How Your Vagina Changes As You Get Older

Visible signs of aging, like crow's feet and gray hairs, are a normal part of getting older. And just like the rest of your body, your vagina and vulva also change as you age. As you move through the decades and your hormones change, the way your vagina feels and how it functions during sex also change. 

Here's how aging affects your vagina and what you can do to keep your health and sex life going strong.

How Your Vagina Changes in Your Late 20s and 30s

During your late 20s and 30s, hormones estrogen and progesterone course strongly through your system. As a result, your labia may feel more enlarged, and your vagina may produce more discharge. 

Most people also experience the first pregnancy between their late 20s and 30s, which also affects how the vagina feels and looks. Fluctuations in estrogen after pregnancy and during breastfeeding can lead to uncomfortable vaginal dryness. This is generally temporary, but it can make your vagina feel dry and make sex painful. On the other hand, if you're trying to prevent pregnancy, some hormonal birth control methods may also lead to vaginal dryness.

Pregnancy can also stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles that support your bladder, bowels, vagina, and uterus. During a vaginal birth, the pelvic floor muscles can "stretch, distend, and tear in the vagina to allow the baby's head to come through," Sherry Ross, MD, an OB-GYN based in California, and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period, told Health. Subsequently, many folks notice their vagina feels a little roomier or slightly looser during sex. 

A vaginal birth can also change the appearance of your vagina. "The outside [of the vagina] can appear saggy," Salena Zanotti, MD, an OB-GYN with the Cleveland Clinic, told Health. "People may have redundant tissue that they notice as they get older. That's just some of the changes from childbirth and collective age on top of it." However, unless you have severe vaginal tearing during childbirth, the vagina typically returns close to its original shape. 

How Your Vagina Changes in Your 40s and 50s

During your 40s and 50s, your body starts producing less estrogen as you enter perimenopause, the transitional period before menopause. "This is most common in the 40s, but for some women, it can be later," John Thoppil, MD, an OB-GYN at River Place OB/GYN, told Health. "Estrogen keeps vaginal collagen plump and moist and helps provide good blood flow to the area."

During perimenopause, decreasing estrogen levels can make vaginal tissue thinner and less elastic. Your vagina may also produce less lubrication and feel dry, sore, and irritated – especially during sex. Once you enter menopause and your period officially stops, you're even more likely to deal with vaginal dryness and thinning vaginal tissue, known as vulvovaginal atrophy. On average, most U.S. women enter menopause around age 52.

After menopause, you may also notice changes in your vagina's appearance. Your vagina and clitoris may shrink, and your labia may become less full, potentially changing in color and starting to sag. A decrease in collagen may contribute to sagging skin all over your body, including your vagina, and weaker pelvic floor muscles.

Age will also come with changes to your vaginal bacteria, which can increase your risk of infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV). So if you experience itching or foul-smelling discharge after menopause, you probably have a vaginal infection that needs to be treated.

How To Keep Your Aging Vagina Healthy 

It's normal for your vagina and vulva to change as you age. But here are some ways to slow or ease age-related vaginal changes. 

Use Lube 

For people experiencing vaginal dryness due to temporary estrogen fluctuations or menopause, using lubricants can make sex more comfortable. Lube can help mimic the fluids lost from vaginal dryness, reducing the friction that leads to pain and discomfort during sex. There are many lubricant options, including water-, silicone-, and oil-based products.

Use Vaginal Moisturizer

A vaginal moisturizer can help alleviate dryness by rehydrating vaginal tissue and imitating vaginal fluid. You can apply vaginal moisturizers daily or at least every 2-3 days, even if you're not having sex.  

Do Kegel Exercises

If you're dealing with a weak pelvic floor that makes your vagina feel loose or uncomfortable, try strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with kegel exercises. Kegels, aka pelvic floor exercises, involve clenching and releasing the pelvic floor muscles. Research shows that doing Kegels consistently after birth can help improve blood flow and strengthen the muscles around the vagina.

Use Topical Estrogen

Supplemental estrogen cream, or an estrogen ring, can help relieve dryness and keep vaginal tissue thicker and more elastic. "Most women can safely supplement vaginal estrogen," said Dr. Thoppi. A lower dose is absorbed better through the body with these methods than with oral hormones.

That being said, estrogen supplements aren't recommended for some people, such as breast cancer survivors. Chat with your healthcare provider before starting any estrogen supplements so they can help you assess your risk factors.

Continue Having Sex

The more you have sex, the easier it is to keep having sex if you're experiencing the effects of perimenopause or menopause. When you don't have intercourse, the vagina can become more rigid and vaginal tissue less elastic, explained Dr. Zanotti. Continuing to have sex can help increase blood flow and keep vaginal tissue healthy.

Stop Smoking

Smoking can decrease blood flow to the vagina, making dryness and thinning tissue worse. Smoking can also further lower estrogen levels — intensifying the impact of age-related drops in the hormone, said Dr. Thoppil.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

Talk with your healthcare provider if you're worried about vaginal changes or experiencing pain or discomfort. While it's normal for aging vaginas to change, that doesn't mean you have to deal with uncomfortable side effects. A healthcare provider can help you determine the best course of action regarding your concerns.

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Sources
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