When you think of aging, you think gray hair, crow's feet, and body parts heading south. You don't, somehow, necessarily imagine that your genitals join in with all the maturing fun. But guess what? Your vagina age just like the rest of your body.
I spoke to gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Karen Morton from Dr. Morton's medical helpline to get the lowdown on what to expect before it all just starts...happening. And it turns out that a number of things happen to both your actual vagina and all the external bits as time goes on.
It seems you can expect a loss of shape and a change of color for the labia minora and majora, the opening of the vagina, and the clitoris. Delightful. Apparently, they lose weight, which is kind of a weird thought, when it seems you tend to put weight on everywhere else as you get older.
In the same way as your skin loses elasticity through the years, your vagina does the same, and you've got hormones to blame, says Dr. Morton. "The lips (labia) surrounding the entrance to the vagina and the vagina itself are kept healthy by estrogen which comes through the blood stream from the ovaries.
"The skin inside the vagina is as pink and moist as the inside of your mouth. After menopause, when there is no estrogen about, the vaginal lining gradually becomes paler due to a reducing blood supply, as well as flatter and less stretchy," she goes on to explain.
And women are designed to be "stretchy" so they can have sex and give birth and stuff, but that elasticity reduces with the drop in hormones that comes with "The Change." I'm not going to lie, I'm having awful images of this, but it surely can't be that bad or I reckon we'd have heard worse things before, no?
Dr. Morton also notes that older women can become more prone to bacterial infections such as bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections such as thrush with age. "The moisture your vagina creates is less acidic and the whole ecosystem (the millions of healthy bacteria which live there) in the vagina is disturbed," she says.
UTIs might be on the up too because the bladder is also affected by the lack of estrogen, making you urinate more often and therefore more susceptible to urinary tract infections. Yay! Can't wait for all this to get cracking.
Oh yeah, and then you'll need to invest a little more in some lube. "Because the blood supply to the vagina is reduced, the natural lubrication which comes through the wall of vagina during arousal (it is called a transudate) is reduced," the doctor advises.
But if you don't like the sound of all this, Dr. Morton notes that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be a simple solution, upping hormone levels and giving the vagina what it needs through the blood stream.
Oh, the joys of the circle of life.