Vag­i­nal dry­ness is not ab­nor­mal

The Sunday Independent - - HEALTH -­

FOR years, sex and sex­u­al­ity – par­tic­u­larly for women – was a hushed topic only to be spo­ken in pri­vate, and the realm of plea­sure was even more taboo.

The shame brought on by hav­ing “nor­mal” yet mis­un­der­stood sex­ual con­di­tions like vag­i­nal dry­ness led women to use cook­ing oil, olive oil, vir­gin oil and but­ter – all in an ef­fort to avoid hav­ing to see a pro­fes­sional or worse, to buy lu­bri­cants in pub­lic adult shops.

Chronic ill­nesses and med­i­ca­tions, menopause and other changes to hor­mones nat­u­rally in­flu­ence the amount of vag­i­nal lu­bri­ca­tion a woman pro­duces – but the link isn’t known widely enough… even by some women.

“Be­fore, women didn’t fully un­der­stand when they didn’t get (vagi­nally) wet dur­ing in­ter­course and would use harm­ful sub­stances that only fur­ther dried out their vagi­nas and con­doms, dam­ag­ing their tis­sues,” clin­i­cal sex­ol­o­gist Dr Mar­lene Wasser­man, pop­u­larly known as Dr Eve, said.

While as com­mon as it was and still is, vag­i­nal dry­ness also brought shame to men, who felt they weren’t “man enough” to give plea­sure to their part­ners.

Painful sex af­fects around 20% of women at some point dur­ing their lives. Less than 5% of men ex­pe­ri­ence painful sex, but it is most com­mon in gay re­la­tion­ships that in­volve anal pen­e­tra­tion. Fast for­ward to 2017, sex­ual lu­bri­cants are a boom­ing in­dus­try, with one lo­cal and lead­ing man­u­fac­turer say­ing that in a year alone, they sold 120 000 units.

“Lu­bri­cants have now be­come associated with plea­sure, com­fort and safety. There is a whole spec­trum of so­ci­ety us­ing them from mid­dle to up­per class and, on our Face­book page, we’ve no­ticed more black women show­ing interest in our prod­uct,” said a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the man­u­fac­turer who re­quested anonymity.

He said: “Some peo­ple just want to have fun and we’ve found that women love flavoured lu­bri­cants while men gen­er­ally pre­fer the more orig­i­nal types of lubes. But there is still a bit of self-stigma.

“We’ve no­ticed that our prod­uct won’t sell as much if placed at a kiosk counter, be­cause peo­ple are em­bar­rassed to ask cashiers for them, while if it’s in a nor­mal aisle they sell more.”

Seven years ago, how­ever, a study threw a ma­jor span­ner in the works for the lu­bri­cant in­dus­try, find­ing that some sex­ual lu­bri­cants can dam­age rec­tal and vag­i­nal tis­sue, and thus in­creas­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity to a num­ber of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions (STIs), in­clud­ing chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhoea.

Fur­ther, there were re­ports that lu­bri­cants were an im­ped­i­ment for cou­ples want­ing to con­ceive but still need­ing the added mois­ture from them.

But the Cape Town-based lube man­u­fac­turer said this is­sue was mostly found in over­seas prod­ucts, adding that few cases were re­ported lo­cally. “Ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent. I’m al­ler­gic to tea tree oil, so I prob­a­bly shouldn’t use prod­ucts with that oil. It’s also about know­ing your­self and your pref­er­ences.

Re­gard­ing con­cep­tion, yes, any­thing that would slow down the pos­si­bil­ity of con­ceiv­ing should be avoided, so if you want to con­ceive don’t use it as it may be a bar­rier for sperm,” he said.

Dr Eve ex­plained that there were dif­fer­ent types of lu­bri­cants that fell into three cat­e­gories: oil-based, wa­ter-based and sil­i­con.

Oil-based lu­bri­cants are known to not be com­pat­i­ble with la­tex con­doms – they lit­er­ally dis­solve con­doms, and aren’t in­di­cated where safer sex needs to be prac­tised. These lu­bri­cants are also of­ten dif­fi­cult to clean, re­quir­ing soap and wa­ter, and can stain bed­ding or cloth­ing.

“Wa­ter-based lubes are of­ten used with sex toys be­cause the toys are usu­ally made from sil­i­con. Plus, they are nor­mally cheaper. But I would rec­om­mend sil­i­cone lubes for women go­ing through menopause and can­cer treat­ments or the ex­ten­sion of lubes, mois­turis­ers”, she said.

How­ever, the sex­ol­o­gist did caution women to buy qual­ity prod­ucts, say­ing the av­er­age lu­bri­cant on the mar­ket costs R50 and to check whether it had men­thol as an in­gre­di­ent as it of­ten caused dis­com­fort for many women.

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