Throughout life, our bodies undergo many changes. We grow from being babies to adults, and transformations take place in our quest to becoming our full-sized selves. Our sexual organs, go through a period of growth themselves. To prepare for the journey, our vaginas go through changes too. They do a lot for us, you know! Hormones, childbirth, cycles, and everything in between (including menopause).
We interviewed Dr. Manuela Maria Vasquez to find out everything about the particular stages our sexual organs go though. Dr. Vasquez recently launched LaMaria, a female wellness brand that works by supporting natural hormonal changes with advanced, effective feminine products. LaMaria combines scientific research, sensuous design, and plant nutrient power to tailor luscious skin wellness to your ever-evolving routine. Keep reading to learn more about LaMaria, Dr. Manuela Maria Vasquez, and your vagina!
Can you walk us through what is specifically happening to the vagina through puberty, your 20s, 30s, 40s, and through menopause?
The Vagina and Puberty:
One of the first signs you go through puberty is the development of breasts and pubic hair. The pubic hair changes from the peach fuzz that was present as a child into darker, coarser, thicker, curlier hair. Her estrogen levels stimulate the production of a thin, white vaginal discharge and this is usually a sign that she is approaching her first period. By the one-year mark of the first period, 65% of girls will have regular monthly cycles that are indicative of ovulation. For some girls, it takes some time for their bodies to adjust to their fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone and they may have irregular periods throughout their teen years.
Your Vagina in Your 20’s:
Now that your body is in full swing of things. It has gotten the hang of what to do with all your reproductive hormones. You may notice that both the labia minora and the labia majora (the inner and outer lips) are more “plump,” and may have changed in color compared to your teen years. This is due to the intricate relationship between the vagina and estrogen.
Your Vagina in Your 30’s:
In our modern-day society in the US, the majority of women are completing their childbearing or are in the process of growing their families. For those women who have had vaginal deliveries, they may notice more significant changes in their vagina compared to a woman who had a cesarean section. With the stretching and trauma during childbirth, many women will find that although they regain the majority of their pelvic muscle strength, it may not return to pre-pregnancy state.
Women may feel the opening of the vagina (introitus) to be more relaxed. This is due to childbirth. They may also feel certain areas that are tauter if there was any trauma to the vagina. This may be from scar tissue and the healing process. Luckily, the vagina is very resilient and forgiving…and it’s never too early to start doing Kegel exercises!
Your Vagina in Your 40’s:
For some women, the relaxation of the pelvic muscles from childbirth or weight gain can lead to the weakening of the bladder and unintentional urinary leakage. As hormone levels begin to fluctuate in this decade, women may start to experience a decrease in their vaginal lubrication during sexual arousal.
Your Vagina in Menopause and Beyond:
The typical age of menopause in the US is 51. Most women on average, start to have symptoms from fluctuating hormone levels from 1 to 5 years prior to becoming postmenopausal. As a woman transitions into menopause and her hormone levels decline, she may notice that her pubic hair starts to become more scarce, the lips of her vagina (the labia majora and minora) begin to thin and the color of her tissue becomes paler due to the decrease in blood flow to her pelvis. Her vagina may narrow and lack elasticity which may cause her to have pain with intercourse.
This is a good time to add a feminine moisturizer and personal lubricant to your routine. It’s also important to continue to be sexually active! The increase in blood flow to the pelvis with sexual arousal can help slow some of the changes associated with menopause. As the old saying goes, “use it, or lose it!”
Do these changes decrease sex drive, your menstrual cycle, ability to bear children?
The most commonly associated vaginal symptom linked with a decrease in sex drive is the changes that occur in the vagina associated with menopause— more specifically, the thinning of the vaginal tissue and the vaginal dryness due to the decline in estrogen levels. These changes can lead to women experiencing pain with sex, making it less desirable. As women approach menopause, usually in their mid-to-late 40’s, they start to have irregular periods due to the fluctuations in their hormones. The unpredictable bleeding pattern can definitely put a damper on a woman’s sex drive!
What can you do if you want more of a sex drive?
Sex drive is much more complex than we realize. It is influenced by multiple overlapping factors that span from biological and psychological to social. There isn’t one specific thing that we can all do to increase our sex drive. The answer is different for each individual woman based on the different facets of her life. Doing some introspection to see what aspects of your sex life you would like to improve is a great place to start.
It is with this information that you can seek out the specific support that you need. The solution may be as straightforward as modifications in sleep, diet, and exercise. A visit to your healthcare practitioner for a physical exam, discussion about your hormones, or adjustments in your meds. Or it may be a little more complicated, such as taking a more intimate look at your relationship with your partner or addressing your own mental and emotional well-being. Sometimes you may need to address a few of these variables to ramp up your libido.
What options do you have to have children later in life?
In the past few decades, we have seen an increasing proportion of first births in older mothers. This has been thought to be a result of the increased population of women aged 35-45, women waiting to get married until they are older, the availability of better contraception, and women taking advantage of opportunities to further their careers and education and therefore holding off on starting families. Having said that, it is important to understand your fertility so you can make a well-informed decision as to what is naturally feasible based on where you are in your life and your biology.
By age 30, your ability to get pregnant begins to decline. This decline becomes more rapid once you reach your mid-30s. By 45, fertility has declined so much that getting pregnant naturally is unlikely for most women. To put it into perspective, your chances of conceiving in a single menstrual cycle without infertility treatments at the age of 40 are approximately 1 in 10 compared to your chances of conception at the age of 20 are 1 in 4.
We definitely recommend that you see your OB/GYN if you are over the age of 35 and have been having unprotected sex for about 6 months and are unable to conceive. Timing becomes crucial as every month that passes your chances of conceiving become slimmer, especially as you approach 40. If you know that you want to have children later in life, one option may be in vitro fertilization. IVF involves combining a sperm and an egg in a laboratory to form an embryo. The formed embryos are then frozen and stored and can be used many years later.
What is the IVF process like?
When you decide you are ready, an embryo can be transferred into your uterus. A procedure that is becoming more popular is oocyte cryopreservation. This is “freezing your eggs”. This procedure involves removing eggs from the ovaries, which are then frozen for later use in IVF. Historically, this procedure was mainly reserved for women having cancer treatments that would impact their future fertility. More recently, we are seeing an increasing number of women from a larger cohort freezing their eggs. For all options, a thorough discussion with a fertility specialist is warranted. Every woman’s unique history and journey with a thorough discussion of the treatment options will help guide what is the best decision for her.
What We Like to Use in the Bedroom
We love the always sold-out They Call Her Alfie’s Love Gel for additional support in the bedroom. It’s a lightweight gel to apply prior to sexual activity to the clitoris. It helps promote a heightened and more sensitive experience. And it comes with a bang for its buck because not only does it get you in a desirable and horny mood, but their Love Gel also hydrates, soothes, and rejuvenates when used on a regular basis. It’s incredible before sex and it’s incredible for the health of the vagina. Shop here.