Some women have vaginal dryness when their bodies experience the menopausal transition. This can make sex painful. Women may also experience a tightening of the vaginal opening, burning, itching, and dryness (called vaginal atrophy). Fortunately, there are options for women to address these issues. Talk with your doctor—he or she can suggest treatment options.
Having sex is becoming painful: what can I do?
Pain during sexual activity is called dyspareunia. Like other symptoms of the menopausal transition, dyspareunia may be minor and not greatly affect a woman’s quality of life. However, some women experience severe dyspareunia that prevents them from engaging in any sexual activity.
You may find relief from vaginal dryness using water-based lubricants or vaginal moisturizers, which can be found at most grocery and drug stores. Vaginal moisturizers differ from lubricants. They are to be used regularly—not just during sex—to replenish vaginal moisture and relieve vaginal dryness. Do not use petroleum jelly for this purpose; oil-based products can cause irritation.
If using water-based lubricants or vaginal moisturizers does not improve your symptoms, hormones may help. Local vaginal treatments (like estrogen creams, rings, or tablets) are often used to treat this symptom and provide lower hormone doses to the rest of the body than a pill or patch.
Hormones aren’t the only option for treating vaginal dryness and dyspareunia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two non-hormone medicines, called ospemifene and prasterone, to treat moderate to severe dyspareunia caused by vaginal changes that occur with menopause. Your doctor can tell you about the risks and benefits of these medicines.
For More Information on Sex and Menopause:
North American Menopause Society
This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.
Content last updated May 31, 2017