimenopause can lead to other issues. A more challenging sex life (or lack thereof) brought on by vaginal dryness can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression for some women. It’s not uncommon to experience a decreased sex drive during perimenopause as a result of these changes too.
Fortunately, vaginal dryness is fully treatable, it just takes a little extra effort. Read our post about 7 Myths About Vaginal Dryness to learn more.
Post-menopause Vaginal Changes
Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any additional changes to your V, your post-menopause life begins. You know you’ve reached menopause once you haven’t had a regular menstrual period for a full year - most women experience this around age 51. During this time, your clitoris and labia can shrink, change color, or sag. This can once again lead to vulvovaginal atrophy. Luckily, regular sex can help you avoid vaginal atrophy at any age, including the post-menopausal stage.
When you’re postmenopausal, your health should be your first priority - and that includes your vaginal health. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and can contribute to a healthier sex drive. Regular exercise can elevate your energy, which also benefits your sex drive and vaginal health. And if you needed another excuse to quit smoking, remember that smoking can reduce estrogen levels, resulting in even more vaginal dryness. Nobody wants that. Finally, staying hydrated has a multitude of benefits, including helping with blood flow which is so crucial for vaginal health.
Keep your vagina healthy at any age
The vagina is nothing short of awe-inspiring: from your first period to your postmenopausal life, it’s constantly changing and evolving with you. It’s important to prioritize your vaginal health and check in with your doctor regularly. To learn more about vaginal health and your sex drive as you age, read our post 7 Myths About Menopause and Sex Drive.