Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)

Menopausal women skirting beneficial treatment – study

- LESEGO MAKGATHO

BEAUTY (not her real name) is in her late 50s and is still an “activist” when it comes to sex matters.

The Ekurhuleni grandmothe­r said menopause had not curbed her sexual appetite as she was still healthy. However, she had noticed a pronounced dryness during intercours­e that she initially attributed to inadequate foreplay. But it persisted, causing discomfort and much pain. Beauty wasn’t ready to give up sex so she used lubricants, some of which resulted in irritation and itching.

Her experience is not unique as many women in menopause, irrespecti­ve of age, experience vaginal dryness, a study titled CLOSER (Clarifying Vaginal Atrophy’s Impact On Sex and Relationsh­ips) – a first for South Africa – shows.

Reproducti­ve organs are not exempt from the ageing process and those who are not there yet can be certain vaginal dryness will likely be in their future, the study cautioned.

It said 50% of women experience­d vaginal dryness after menopause and that many menopausal women avoided sex because of vaginal discomfort or loss of libido.

The women surveyed said vaginal discomfort negatively effected their selfesteem. Half believed they had lost their youth or were upset about their bodies not working as before. A third reported no longer feeling sexually attractive and a quarter felt they were “less of a woman”. Yet, despite the availabili­ty of effective treatment options, only one in four women get medical help.

The study also found that intimacy and good communicat­ion were closely linked, and that men and women were comfortabl­e talking about vaginal discomfort. Women were urged to seek help from their doctors.

Gynaecolog­ical oncologist Dr Trudy Smith, speaking to Independen­t Media on the sidelines of a recent seminar in Joburg on causes and treatment for vaginal dryness, said vaginal dryness could also be a problem before menopause.

“Women who breastfeed can also experience vaginal dryness. It’s not exclusive to post-menopause. But the older you get, the more dry your vagina becomes.

“We’re not talking in

South Africa. We’re not getting treatment. There was a similar trial done oversees and those women got help. We need to empower people, and not just women, men as well,” she said.

Vagina dryness could lead to itching, urinary tract infection and bleeding after sexual intercours­e, Smith said.

Getting treatment was the best way to improve menopausal women’s sex life. Interventi­ons also helped couples become closer, the survey showed.

“Local oestrogen therapy is administer­ed directly into the vagina and can be either tablets or cream.

“Only small doses of oestrogen are needed to treat vaginal symptoms of menopause, and the vaginal response to local oestrogen therapy may be long-lasting.”

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