It’s Not a Problem Until It Is
Prior to my perimenopausal journey, I never gave the health of my vagina much thought other than the care needed after childbirth. I had been spared from any female health issues and sexual function had never been a problem. This all changed very abruptly for me when I discontinued the Pill at age 47. About one month after my last period on the Pill, I began to experience hot flashes, skin flare-ups, joint pain, and other symptoms of drastically dropping hormones. And then, about a month later, it seemed that almost overnight, sex was extremely painful!
A few days later, I had my first urinary tract infection ever, at age 48. The pain was unlike anything I’d ever felt and the bleeding scared me. It was suddenly time to pay attention to the care of my most intimate parts.
The Magic of Vaginal Steaming
Let’s back up to my first phone call with Dr. Cope. I had been to see her in Charlottesville for a short in-take appointment focused on discontinuing the Pill and we had scheduled a follow-up phone call a week or so later. During that call, we were talking about women’s health and what I might expect after going off of the Pill. I still have the notes where I wrote “vaginal steaming”. I was thinking, “What the heck is that?” as Dr. Cope said, “Tell me if this freaks you out” as she started to explain what it means. She told me about how you can boil a carefully blended mixture of dried herbs and flowers and then position yourself over the steaming pot so that the steam carries the healing power of the plants up inside the vaginal opening. Dr Cope, a masterfully gifted herbalist, dries the plants herself. She said she would send me some.
That box sat unopened until I was recovering from the urinary tract infection and Dr. Cope said on the phone, “Sounds like a great time for a vaginal steam to me…”. So, I tried it. I could feel the healing power as I squatted over that pot. I later learned from Dr. Cope that the steam improves blood flow in the vaginal tissue and can even change vaginal pH levels!
Over the last two years, vaginal steaming has helped to defeat at least two yeast infections as well as help with my recovery after a ruptured ovarian cyst. And there have been times I have done it for no particular reason at all other than pampering my feminine self.
Soon after that very first vaginal steam, I also began using natural vaginal suppositories as recommended by Dr. Cope. This greatly helped combat the vaginal dryness I was experiencing and quickly allowed intercourse to once again occur without pain. The DHEA ovals by Bezwecken moisturized the vaginal tissue and enhanced sexual pleasure.
These suppositories are available with straight botanicals (Cocoa butter, Vitamin E, and beeswax) or with varying combinations of hormones. A naturopathic physician specializing in women’s health can recommend specific suppositories based on individual women’s needs. Dr. Cope has recommended just the right ones for me at just the right time. Once she recommended one by Vitanica that helps to cure yeast infections. I don’t even want to imagine how an allopathic doctor would address these very personal issues.
As a few months passed and I started having periods, I needed the vaginal suppositories less and less! Sometimes months went by without needing them. A whole year later, in the Spring of 2020, I was having a lot of hormonal fluctuations. Estrogen was very high at times. During these times, I did not need suppositories and sexual intercourse was especially pleasurable. This continued through this past summer. Sometimes I was amazed that my orgasms were even stronger than they were in my younger years!
Keep the Drive Alive
Then, by the Fall, I noticed my sex drive and response seemed to be decreasing. My vagina was beginning to get dry again. But before it got to the point of sex being painful, I went to my arsenal of suppositories. I did not need them every day; just occasionally. Then, this past February (2021), I began to need the DHEA suppositories more regularly. Now, in March, I need them every other day and I alternate with the botanicals. Dr. Cope also recommended a natural lubricant by Foria.
One morning, I realized that sex had left my vagina feeling a little sore, which had not happened in almost two years when I first stopped the Pill. I knew what to do. With the herbal and flower mixture beginning to boil on the stove as my 19 year-old son gave me that look, I finished my breakfast. And after he left the house, I went up to my bathroom to get in touch with my divinely feminine self as I enjoyed a much-needed vaginal steam. The rest of the day, my vagina felt much healthier and I am proud of myself for taking care of the most intimate part of the physical ME! Learning to take care of every part of ME is one of the most valuable gifts of my perimenopausal journey. To learn more about self-care during perimenopause, read Menopause Symptoms and Signs.
Women undergoing the menopausal transition will experience varying degrees of vaginal dryness. This can range from mild everyday discomfort to a shredding pain during intercourse. A naturopathic doctor who specializes in women’s health can suggest a variety of natural vaginal suppositories that restore moisture and promote more comfortable sexual intercourse. These suppositories are available with straight botanicals (Cocoa butter, Vitamin E, and beeswax) or with varying combinations of hormones (DHEA, Progesterone, Estriol).
Naturopathic physicians can also recommend natural lubricants that can reduce pain and enhance pleasure during sexual intercourse. In contrast to what an allopathic doctor might suggest, these lubricants are free from harmful chemicals.
It is important to have a lubricant on hand during the perimenopausal transition. Vaginal dryness can set in with very little warning. As a woman’s body is changing and she is dealing with the signs of aging, it is important to continue to find new ways to connect with her partner; both emotionally and physically, and keep the drive alive! Continuing to have sex frequently during this transitional time is important relationally and physically. Regular intercourse helps to keep the vaginal tissue from breaking down.
A practice that helps to restore vaginal tissue and rebalance vaginal pH, known as vaginal steaming, can also be very helpful throughout various stages of perimenopause. Whether it’s cleaning out after a bleed, curing a yeast infection, or promoting healing during an unusually dry phase, specially blended vaginal steam mixes available from an herbalist allow a perimenopausal woman to care for herself. She appropriates the Divine power of plants to bring about a healing that begins at the vaginal opening but somehow passes much further into the deepest parts of the whole woman. Obviously, an introduction to this special form of mysterious healing would not be part of a conventional perimenopausal treatment plan with an allopathic doctor. Not only are women who receive allopathic care not getting the personalized care they deserve, but they miss out on the privilege of intentionally playing a part in their own divinely designed healing!
Celia Layman, age 51- Harrisonburg, VA