Female lubrication. How it works, what it is for and why it reduces in menopause

Female lubrication performs several functions, not just sexual. In menopause it is reduced due to the drop in estrogen levels and the most common consequence is vaginal dryness, which in turn could have other consequences such as difficulty and pain during intercourse recurrent infections – but it could also be a symptom of VV .

In this post we will talk about:

  • Female lubrication: what it is and how it works
  • What are the functions of female lubrication
  • Because female lubrication is reduced in menopause
  • The most common consequence of reduced natural lubrication is vaginal dryness
  • The consequences of vaginal dryness: painful love
  • The consequences of vaginal dryness: intimate infections
  • If vaginal dryness is a symptom of Vulvo Vaginal Atrophy

This article was written and reviewed by our doctors and professionals

Female lubrication: what it is and how it works

The vaginal mucosa has the ability to self-hydrate itself, i.e. to always remain moist and lubricated thanks to the production of transparent gelatinous fluids : just like the mouth, which continuously produces saliva and is always moist. This natural lubrication allows the mucous membranes of the body, and also the vaginal ones, to maintain their functions . In addition to this, the fluids we produce also serve to maintain the balance of the bacterial flora , which protects against infections.

The mechanism that allows these secretions to wet, and therefore to hydrate, the vaginal walls is linked to a neurotransmitter called Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide. This neurotransmitter performs a vasodilator function of the vaginal vessels : in this way it allows the liquids produced in different areas of the genital system to pass through the mucosal wall. 

The degree of natural lubrication of the vagina, however, also depends on two other factors:

  • Estrogens: these hormones facilitate the functionality of the Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide neurotransmitter, therefore when the estrogen values ​​are high the vaginal secretion increases ; on the contrary, low levels of estrogen correspond to a reduced natural lubrication. It is no coincidence that a change in vaginal secretions can be seen in the various stages of ovulation, as well as in menopause when they tend to shrink .
  • Arousal: it is known that in this particular condition the secretion of lubricating liquids increases in a physiological way to facilitate intimate intercourse. It is clear that if there is little secretion, intimacy can be difficult or even painful , because it could cause small lesions to the vaginal walls .

What are the functions of female lubrication

Natural lubrication is essential to avoid pain during intimate intercourse , but it is also important to maintain the health of the vagina and vulva and to ensure a protective shield against infections.

Therefore vaginal lubrication is also responsible for:

  • Maintaining the balance of the vaginal ecosystem , essential to defend the intimate environment from the risk of infections .
  • Maintain the acidity of the vaginal pH , which is generally around pH 4.5 (a condition that makes the vaginal environment inhospitable for bacteria). On the contrary, due to the decrease in estrogen and the consequent reduction of natural lubrication, the intimate pH tends to increase (it can reach up to 7). In this case, the ability to fight bacteria decreases.
  • Ensure natural lubrication that facilitates intimate relationships.

Because female lubrication is reduced in menopause

At the end of the fertile life , estrogen production decreases physiologically . The direct or more frequent consequences may include:

  • Interruption of menstruation that comes definitively after a period of severe irregularity (the so-called perimenopause )
  • intimate discomfort due to the lubrication issue: the less there is, the more discomfort you feel
  • hot flashes
  • mood swings

What you may not realize is that lower estrogen levels also affect the intimate ecosystem and, consequently, the vagina’s reduced ability to self-hydrate. The result is that the vaginal tissues become drier and, since their thinning is physiological with the passage of time, more fragile.

The most common consequence of reduced natural lubrication is vaginal dryness

The direct consequence of this condition is the dryness of vaginal that causes discomfort to many women in menopause: ” It suffers from the 47% of women already after only three years since the last cycle , the complain almost all within 10 years of menopause” estimates Professor Alessandra Graziottin , Director of the Center for Gynecology and Medical Sexology H. San Raffaele Resnati in Milan.

Typically, vaginal dryness is accompanied by:

  • itching just because of dryness, as it also happens when you have dry skin
  • burning even in this case we speak of a feeling that can be directly connected to the lack of hydration: is the same as that warn burning inside the mouth by the dentist, after a while ‘that he works with a vacuum cleaner in action.
  • irritations a dry mucosa can be more prone to irritation easily. It happens as for an abrasion: a mechanical rubbing (during intimacy with the partner but also with underwear) can cause pain, redness and even small lesions.

If you recognize these problems, do not delay: it is important to report them to the gynecologist , who can identify a suitable path for you to keep them under control.

The consequences of vaginal dryness: painful love

Vaginal dryness can be responsible for a series of annoying consequences for the well-being and intimacy of a couple.

When the vaginal mucous membranes are less hydrated, in fact, they tend to become more sensitive and delicate. This condition can cause pain during intimate intercourse (dyspareunia) : vaginal dryness is the main reason why love can become painful in menopause . Drier and more fragile, the vaginal walls can suffer microtrauma during intercourse and therefore become inflamed, irritated or bleed.

To prevent this situation from having a negative impact on your relationship as a couple ,  discuss the matter with your partner and, perhaps together with him, consult a gynecologist experienced in menopause. The professional will be able to explain what happens and help find a solution to continue loving.

Don’t give up on shame and embarrassment: “denying” your discomfort or stalling “waiting for it to pass” won’t work.

The consequences of vaginal dryness: intimate infections

We said before that in case of reduced natural lubrication and a drop in estrogen levels, the vaginal pH tends to lose its natural acidity, decreasing its ability to act as a “barrier” to bacteria.

This can “open the way” to infections, which for this reason can be more frequent in menopause. The most common can be:

  • post coital cystitis : it is one of the most recurrent infections and appears 1 to 3 days after intercourse
  • Candida : very widespread in menopause due to changes in the vaginal pH, it is due to a fungus already present in the vaginal microbial flora.

If vaginal dryness is a symptom of Vulvo Vaginal Atrophy

So far we have talked about the consequences of vaginal dryness, understood as a physiological phenomenon directly linked to the reduction of natural lubrication.

Vaginal dryness, however, could also be a sign of Vulvo Vaginal Atrophy , a condition that affects 1 in 2 women after the age of 50 and which has an important alarm bell in vaginal dryness. The other symptoms of Vulvo Vaginal Atrophy can be: itching, pain during intercourse and small blood loss .

Vulvo Vaginal Atrophy must be kept under gynecological control because it can tend to worsen over time: it is in fact a chronic and progressive pathological condition. For this reason , early diagnosis is essential to treat it successfully.).


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