As women, many of us suffer from annoying vaginal problems from time to time. These seem to increase with age, culminating in a veritable cornucopia of symptoms by the time you arrive at your menopausal years.
Having written previously about challenges with Vulvodynia and Bartholin’s Cysts, I have often written about the woeful state of gynaecological advice many women receive from their doctors. This tends to range from “pull yourself together” to “it’s only to be expected at your age” and of course the one I am thinking of having printed on a t-shirt “stick a bit of cream on it”.
Imagine then the pain and distress of having to live with Vaginal Atrophy – think of it like extreme vaginal dryness which gives the sufferer pain that is hard to numb, hard to cope with and impossible to ignore.
Vaginal atrophy (atrophic vaginitis) is thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls due to your body having less estrogen.
Sex is agony, wearing knickers hurts and even walking causes discomfort. For many women, vaginal atrophy not only makes intercourse painful, but it also leads to distressing urinary symptoms. It is not a problem many of us would feel comfortable talking about to our nearest and dearest, let alone to our wider social circle.
Like any chronic condition, the challenge is not just physical. It is the mental dissolving of what was once a stalwart and happy constitution. The questioning of how one small part of your body can come to literally rule your life.
It can feel as if there is nowhere to turn. No answers. No support. Just unending discomfort which nags you at every turn.
What a comfort and a relief, then, to find this marvellous book by Jane Lewis – “Me & My Menopausal Vagina”. On first picking it up you might think that it will be a dry (if you’ll pardon the pun) read about this medical condition, but actually, it is an open, honest and quite a life-affirming read which pulls no punches and yet manages to offer hope at the same time.
Me & My Menopausal Vagina is one woman’s journey of menopause and vaginal atrophy. It was written in collaboration with her daughter, Penny, in a tongue-in-cheek way to help break taboos of vaginal atrophy
For a start, Jane talks you through the various nooks and crannies of your vagina. You’ll think you’ll know what goes where, so to speak but can you be precise? It’s important because if you can’t explain where your pain is, it will be more difficult to get the correct help and treatment.
Jane shares her experience of vaginal atrophy and talks about HRT and other treatments. She acknowledges the effect that VA can have on your mental health and offers suggestions as to how to talk to your nearest and dearest about this condition. There is also a very helpful chapter on maintaining some sort of sex life.
If you have vaginal atrophy the last thing you feel like doing is having sex but how guilty does that make a woman feel? And how difficult is it to get your partner to understand that any pleasure has been replaced with painful burning, chafing and even bleeding?
Jane also shares her daily routine for minimising her discomfort and the products that have worked for her. I have to say I have already discovered the fabulous Yes company with their range of organic vaginal moisturisers and lubricants and I heartily recommend you check them out.
It’s particularly important to understand vaginal atrophy so that we can help our daughters when they, in later life, may suffer the same problems. And of course, there is no reason why our sons shouldn’t be educated about VA so that they can offer support if needed.
One thing is certain. Vaginal Atrophy needs to be talked about far more openly and long-term treatments need to be advanced. As Jane says, topical oestrogen products like Ovestin tend to be prescribed on a short-term basis when they should really be offered on a longer basis.
Like me, Jane is conflicted about HRT although she mentions the famous piece of research which links HRT to an increased risk of breast cancer. That research has, it appears, been largely discredited but the decision to take HRT is an incredibly personal one and the patient needs to weigh up the benefits against the risks. In Jane’s case she felt that she could not not take it. I am not quite there yet.
Me & My Menopausal Vagina reads like a chat with a good friend who tells it like it is and doesn’t pull any punches. Jane says, openly and honestly, that she will always have this condition but much more needs to be done.
If you have started to notice discomfort or dryness down below then pick up this book. Arm yourself with all the information and then go and see your GP.
You may be horrified to find how behind the times some of them are. I recently asked about bio-identical HRT and the answer I got was “oh, I don’t really know about that. You’ll need to go to a menopause clinic and the nearest one is Bristol”. I’m in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Something really needs to be done because there must be thousands of us suffering and, as Jane says, what happens to all the older ladies in care homes or living on their own. Many of them will still be suffering the effects of conditions like this. Who is helping them?
Think of it like this. If a man went to the doctor with a split, burning, bleeding penis, would he be told to put some cream on it and consult someone 40 miles away? Would he be told it’s just his age and one of those things? Would he be told it’s all in his mind?
When you suffer from a chronic condition like Vaginal Atrophy (or Tinnitus or Fibromyalgia) – which seems to vanish to the back of the medical priority pile when it comes to diagnosis, there are some books you return to again and again for their wise words. And because they give you comfort.
This is one of them.
You can also connect with Jane on Twitter @mymenopausalvag and Facebook @My Menopausal Vag.