An MD Explains 9 Reasons Your Vagina Can Become Suddenly Dry

by Emma Kaywin and Emma McGowan
Originally Published: 
A woman hikes across a dry desert. Why is my vagina so dry? We asked an MD to explain 9 possible cul...
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We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? This week’s topic: reasons why your vagina is suddenly drier.

Q: Lately, my vagina has been suddenly dry. This isn’t normal for me — I’m usually not the wettest (unless I’m turned on of course!) but this feels different. Like, sandpaper dry. It’s super uncomfortable, and I’m not sure what to do. What could be causing this? Do I have to go to the doctor or can I fix it myself? Could it be reversible or is this my new normal?

A: Your vagina lubricates naturally, which you may know from dealing with normal vaginal discharge on the daily. These natural juices are made in the glands by your cervix. This lubrication keeps everything healthy by moving dead cells and other unwanted things (like bacteria) out. Note that this is different than how your body makes the sexual lubrication that happens when you are turned on. That wetness comes from your Bartholins glands, which are at the entrance of your vaginal canal.

If you don’t have your natural, everyday lubrication, your vaginal walls will feel dry. Dryness can also lead to other unpleasant feelings including itchiness, burning, mild bleeding, and pain during sex due to chafing or tearing of the vaginal lining, or frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

"If a patient said they had a sudden on-set of vaginal dryness, I would ask about her medications, peri/menopausal status, new products used in the groin area like scented creams and pads, comfort level with intercourse, and if she smokes cigarettes," Dr. Leslie Meserve, MD, chief medical officer and co-founder of CurieMD, a telehealth platform for menopausal women, tells Bustle.

Sudden vaginal dryness can happen for a number of reasons. But the good news is once you and your doctor figure out why you're parched, you can do something about it. So just what are those potential culprits for your southern desert? These nine factors might be a reason your vagina is so dry.

1. You're Taking One Of These Medications

Dr. Meserve says that many types of medicine can make your vagina dry, including antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-estrogen medication, hormonal birth control, and blood pressure medication. If you started taking anything in any of those categories recently, it's worth it to do a little research and learn whether or not it could be causing your vaginal dryness.

Then, advocate for yourself with you health care provider. Let them know that you're experiencing this unwanted side effect and want to talk about other possible medications.

2. You're Allergic To Your Soap

Did you change your soap recently? If so, it could be the culprit, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Women's Health. Vulvas and vaginas have extra sensitive skin, as well as a delicate pH balance that needs to be maintained. Using a new soap can upset that balance and dry you out, especially if the soap is packed with chemicals and fragrances.

Your best bet for a super sensitive vulva and vagina is a fragrance-free soap made for sensitive skin. You can even buy vulva-specific soaps.

3. You're Smoking A Lot Of Cigarettes

Smoking has tons of negative consequences for reproductive health, one of which is that it messes with your circulation. And if your circulation isn’t great, Dr. Meserve says, it can make your vagina dryer.

What about smoking marijuana, you ask? The jury is still out (probably because there isn't really enough well-funded research on the health impacts of cannabis products) [new sentence some research has found that smoking weed not only gives you cottonmouth, but "cotton vagina," too! However, some professionals have debunked these findings, because the reason your mouth gets dry when you smoke something is different than why your vagina gets dry. So does smoking weed make you dry? There needs to be more research to know for sure.

4. You Drank A Lot Of Alcohol

Alcohol dehydrates your body, which you may have noticed from your need to slam a tallboy of water when you come home after a night of heavy drinking. This dehydration can affect your vagina, leading to less lubrication.

"Because it’s a diuretic, alcohol can lead to dehydration and dryness everywhere, including the vagina," Dr. Meserve tells Bustle. "Alcohol also decreases sensation, which is an important part of the arousal and lubrication process."

If you’re planning to drink alcohol (particularly before you want to have sex), make sure you drink lots of water so you don’t get too dehydrated. Your vagina, not to mention your head, will thank you.

5. You've Started Using Douches

First of all, if you've recently started douching anywhere but in your butt before anal sex, I'd like to ask you to stop. The vagina is self-cleaning and using douches only damages it, no matter what the patriarchal capitalist machine tries to sell you.

"Vaginas are like brilliant self-cleaning ovens," Dr. Meserve previously told Bustle. "They know exactly what they need and are continuously activating processes to balance out moisture and pH. Douching removes helpful natural bacteria, changes the natural pH of the vagina, and actually keeps it from doing its normal cleaning job. Under healthy conditions, nature does a great job keeping this power pocket healthy."

But if you have started using a douche, it could be causing your vaginal dryness for the same reasons soap does. Get those chemicals out of there!

6. You've Started Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the time before a person's period stops completely. It usually starts in a person's 40s, but can start as early as your mid-30s, according to the Mayo Clinic.

When that happens, your hormones get kind of whacky, jumping all over the place as your body makes the transition out of fertility. Many people with vaginas experience vaginal dryness during this time.

"If the dryness is hormone-related, like from a drop in estrogen after menopause, people can consider hormonal creams and suppositories like estradiol and prasterone or non-hormonal suppositories like hyaluronic acid," Dr. Meserve previously told Bustle.

7. You Have Ovarian Cancer

Let's start this one by acknowledging that it is very unlikely that you have ovarian cancer. However, sudden vaginal dryness can be a symptom of this illness, according to the Moffitt Cancer Center.

That's because your ovaries release the hormones for your cycle and if a cancer is messing with them, then it could mess up your hormone regulation, which in turn could lead to vaginal dryness.

And while ovarian cancer often doesn't have any symptoms, when people do have them they can include pelvic pain, frequent urination, feeling bloated or constipated, and pain during sex. If you're concerned that you might have this illness, keep a symptom diary to track how your body is behaving differently, find out about your family history, and make an appointment with your health care provider.

8. You're Close To Your Period

According to Mayo Clinic, when estrogen levels are at their lowest just before and just after a person's period start, they might experience vaginal dryness.

Luckily, this one is super solvable! Use some extra lube or a vaginal moisturizer right before your period and know that everything will be back to flowing normally once you're on the other side.

One small note: Some people find that using tampons actually makes vaginal dryness worse. If you're still itching after you've started bleeding, consider an alternative menstrual product, like a cup or absorbent underwear.

9. You Have Sjögren's Syndrome

Sjögren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder, which is where your immune system attacks your own body's cells. Its most common symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, but the vagina isn't immune. If your vaginal dryness is accompanied by a dry mouth and itchy eyes, it might be worth talking to your doctor about this one, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Bottom Line

The good news is that just because you woke up with a dry vagina this morning, that doesn’t mean this is your new normal. Work with a trusted doctor or gynecologist to figure out exactly what's going on.

Once you know the culprit, you can fix it! And in the meantime: lube, lube, lube. No one should have to experience the discomfort of a dry vagina when there are so many options available.

If you notice that your dryness isn't going away or that you aren't getting wet when you're preparing to have sex, a more long-term reason for vaginal dryness may be the culprit. Grab some lube and vaginal moisturizers, make an appointment with your health care providers, and you'll get to the bottom of it.

Expert cited:

Dr. Leslie Meserve, MD, chief medical officer and co-founder of CurieMD

Study referenced:

Chen, Y., Bruning, E., Rubino, J., & Eder, S. E. (2017). Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: Global hygiene practices and product usage. Women’s Health, 58–67.

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