As you get older, your body undergoes many changes. This includes your vagina. Your vagina is a soft tissue channel. Your vaginal opening is part of your vulva, which also includes the clitoris, labia, and pubic bumps. Your internal vaginal canal connects the vulva to your cervix and uterus.
Throughout your life, your vagina may look and feel different. To keep your vagina healthy, it’s important to understand what’s happening “there.”
Vaginal health in their 20s
Your 20s are the best years of your vagina, mainly because of the peak of the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Estrogen is responsible for keeping your vagina lubricated, elastic and acidic.
Your vagina is surrounded by two sets of skin folds known as the inner labia and the outer labia. The outer labia contains layers of fatty tissue. In their 20s, the outer layer is thinning and may appear smaller.
Libido You may overdrive during your 20s. If you are sexually active, especially if you have sex frequently, you may experience urinary tract infections (UTIs) because bacteria move from the vagina to the urethra. To help minimize the risk of getting a UTI, urinate as soon as possible after sex to help force bacteria out of your vagina.
Your vagina cleans itself. When cleaning alone, it produces white or clear liquid. Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle affect the amount of vaginal discharge that your vagina produces. Unless you experience symptoms such as pain during sex, itching, foul-smelling discharge, or burning, your vagina only needs a little care in your 20s – besides washing every day with soap and mild water.
Vaginal health in their 30s
During your 30s, your inner labia can become dark due to hormonal changes. If you are pregnant, vaginal discharge can increase and look like milk. It may have a mild odor, but it must not be green, yellow, or smell unpleasant or suspicious.
After giving birth, your vagina may lose its elasticity and stretch more than usual. Over time, most of the vagina will return to its size almost before birth. Kegel exercises can help by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles and restoring vaginal tone.
Oral contraceptives can cause vaginal changes such as increased vaginal discharge, vaginal dryness, and breakthrough bleeding. These symptoms often resolve on their own. If it still exists, consult your doctor. You may need to try several oral contraceptives to find one that suits you.
Vaginal health in their 40s
Thanks to perimenopause, the timeframe right before you stop menstruating, your vagina experiences significant changes in your 40s. When estrogen levels in your body decrease, your vaginal walls become thinner and drier. This is known as vaginal atrophy and can cause:
- vaginal burning
- vaginal redness
- painful sex
- vaginal discharge
- vaginal itching
- burning when urinating
- shortening of the vaginal canal
- increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases
Having regular sex helps slow the development of vaginal atrophy by increasing blood flow to the vagina and keeping it elastic. Commercial vaginal moisturizers or using vaginal estrogen creams can also help fight vaginal dryness. Vaginal estrogen is available in tablet form or as an interchangeable ring. If you prefer the natural route, olive oil and coconut oil can help keep your vagina moist.
Your pubic hair can thin out or turn gray during your fourth decade.
Vaginal health in their 50s and beyond
Now, you may have stopped menstruating and your estrogen levels are quite low or drained. Your vulva may appear to be shrinking. Vaginal atrophy is a common problem for many women in their 50s.
Low estrogen can change the acidity in your vagina. This can increase the risk of infection due to bacterial overgrowth. Low estrogen does not only affect your vagina. This also has an impact on your urinary tract. Atrophy can occur in your urethra and cause leakage of urine, overactive bladder, and frequency of urination.
Oral or vaginal hormone therapy can help reduce symptoms of vaginal and urinary atrophy. Even so, hormone therapy is not a good choice for all women. Other medications include:
- do bladder exercises (biofeedback)
- use vaginal dilators to increase vaginal elasticity
- eat healthy food
- maintain a healthy weight
- reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet
- quit smoking
- do Kegel exercises and other pelvic floor exercises