Vaginal dryness is not abnormal
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.