It’s easy to look at a photograph from 10 years ago and point out the subtle ways we have aged (and ripened like fine wine). But when it comes to our vaginas and vulvas, how many of us are spending hours a day examining ourselves down there with a compact mirror to make sure our lady bits are holding up okay? If you are, brownie points for you.
It makes sense that our favorite female body part would slowly transform the same way every other part of us changes and moves on. Everything from our actual vagina to the external parts including the labia minora and majora, the opening of the vagina, and even the clitoris lose shape, change color and (gulp) actually lose weight as we age.
“Just like any other part of your body with skin, glands and hair follicles, the appearance of the vagina is affected by the aging process and how well you take care of it,” says Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Wake me when the FDA approves DIY vagina Juvederm injections, please. In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about how your vulva and vagina will age so you can decide whether “gracefully” is in your vocabulary.
Hormones, those jerks responsible for every bad mood you’ve ever had, seem to have a real vendetta against vaginas. They are constantly working to influence the integrity and elasticity of your vagina and vulva. “As you age and lose your subcutaneous fat in your body, the fat in the vagina also decreases, making the lips looks thinner,” Ross says.
As you can probably guess, childbirth has the most dramatic effect on the vagina, especially if you have a vaginal delivery, Ross says. And you’re not alone: Ross cites a recent statistic that 30 percent of women who have a vaginal birth will have some form of trauma to the tissue and muscles in the vagina and pelvic floor. Yet another reason to call your mother right this second and apologize.
The second major reason for changes down there is menopause and the loss of estrogen, which nourishes and hydrates the vagina. During this time, the tissue becomes dry, pale and dehydrated. The labia of the vagina can become fused and the vagina and clitoris shrink, Ross says. Other changes include the labia becoming less full, losing its fatty pads and the skin losing its collagen. The end result is lighter or darker appearing labia that sag. The medical term for this is “vulva-vaginal atrophy,” Ross says.
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness as a result of menopause or breastfeeding, both of which result in a drop of estrogen, Ross says the effects are reversible. Once you stop nursing, the vagina should return to a healthy and hydrated state. Vaginal estrogen also can reverse the dryness caused by low estrogen.
Let’s stop and review (and pour ourselves a much-needed alcoholic beverage): dryness, a shrinking clitoris and skinny and sagging labia that may or may not become pale pink or brown. All reasons to grab your husband, boyfriend, girlfriend or sex toy and enjoy your vagina, clitoris and vulva now. Sorry, there’s one more thing I need to remind you of. Your pelvic floor muscles, which you probably only found out existed after giving birth and realizing you were going to urinate every time you coughed for the next two to three years, get weaker with age, each pregnancy, menopause or from simply not keeping them active (note to self: start keeping them active).
“Women who are overweight (have a BMI greater than 30) or participate in high-impact exercising put extra stress and strain on the pelvic floor muscles, further changing the shape of the vagina,” Ross says.
Alas, there is hope. We spend so much time focusing on the many cosmetic procedures and products that can turn back the signs of time on our faces and bodies, but almost zero attention is given to how we can keep our vaginas and vulvas in solid standing.
There are a myriad vaginal rejuvenation procedures (both surgical and non-surgical) that can help restore lubrication, strengthen your vaginal walls and even plump and smooth out wrinkles on the labia majora and minora.
Above all else, it’s important to remember that no one is spared the effects of aging and that a positive mindset does more for us that all of the vaginal rejuvenation procedures in the world.
“The effect of aging on our body, including our vagina, is inevitable,” Ross says. “Your vagina is as young and beautiful as you think it is in its appearance. Your personal attitude and vaginal confidence is the most important factor in how others perceive an aging vagina.”