Why Is My Vagina Dry During Sex, and What Can I Do To Make It Wet? 6 Common Culprits For Dryness, and Your Solutions

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? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. This week’s topic: Why is my vagina so dry, and what can I do about it?

Q: I think there may be something wrong with my vagina. It’s always dry, even when I know I’m super turned on. It’s not only awkward, but it makes sex hurt and guys never believe me when I say that I really am into it, I’m just not wet. Is there anything I can do to make my vagina less dry? And why is it happening?

A: Vaginal dryness is a common problem. Most people experience it starting in menopause, with one in three menopausal women feeling parched in their lower parts. However, it can happen at any age. In fact, around 40 percent of women living in the United States report not getting wet enough during sex, making vaginal dryness the second most common sexual challenge for ladies, behind low libido. Luckily, there are a bunch of things you can do to get back that slippery feeling that makes sex so fun. Let’s learn about it!

What Causes Vaginal Dryness?

We already know more or less what vaginal dryness feels like, because it’s named so very obviously (you win this round doctors, way to go). What you may not know is that this lack of moisture down there can also result in itchiness, burning, mild bleeding and pain during sex due to chafing or tearing of the vaginal lining and frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs). But why does vaginal dryness happen in the first place?

Here are some reasons why you might be experiencing vaginal dryness, and what to do about it.

Culprit #1: Low Estrogen Levels

The walls of your vagina are normally constantly lubricated by a thin layer of liquid. This is maintained in great part by the hormone called estrogen. If your levels of estrogen are low, you don’t get that wetness, which doubles as vaginal protection. Low estrogen levels are the reason why dryness happens so often to women during menopause, because estrogen levels drop at this point in our biological lives. Other reasons why your estrogen may be low include childbirth, breastfeeding, chemotherapy, and smoking cigarettes.

Solution: Estrogen Replacement

If your estrogen levels are low, then you need to get them back up. The solution most commonly prescribed is topical estrogen therapy — creams, tablets, or rings (similar to birth control vaginal rings) that you put right up in nature’s pocket. These release estrogen locally, helping your vagina get its lustre back while not releasing lots of hormones into your bloodstream.

Oral estrogen hormone therapy is another option, but that releases way more hormone into your body, which can result in intense side effects (all those you can get from oral contraceptives, aka the pill) including potentially decreasing your natural levels of testosterone, which can decrease your libido. Your doctor can prescribe estrogen therapy, so talk to her/him about your symptoms.

Culprit #2: Medications

A number of medications have the potential side effect of vaginal dryness. These include antihistamines, which are generally found in allergy and cold medications, some antidepressants, some asthma medicines, and (shocker), anti-estrogen medications, which are generally taken to treat endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

Solution: Change up Your Medication

If you’re not down with the side effects you’re getting from the medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor. There may be another medicine that gives you the same positive results but with different side effects.

Culprit #3: Sjögren's Syndrome

This is more of a rare one for younger folks, but Sjögren's syndrome (pronounced "SHOH-grins") is an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack your moisture-making glands. Unsurprisingly, this can make your netherparts dry, along with your tear and saliva glands. If along with a dry vagina you feel like you’re sucking on cotton balls for a long period of time, you might have this. Doctors don’t really know why people get this disease, but it seems to run in families. While anyone can get this disorder, women are nine times more likely to get it than men, and it’s most common in middle aged white women.

Solution: Re-lubricate

If you are experiencing vaginal dryness due to Sjögren's Syndrome, your doctor will most likely prescribe you estrogen cream. There are also a number of suggested vaginal moisturizing products on the market, as well as of course lubricants to use during sexual activity.

Try: Replens Vaginal Moisturizer, $17, Amazon

Culprit #4: Irritants

Some women are allergic to the things they put in or around their vaginas. There can be lots of harsh chemicals in douches, soaps, and lubricants that can interfere with your ladyparts. If you’re really sensitive, even perfumes or dyes on things that touch your vagina — like panties or towels — can mess you up.

Solution: Go Natural

It’s always a good idea to avoid putting chemicals up or around your ladybits, and this is particularly the case if you’re experiencing symptoms that lead you to believe you’re sensitive to them. Luckily, your vagina is self-cleaning, so please liberate yourself from all those douches and vaginal deodorants and whatever else people (cough, capitalist men, cough) are trying to sell you to make you feel that your vagina isn’t the lovely, natural organ it really is.

Culprit #5: Insufficient Arousal

It takes a bit of time for the vagina to get into the correct headspace, as it were, to be fully excited and ready for sexytime. As Jerry Seinfeld said in one of my favorite quotes ever: “The basic conflict between men and women, sexually, is that men are like firemen. To men, sex is an emergency, and no matter what we’re doing we can be ready in two minutes. Women, on the other hand, are like fire. They’re very exciting, but the conditions have to be exactly right for it to occur.”

If your body isn’t ready, then diving right in can result in chafing and other discomfort.

Solution: Take It Slow

Seriously, take your time. Sex isn’t a race. Most women need lots of foreplay to allow their bodies to catch up to their brains, even if that brain has been thinking “Bang me now!!” since the second their lover walked in the door. If your partner doesn’t seem to know the importance of foreplay, feel free to share some education about it. Tell them it’s for your health!

If you are doing everything sexy you can possibly think of and still aren’t getting turned on, you may have low libido — or you just may not be all that into your partner or the acts you are performing together. That is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. If that’s the case, it’s up to you to decide what to do next.

Culprit #6: Psychological/Emotional Factors

You may have noticed that when you’re stressed out or anxious, you can feel less in the mood. This stress can be about your relationship(s), or just about life in general. Well, these same feelings can mess with your body’s lubricating reaction. When you’re stressed, your body produces higher levels of a hormone called epinephrine. This hormone is naturally in your body, but when it hits high levels, it interferes with your sexual response and voila! Vaginal dryness.

Solution: Find Your Happy Place

Everyone deals with stress differently, so it’s up to you to figure out how to manage it. Some people find meditation to be very helpful, or more targeted tools such as mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR). Talk therapy has also been shown to help many people manage their stress and anxiety. The important thing is to find a healthy mental balance, so that your body isn’t suffering. Because, you know, the mind and the body are very closely connected.

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of reasons why you could be experiencing a drier-than-desirable vagina, many of which are listed above. The good news is, regardless of the underlying reason of your dryness, there are a slew of moisturizing and lubricating products made specially for vaginas, many of which are available over the counter. Experiment and see if any of them work.

And don’t forget about culprits #5 and #6, because these have to do in great part with the relationships you have with your partner(s) and, most importantly, yourself. Take this opportunity to talk to your lover(s) — you might be surprised at how much a little open and honest discussion can feel like foreplay. And most of all, be sure to support yourself.

Images: Giphy