Most women entering midlife today expect to feel some physical changes associated with menopause. Almost every woman has heard about the dreaded hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and sleep disturbances. Few women, however, are expecting to experience physical changes in the vagina.
When puberty begins and the ovary starts producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, menstrual cycles appear, and young women are forced, ready or not, to give some attention to their vagina. The majority of women that I have cared for in my thirty years of clinical practice (including myself) would much prefer to ignore this process. However, we all come to realize it is part of who we are.
As we mature, we begin to appreciate the many benefits of our vagina. It is not just a portal for menstrual cycles; it is the doorway to our fertility and sexual pleasure. It appears to work perfectly with little help from us. This is a good thing. We like that we don't need to fuss over it.
Fast forward thirty five to forty years and now the ovaries are no longer producing the same amount of estrogen, our fertility has ended (which for most is accepted) but we notice that the vagina "feels" very different. At times it feels dry. We may also notice there is a different scent coming from the vagina. Vaginal secretions have lessened, but now many of us experience leakage of urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or trying to keep up with our friends in fitness classes. This is called urinary incontinence and is more prevalent than we once thought. Leakage of urine during menopause can cause an unwanted vaginal odor. In addition, a change of pH in the vagina, caused from fluctuating hormones, can also contribute to a vaginal odor.
When this happens we feel betrayed—that fresh feeling has gone. We no longer feel like our self, the woman we have come to know. "What's happening?" "Why now?" And "I can deal with the hot flashes but please don't make me give up my sexuality". These are all feelings you may have.
Don't despair! In most cases, vaginal odor can be attributed to urine leakage or a change in the vaginal pH. A trip to your doctor is necessary if the odor is consistent, causing any vaginal discomfort, or is becoming worse. Soon you will realize, menopause or not , that you don't have to give up any part of the woman you have come to love!