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Is your vagina stressed? The signs it could be – from dryness to pain during sex, and how to remedy it


April marks annual Stress Awareness Month, and many of us are feeling the effects of the past year on our mental health, particularly as the Covid anniversary effect is hitting us all after a year of successive lockdowns.

We’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and anxious, and while you may already know some of the effects of stress on our physical health – from acne to migraines and insomnia – you probably don’t know how it can impact your vagina. So, pelvic health expert Stephanie Taylor – managing director of pelvic floor fitness brand Kegel8 – is here to warn you of these potential side effects to your intimate health before you get caught out.

Here are the top tell-tale signs your vagina may be stressed out…

Vaginal dryness (atrophy)

Chronic stress (stress that stays with you for longer than it should), can reduce the amount of moisture in your vagina.

Vaginal dryness (also known as atrophy) upsets the pH balance which increases your risk of getting thrush and other bacterial infections, can make sex uncomfortable or painful. This, in turn, can stop you reaching orgasm or put you off sex completely.

Pay attention to what you’re drinking, as alcohol and caffeine can exacerbate the problem. Aim to drink at least two litres of water a day. You can also use a topical oestrogen cream (prescribed by your GP) and take special supplements for vaginal atrophy rich in Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, Beta Carotene (provitamin A) and Power Dophilus.

Low libido

Libido is a sensitive thing which can easily be lost. When you’re under pressure, your testosterone levels dip as stress-related hormone levels like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine rise. Testosterone is also a big driver behind getting turned on, so chronic stress can see your sex drive drop or disappear.

Sometimes, we need to kickstart our libidos manually. Our motivators vary person to person, so try and find the self-care that gets you in the mood. Some people find its exercise, others relaxing in a hot bath. If all else fails, masturbation might just remind you what you’ve been missing.

Unpleasant discharge

The hormonal imbalance in the vagina that weakens the protective bacteria can leave you with other issues, including unpleasant discharge that smells, is thicker than usual or is dark in colour. This is caused by the “self-clean” process being interrupted, sometimes by stress.

Changes in the appearance, smell and texture of discharge can be an isolated problem, but it can be a tell-tale sign of an infection like thrush or bacterial vaginosis. These can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, but if your stress levels are high this could be the culprit and means it returns again.

Irregular or missed periods

We know stress tampers with our hormone production, so it’s no surprise that this can wreak havoc with your period which relies on hormones throughout the cycle.

Irregular periods aren’t so sinister but can be an inconvenience. Much worse is the increased PMS that stress can cause such as water retention or bloating, stronger stomach cramps and severe mood swings.

Unsurprisingly, cycle changes can also cause fertility issues. This is often through a chain reaction, as irregular periods distress our ovulation schedules, and combined with a reduced libido getting pregnant can be more difficult.

A tight pelvic floor

Stress can make us physically seize up. We all know that jaw clenching feeling, right? If you’re excessively worked up, this tension can reach your pelvic floor and cause some serious complications.

Pelvic prolapse and incontinence have been associated with a stressed, overactive pelvis so try to spot the signs early where you can, to avoid long term damage. Constipation, pain during sex and lower back pain can be some of the first warning signs.

If you’re experiencing these side effects, try to relax your pelvic floor. Low impact exercises like swimming and Pilates are a great way to strengthen the core and pelvis without causing anymore damage.

For more extreme cases, an electric pelvic toner can assist even the most damaged pelvic muscles on their road to recovery.

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