For decades, women have been left out in the dark when it comes to treatments for their sexual pleasure – particularly post-menopause.
Now there are more remedies than ever to help you out under the sheets – but many women are yet to learn about them.
Genitourinary syndrome (GSM) can contribute to bladder infections and incontinence, and is characterised by vaginal dryness, itching, and often burning.
GSM – also known as vulvovaginal atrophy – can be triggered by a decrease in sex hormones and a change in vaginal pH following menopause, and it now affects up to half of post-menopausal women.
However, despite there being several treatments on offer – only seven per cent of those women use a prescription treatment for it, according to a recent study published via the National Institute of Health.
“It’s a common problem that affects at least 50 per cent of postmenopausal women; yet, only about 7 per cent are receiving treatment,” Stephanie Faubion, M.D., director of ‘Mayo Clinic Office of Women’s Health’ previously said in a statement. “Aside from the physical discomfort, genitourinary syndrome of menopause can put a strain on relationships, and women need to know that this is common and nothing to be embarrassed by. Their health care provider can help.”
There are now various treatments on offer, ranging from vaginal oestrogen therapy, through to laser therapy, moisturisers, pills and lubricants.
Leah Millheiser, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University, told The Washington Post that she believes the delay in addressing this has been due, in part, to the reluctance of doctors to see post-menopausal women as ‘sexual beings’.
She added: “It’s time for clinicians to understand that they have to bring up sexual function with their patients whether they’re in their 50s or they’re in their 80s or 90s.”
Meanwhile, Lauren Streicher, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause, claims doctors are quick to offer men prescriptions for Viagra – so it should be the same for women too.
There are a range of treatments available over-the-counter, and according to The Washington Post, lubricants ease friction but don’t replenish vaginal tissue, while moisturisers help “plump up tissue and increase lubrication”, but aren’t always effective.
Elsewhere, systemic hormone therapy can work to increase hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone throughout the body, but it can carry health risks if taken over a long period of time, especially for cancer sufferers.
Local oestrogen creams, suppositories or rings are considered to be safer, keeping the hormones centred in the vaginal area, but some women are sceptical over their long-term use.
Now, the newspaper reports, there are two prescription drugs that are proving more effective – Ospemifene and Prasterone DHEA.
Ospemifene is a daily oral tablet approved by the FDA in 2013, which activates specific oestrogen receptors in the vagina. However, it can cause mild hot flushes for some women.
Meanwhile, Prasterone DHEA, is a natural steroid that the FDA approved last year. It is a daily vaginal insert that prompts a woman’s body to produce its own oestrogen and testosterone. However, the newspaper points out “it is not clear how safe it is to use long term”.
Finally, many women have tried out fractional carbon dioxide laser therapy, approved by the FDA in 2014 for use in the US.
The treatment uses lasers to make “micro-abrasions” in the vaginal wall, in order to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels and collagen.
According to reports, it’s relatively painless and only takes five minutes – with recipients asked to repeat it for two more sessions at six-week intervals.
While many women noted success, with some even managing to have – and enjoy – sex for the first time in years, others are more sceptical.
Cheryl Iglesia, director of Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, told the newspaper: “What we don’t know is: is there a point at which the tissue is so thin that the treatment could be damaging it?”