I had never heard of vaginal atrophy until it interfered with my life as a spin and fitness instructor. It started in 2017 when I was 49. I remember suffering with piles and thinking that the pile cream I was using had caused a problem because I suddenly just felt really uncomfortable in my vulva area.
During the GP appointment about my piles, it was hard to bring up a new issue within the 10-minute time slot. I briefly said that I felt a bit funny down there but she didn’t pick up on it. I decided not to mention it further.
Abrasive underwear pain
The uncomfortable feeling got worse. I was really aware of my underwear, whereas normally you put your underwear on and don’t even think about it. I could feel it rubbing and couldn’t find anywhere comfortable to position it.
I am a fitness instructor and personal trainer wearing Lycra most of the time. I teach spin and if I did a double spin class, I was in agony.”
I bought some special pants that were slightly padded to give some cushioning. They were ok but didn’t help much for a double spin class. Sex was definitely becoming more painful and I wanted to do that less and less.
My clitoris area felt like sandpaper and if it was super exposed, too uncomfortable to touch directly on the area. It felt horrible all the time. It’s also something you really can’t talk to your girlfriends about because it’s so personal. Normally, I’ll talk to my friends about most things, but I was ashamed and felt like a really unsexual being.
Unsure where to turn next
On top of that, there was so much pressure dealing with different feelings, running the house, running a business and, of course, society wants us to look as fantastic as possible. I was tired due to not sleeping well and had a waning interest in sex.
Alongside the vaginal atrophy, I started having night sweats and more mood swings. I did talk to my GP about HRT but my mum had very early stages of breast cancer in her late 40s. It was found on a routine mammogram and she had radiotherapy as it was very early days of it.
My doctor said go away and have a think, but you will have to be monitored very closely if you take HRT. I guess I was slightly on the scared side and I decided to push on without.”
The doctor mentioned a specific type of water-based moisturisers and lubricants, which are meant to help with sex and vaginal atrophy. I didn’t get on with them at all and found they really aggravated it. In the end, I found my own natural moisturiser with coconut oil through a search on the internet for intimate products.
Treatment that worked
Improvement wasn’t forthcoming and my vaginal tissue was so fragile, I was getting blood blisters. I was panicking it was cancer and kept checking myself in the mirror. One day, I noticed my labia looked quite white and I returned to the doctor. I was worried it was Lichen Sclerosus, which can indicate the start of vulva cancer. It almost looked like my labia was growing over my clitoris.
Read Rowena’s experience of Lichen Sclerosus.
I was given a low dose steroid cream and advice on lubricants but when I saw my doctor’s notes it said “suspected Lichen Sclerosus”. That’s when I decided to go to a private gynecologist. They said they didn’t think a biopsy was needed but prescribed Vagifem, which is topical oestrogen you put in like a tampon up to five nights a week. I was also given a stronger steroid and an emollient cream to wash with.
It’s been fantastic ever since. It’s really helped and the only time the pain comes back is when I’ve slacked off the Vagifem. It’s taken away that feeling of being aware of my underwear.”
I’ve just recently started on HRT to help with symptoms of chronic anxiety and bad palpitations so bad, I thought I was having a heart attack! I booked a private consultation with an online clinic and was prescribed oestrogen gel and progesterone. I think I’ve had a bit of a lift in mood, feel more positive, not had any anxiety and slept better already! Read more about the HRT debate.
Read more about menopause on our blog.