We all know that aging is a part of life, and while it’s something everyone should plan for, it’s nothing to fear. But although people fully anticipate and prepare for crow's feet, osteoporosis, and diminishing breast-perkiness, not enough time is spent talking about how age changes your vagina. From the vulva to the vagina, your genital area starts to look different as you get older.
According to Dr. Sherry A. Ross, MD, FACOG, an OBG/GYN and author, those changes are generally associated with childbirth and menopause. And even if you never give birth, your vaginal canal (the inside of your vagina) and your vulva (the outer parts of your vaginal region, e.g. your labia, clitoris, and pubic mound) are still going to age. Years of sexual activity, hormonal changes, weight fluctuations, and high-impact workouts alone will have a clear effect on the health and appearance of your vagina, vulva, and your pelvic floor (the muscles, tendons, and tissue that support your reproductive organs.)
I know it’s not exactly fun to think about all the ways your vagina is going to age, but it’s important to be aware of them so you can start taking the necessary steps to keep your vagina happy, healthy, and functional — regardless of your age. Here are five ways you can expect your vagina and vulva to change as you get older:
1. Your Pubic Hair Will Start To Look Different
One of the most obvious ways your vaginal area will change is in regards to your pubic hair. Just like with the hair on your head, as you grow older, the hair on your pubic region will begin to thin out and turn grey. "Just like any other part of your body with skin, glands, and hair follicles, the appearance of the vagina is affect[ed] by the aging process and how well you [take] care of it," Dr. Ross explains. " ... It’s completely normal for hair all over your body to get thinner and grey with the normal aging process." Unfortunately, if you're particularly attached to your pubic hair, there’s really not a whole lot you can do to keep from losing it.
2. Your Vulva Will Lose Some Of Its Fullness
As vaginas age, vulvas sort of shrink. "Starting with puberty, the powerful effects of estrogen and progesterone cause changes of the vagina including [...] enlarging and more prominent labia or lips," Dr. Ross tells Bustle. "As you age and lose your subcutaneous fat in your body, the fat in the vagina also decreases, making the lips looks thinner." It’s a perfectly normal process and nothing to worry about.
3. Increased Dryness Is Inevitable (But You Can Combat It)
Dr. Ross says increased vaginal dryness is common during and after menopause, when your ovaries stop producing estrogen and your hormone reserves are depleted. "Unless you take hormone replacement therapy and replace the estrogen that you no longer are producing, your vagina will become progressively more dry and dehydrated," Dr. Ross explains. She says vaginal estrogen can reverse the dryness caused by low estrogen during menopause, and a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) backs this up. The study found that low-dose vaginal estrogen or a vaginal moisturizer can help make sex more comfortable for people with vaginas during and after menopause.
Additionally, regular, enjoyable sexual activity — with or without a partner — actually helps with vaginal dryness and irritation, according to the Mayo Clinc. Lube helps as well, of course. Further, kegel exercises can help increase vaginal lubrication.
4. Your Labia Minora Will darken Or lighten
Changing hormone levels can cause your labia minora (your “inner lips”) to darken or lighten in color as you grow older. Dr. Ross says with menopause ushering in the loss of estrogen, the tissue naturally becomes dry, pale, and dehydrated. Additionally, the labia of the vagina can even become fused, and the vagina and clitoris can shrink, Dr. Ross says. She explains the medical term for these vaginal changes is vulva-vaginal atrophy; but vaginal dryness, discomfort during sex, urinary incontinence, and shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal are also symptoms of vaginal atrophy.
5. Stretching And Prolapse Are A Possibility
If you want biological kids, and you want to give birth to them vaginally, you should know that vaginal stretching and prolapse are real possibilities. "The vagina and all its elastic glory can only stretch so much during childbirth," Dr. Ross explains. She says with each vaginal delivery, there's a little more stretching; she compares this process to what happens to the elastic band found on pants. "The muscles stretch, distend, and tear in the vagina to allow the head to come through this tight space and never completely recover," she explains. Still, this experience can differ from person to person.
Vaginal prolapse happens when organs start to slip out of place due to weakened pelvic floor muscles, and a number of health factors outside of reproduction can cause it. As Dr. Ross explains, "Multiple vaginal births, large babies, chronic constipation and coughing, obesity and aging are common causes of weakening the pelvic floor and the support of the uterus, bladder, and rectum." Indeed, a decade-long study conducted at Johns Hopkins and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, which was recently published in Science Daily, found that vaginal childbirth is associated with higher chances of developing a pelvic floor disorder later in life.
Dr. Ross says that vaginal prolapse happens over time, when weakness in the pelvic floor causes the uterus, bladder, rectum and vagina to literally drop through the vaginal opening — but you can work to prevent it. "Preventing vaginal prolapse can be challenging," Dr. Ross says. "But Kegel exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles damaged by those at risk."
The Mayo Clinic confirms that your best bet to fight prolapse is to do lots of kegels — like, three sets of 10 to 15 a day. If that sounds like too much hard work, don’t despair. Orgasming is the ultimate kegel, so now you have one more good reason to whip out your vibrator. Also, you can actually do kegels while you’re having sex (which has the added bonus of making things feel even more intense). If you're interested in a couple of other options, you can take a look at this roundup of vagina exercises.
The Bottom Line
Like the rest of you, your vagina is going to age. That’s a scientific fact, but it’s really nothing to worry about. All you have to do is appreciate it, take care of it, keep it active, and not freak out when things start to change down there. Because that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Delivery method associated with pelvic floor disorders after childbirth. (2018, December 19). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181219093903.htm
Kumagai1, Y., Toyoshima1, M., Kudo1, K., Ohsawa1, M., Hitoshi, & Yaegashi1, N. (2018, February 2). Endoscopic examination of labial fusion in a postmenopausal woman: a case report. Retrieved from https://jmedicalcasereports.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13256-018-1568-4
Mitchell, C. M. (2018, May 1). Efficacy of Vaginal Estradiol or Moisturizer vs Placebo for Postmenopausal Vulvovaginal Symptoms. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2674257
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