was 51 when my vagina dried up…bang on the average age for menopause. It definitely fell into the category titled ‘Disappointing’. If I’d been given to hyperbole, I’d have put it into ‘Devastating’ but I tried to be rational and reasonable, which itself can be a challenge when you’re in the middle of The Change.
There will be a way to fix this, said my rational and reasonable mind. I feel like a failure as a woman, wailed my poor, shocked heart.
I had no right to feel shocked, I knew about the symptoms of menopause, I just didn’t think it would happen to me. I had laughed about it with my friends – conspiratorially. We said how awful it was that nobody wrote about it, but we didn’t want to go public either, to put our names to anything that would let the world know that we were menopausal. It’s just not sexy. And that’s the point, the idea of no longer being able to be considered sexy is appalling. Shaming, even. No doubt that says bad things about the sexualised state of society, but there it is.
My friends and I tried not to mind when we started growing beards, we laughed about forgetfulness, hot flushes, creaking bones and weight gain, we got angry about the injustice. But didn’t ever talk about having a dry vagina. That was going too far. It goes to the core of your womanhood, your sense of self.
You can put on your best clothes and favourite shoes and still go out feeling good about yourself, but when you can’t get wet during sex you feel really bad about yourself. You are embarrassed in the heat of the moment when your body doesn’t do what it’s always done, you feel it has let you down, you have let yourself down. Your man may also lose his erection, and feel let down.
It raises questions about your relationship. He wonders if you don’t find him sexually attractive. You wonder if you don’t too. When you’ve been together for a while, it’s normal for desire to ebb and flow, but this is different. When it doesn’t flow at all, you lose confidence fast even when you’re confident enough to buy and use lubricant.
Lubricants certainly help but, like putting a condom on, it can’t be done discreetly without your partner noticing, and it doesn’t feel the same. I imagine if it’s a new partner it’s easier because you’d apply the lubricant when he’s putting on the condom but we’d been together for years, we had two kids and shared slippers. I was grateful for lubricant, but I didn’t like it. It felt wrong.
In the midst of all this self-doubt and relationship strain, my rational and reasonable mind wasn’t working optimally, but it finally did find a way to fix the dryness and, as a result, the heartache. I found vaginal moisturisers. A whole different approach to lubricant.
Instead of using it during sex, you put it inside your vagina every few days, and it stays there – without being a nuisance. Well, the one I’ve got now does. A tried a couple with varying success, some were easy to use on the vulva but it was hard to get it all the way inside my vagina using my fingers. Others felt a bit gloopy, or leaked out. The one I use now (Hyalofemme) comes with a plastic syringe sort of thing that screws on the end of the tube so that you can squeeze the right amount into the vial which then goes into the vagina – one push on the plunger and voila! The gel is where it needs to be, and I can have sex any time I want without a lubricant. I can honestly say that this discovery has been nothing short of life changing. It feels just like I used to feel naturally, and my life with my man is back to normal, except possibly we are both a bit more grateful for what we’ve got, having experienced life without it.
We’re still young, we still enjoy sex and what I hadn’t realised was that my vagina had actually been gradually drying out because certain positions had been uncomfortable, but I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it. It was only when I’d been using Hyalofemme for couple of weeks that I realised there was no discomfort – I couldn’t really have called it pain, which is probably why I didn’t acknowledge it. But anyway, it’s all gone now and everything feels great.
Since the early days when my friends and I first started talking about menopause, some brave women have started to write and talk about it in the broadsheets and on TV – Kirsty Wark for one.
I’m sure that many people admire them for doing that – I know I do. But sadly, I think just as many people will mock them. So I’m still not brave enough to ‘come out’ as menopausal, but I was really happy when I found out about EveryWoman Day because I think this is a brilliant way to share my experience here, anonymously. And I definitely want to do that because I do have a happy ending.
I think it’s important that other people can find out from women who have lived through it because while vaginal dryness may be trivial compared to other things like infertility or cancer, it can feel like the end of the world as you know it, but it can be easily fixed.