A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a close friend who’d recently had a scare with an irregular pap smear. Fortunately, she turned out to be completely fine, so we clinked our glasses and expressed our gratitude that everything was normal. And she told me: “I'm thankful and all but, I just hate it down there. I hate everything about it now. It’s not the same.” And there it was — the beginning of a long conversation confirming some of the thoughts I’ve had about my own vulva. It’s just different, and I don’t like it.
It’s fairly common to talk about sagging breasts, gray hair, chin hair, drooping bottoms, and wrinkly skin as you age. But why aren’t we talking about what actually happens to a woman’s vulva?
For instance: the hair. A few years after the hair on my head started turning gray, my pubic hair decided to join in on the party. One day in the shower I noticed one, then a few days later there were like 25. I realize it only makes sense — all our other hair turns gray. But there is something about that area going gray that made me want to shave it all off or at least sport a pubic mullet, to preserve my youth. I talked to my best friend about this once even though I vowed to never breathe a word of it to anyone. She told me hers turned gray years ago and she dyes hers (there are actually specific dyes for your pubic hair), so just know you have options.
After the gray hair incident, I asked a friend who is 25 years older for some pubic hair wisdom. Her response? “Be glad you still have pubic hair. Soon, it’s going to be a lot thinner. I barely have any now and I wish I had something to cover up what was happening down there.” So first, it goes gray or white, then it just leaves you.
But it’s not just your hair, either. If you were wondering if gravity is going to take over all parts of your body the answer is: Yes. I talked to Suzanne Weber, an OB/GYN, who said, “Our vulvar tissues thin due to a body-wide decrease in elastin and collagen.” In other words, just like your bum and your breasts, the vulva is prone to sagging, stretching, and having to be tucked back into your underwear. This doesn’t solely happen to women who have had kids either. One of my friends who adopted her beautiful children confessed she can’t wear leggings without wearing a pad “to conceal the camel toe.”
I have another friend who opted for labiaplasty to trim and restructure her labia. She told me she always felt her labia was on the larger side, but after having three kids and reaching her late 40s, the sagging increased and she was very self-conscious. She said it was the best thing she’s ever done for herself.
But probably the most talked about problem among my friends is dryness. As we age, our estrogen decreases which can cause our vaginal walls to feel dry. For this, Weber recommends using a “vulvovaginal moisturizer 2-3 times weekly. If the dryness doesn’t improve or sex is painful, then it’s time to see a gynecologist to discuss prescription treatments and rule out any other potential causes for the pain.”
And then there’s the color changes. I’m in my late 40s and my vulva isn’t the nice shade of pink it once was. This is the one that really panicked me the first time I saw it, now it’s a shade of blue with hints of purple. The reason I know this is because I got rid of all my pubic hair after it turned gray. The first time I saw my blue lips peeking out at me while I showered, I jumped out and started some frantic Googling while standing soaking wet in the bathroom. According to Weber, this is normal and fairly common: “The vulva and vagina change colors and become paler due to lack of estrogen and decreased blood flow to these tissues.”
From one vulva owner to another, this is my take on our aging vaginas: Just like every part of our body we want our vulvas to look our best without putting ourselves under stress in the process. And if we want to dye pubic hair, have it lasered off, let it fall out on its own, embrace our sagging lips, or have surgery, it’s all a personal choice. The good news is, there are different measures we can take and professionals (and good friends) who are willing to talk us through it.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.