Usually there's a very logical explanation for your vaginal dryness, but it's important to talk to your doctor if it's causing you any kind of distress, says Leah Millheiser, MD, FACOG, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University. "Oftentimes, doctors are focused on other areas of your health, but it’s very important to bring up genital health and sexual health with your clinician," Dr. Millheiser says. "[Vaginal dryness] is not something that doctors always think to bring up, but it doesn't mean that it's not important."
When it comes to vaginal dryness in particular, there's a chance you could be confusing the sensation with the symptoms of a vaginal infection, which would require a different treatment plan. So you might want to rule that out first. But if you don't have an infection, ahead are a few common reasons why you might be experiencing vaginal dryness, and how to find relief.
You're on hormonal birth control.
Birth control is one of the most common culprits of vaginal dryness in young people, Dr. Millheiser says. "By nature of how the pill or Nuva ring works, what it's doing is suppressing your own estrogen and testosterone, both of which are very important for vaginal and vulvar health," she says. So, your body only has the hormones that are in the pill itself, which is often lower than what's naturally produced, and can make your vagina drier. "It's similar to what a woman in menopause goes through due to low hormones," she says. But this doesn't happen to everyone on the pill or with a Nuva ring, and there might be a genetic predisposition to vaginal dryness from birth control use, Dr. Millheiser says. Meaning: Some people may just be more prone to it.
How to help: Of course, it's not easy to find a birth control method that works for you, but if it's really causing difficulties, you might want to talk to your doctor about a birth control pill with a higher dose of hormones or an IUD (which usually doesn't contribute to vaginal dryness, according to Dr. Millheiser).
Depression, in and of itself, doesn’t cause vaginal dryness — but it can contribute to decreased libido, says Dr. Kecia Gaither, an OB/GYN and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln. "If the libido is affected, the vaginal lubrication is diminished," she says.
How to help: For starters, seek out therapy or other resources for your depression. You might also want to reach out to loved ones, and let your partner know what you're going through, if you're comfortable with that. If you decide to have sex, try a lubricant to make it more enjoyable.
You use harsh soaps.
Often, people complain about "vaginal" dryness, but they're really referring to the skin around the vulva, which can get dry and irritated if they're using soap to wash it, Dr. Millheiser says. "So, for many women, that will translate into this feeling of vaginal dryness, but what's really happening is just that the skin is dry down there," she says.
How to help: Stop using soap to clean your vagina, and instead just use water, Dr. Millheiser says. The vagina is basically self-cleaning, so you don't need to use any scented soaps or wipes to make it "cleaner." If you stop using soap and you are still experiencing vulvar dryness that's uncomfortable, you can apply a pea-sized amount of Vaseline ointment on the skin of your labia (not inside your vagina) to provide a moisture barrier and help make that area feel a little bit more comfortable, Dr. Millheiser says.
It's very normal for people who are breastfeeding to experience vaginal dryness, and it's similar to the pill in a sense, Dr. Millheiser says. Breastfeeding increases prolactin, which is a hormone that causes breastmilk production, she says. And prolactin suppresses estrogen and testosterone, which can lead to vaginal dryness.
How to help: "We don't want women to stop breastfeeding, but we want them to be able to have sex," Dr. Millheiser says. Using a silicone-based lubricant can help reduce friction better than a water-based one, Dr. Millheiser says. And if that's not enough, consider using a non-hormonal vaginal moisturizer, which is a treatment that you put inside your vagina a few times a week before bed "to help bring moisture back into the vagina mucosa." If that's not enough, talk to your doctor about vaginal estrogen therapy, which is another medication (usually in the form of a cream, tablet, or ring) used to relieve vaginal dryness, she suggests.
You're nursing a cold.
Not only do you have to deal with a stuffy nose when you have a cold, but you might also notice that your vagina is drier around that time, too, Dr. Millheiser says. That's because "medications like antihistamines or Sudafed can dry up your mucous membranes and cause vaginal dryness," she says.
How to help: The good news is that this type of vaginal dryness will probably go away once you're finished your course of medication. But it's probably a good idea to hold off of partnered sex until your cold passes, too.
You're going through menopause.
According to a 2013 study, about 1% of the population under the age of 40 goes through premature menopause, and although it's rare, menopause can definitely contribute to vaginal dryness. During menopause, a person's estrogen and progesterone levels drop, which can decrease the vagina's moisture and elasticity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How to help: Similar to breastfeeding people, using silicone-based vaginal moisturizers and lubricants, or a local vaginal estrogen treatment may help people with menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You smoke a lot of cigarettes.
How to help: Sounds obvious, but decreasing your nicotine intake or quitting smoking altogether is probably your best bet in this situation.