Dr. Sherry A. Ross OB-GYN, author and women’s health expert is also the flag carrier of “The Vagina Revolution” and author of “She-ology,” a great primer for learning more about our intimate health. What follows is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation because we think she’s an awesome advocate for women’s health.
First of all, Dr. Sherry, can you tell us why our vaginas need a revolution?
Our vagina’s don’t actually “need” a revolution but the conversation sure could use a radical makeover. When it comes to vaginal and sexual health, women over 50 have been operating with misinformation, half-truths and an overall lack of science for way too long. For example, there are so many ways of thinking about and dealing with perimenopause that most women have never heard of. We’ve successfully indoctrinated women to see their gynecologist once a year for a Pap smear, but the average office visit is now 7 ½ minutes, so when do you ask your doctor about all the other issues: night sweats, dryness, loss of libido or low sex drive? These questions shouldn’t be unspoken but when do you get to ask them—in the two minutes after your doctor says “Now scooch” down a bit…. a little bit more?”
Is there anything specifically different about my 50 plus age-defying vagina?
Perimenopause and menopause and its’ hormonal havoc cause a variety of disruptive symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, depression, anxiety, abdominal bloating, water retention, vaginal dryness and weight gain, to name a few, but the aging process affects everyone differently with one certainty: after menopause, you will have a lot less estrogen. Less estrogen means less hydration which causes vaginal dryness. This is pretty much the standard and delicate, dry vaginal tissue often leads to painful sex, tearing, and burning which can lead to easy access for STI’s and who wants that? This is why we shouldn’t be shy about adding some lubricant or a sex toy to the mix.
I mean, we are older but we are also smarter—who couldn’t use a little assist? I know many of you can agree with me, it’s so much harder to have an orgasm as we get older!
OK. Dryness—that’s a good over-coffee conversation. Is there any relief to be had?
Actually, plain old coconut oil is a great moisturizer and antidote for external dryness. If you put coconut oil in your bath it’s good news for all of your skin at the same time. I’m also a fan of Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash instead of drying soap. I mean, washing your feet and your vagina with the same bar of soap might not be the smartest two-step. And when traveling, carry some vaginal wipes—they are gentle and you can also use them to clean your hands – just not the other way around.
What about women who aren’t having a lot of sex? Is there a physiological downside to closing up shop?
I think it’s a mistake for women to abandon having any kind of sex. Self-love is love too, and comes with a lot of the benefits, even more so than actual intercourse.
Technically, vulvovaginal atrophy is the medical term for when the vagina becomes extremely dry, pale and dehydrated. The labia can fuse and the vagina and clitoris shrink and even a vaginal collapse can occur. “VVA” is real and it can make even walking hurt. Sex is probably the last thing you want if you are suffering but sex is probably the most natural cure for the atrophy and discomfort. Women’s vaginas should be exercised at least a few times per month and if they don’t have a partner they should employ the use of a vaginal dilator or a dildo.
Don’t forget to use some lube or extra virgin coconut oil. If only we could think of it as another form of physical therapy, we might take better care of ourselves.
Can you share your “best natural remedies” for peri- and menopausal symptoms?
Here are my top 6 natural remedies to help some of these annoying symptoms:
1) Herbs including Passionflower Extract, Fenugreek, Ashwaganda, Black cohosh, red clover extract, Chasteberry fruit extract, St. John’s Wart, Royal Jelly, Chromium and Ginkgo Biloba leaf have been proven to help with symptoms associated with these hormonal cycles.
2) Acupuncture–This timeless ancient Chinese treatment is still a viable complementary treatment option for many of these common symptoms.
3) Probiotics support a healthy gut by balancing hormones such as estrogen, thyroid and phytoestrogens especially important during perimenopause and menopause. Lactobacillus is the most common probiotic that helps control lactose intolerance, gas, diarrhea, constipation and other digestive problems. Daily serving size varies according to where you are getting your daily source. The most commonly probiotic, Lactobacillus, should be taken from 1 billion to 15 billion CFU’s a day
4) Dietary Influencers- Soy proteins are healthy for women in perimenopause and menopause. The isoflavones in soy are thought to balance hormone levels and help control hot flashes. 5 ounces of soy is a recommended daily serving size of protein.
Natural Diuretic Foods. Sex hormones cause bloating and water retention during these hormonal cycles. Foods to reduce these side effects include celery, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, asparagus, lemon juice, garlic, melon & lettuce. Green tea is also a great natural diuretic. Daily serving size is 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice.
Avocados are healthy fats that help our body absorb vital nutrients. They are loaded with important vitamins and balance hormones in our body. Daily recommended serving size is ½ of avocado a day.
5) Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (EVCO)-Whether you add a handful into a warm bath water or use it as sex lubricant, EVCO, helps with skin and vaginal dryness. Use daily or frequently for best results.
6) Lifestyle Changes
Harmful lifestyle habits including smoking, inactivity, eating an unhealthy diet (including fast food), obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and not sleeping well all contribute to making peri-menopausal and menopausal symptoms worse.
Regular exercise 4-6 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes is helpful to reduce many of these hormonal side effects. Plus exercise improves your energy, mood and emotional stability.
Okay, here’s a fun question: if you had a warning label what would it be?
Be careful what you ask me. I will give you my most honest answer and then some!