I went to my gynecologist for an exam recently and we got to chatting about the indignities of the mid-life vagina. Not in the theoretical sense. We discussed mine specifically. We talked about the usual things that women who rant, swear and sweat uncontrollably grouse about: vaginal dryness, waning libido, moodiness, lack of sleep and the occasional leaking while laughing (or jumping, or dancing, or just walking the dog and stepping off the curb too quickly).
My doctor had several suggestions to help me through these taxing menopausal years. There were hormone replacement pills, of course. But they may increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke or blood clots. The other, not so dire, side effects can include headaches, moodiness, bloating and vaginal bleeding. Sounds like the joys of pre-menopausal life to me!
She proposed dressing in removable layers, but when you live in Southwest Florida how many layers can you really do without? The other night my husband and I were in a lovely restaurant and our conversation went something like this:
Me: “Is it hot in here?”
Him: “I’m thinking of the Chicken Véronique.”
Me: “Doesn’t it feel warm?”
Him: “But first I’ll have a martini.”
Me: “Maybe we can find a cooler table, near a ceiling fan.”
Him: “I’m a little chilly. Do you feel a draft?”
Me: “I’m going to take my shirt off.”
Him: (note of panic) “You don’t have anything on underneath!”
The doctor and I chatted about the conventional range of over-the-counter lubricants and prescription estrogen vaginal creams. I was just losing hope of an “Aha!” moment when she blithely proposed a new vaginal laser rejuvenation procedure, explaining that she could insert a gentle laser into my vagina to deliver energy pulses. It would be virtually painless and take less than five minutes. I’d come back for two additional five-minute visits at six-week intervals and voilà: the magical beams of light would restore my vaginal tissue to that of an ingénue. No more dryness, sexual discomfort, prescription hormone potions.
I promised to do my homework about the array of options we discussed and vowed to schedule my overdue mammogram and colonoscopy, marveling at the unending pleasures of aging.
Over the next several weeks, I noticed news articles and information all over the Internet about vaginal rejuvenation. Had it always been there, I wondered, unheeded until it became relevant to me? Or were the medical and beauty industries just awakening to the millions of mid-life women wandering around with troublesome vaginas?
I learned that aging women (let’s call them “rapidly aging women,” the ones over 50) think far more often about how their vaginas look and feel than I ever realized. Apparently, while I was worried about facial wrinkles, thinning hair, and sagging triceps, countless women are signing on for vaginal steaming, vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, clitoroplexy, G-spot amplification, hymenoplasty (otherwise known as “revirgination”), vaginal bleaching, topical vaginal tightening, and, last, but not least, insertable vaginal jade eggs.
At least according to experts online, I should stop worrying about finding throw pillows in just the right azure blue to match my sofa and start scrutinizing my vagina. Are my lips flapping too much? Helloooo – is there too much room inside there? Is my clitoris timidly hiding behind too much hood? Would my husband relish breaking through my newly re-created hymen? The possibilities are endless!
Rest assured, cultural icons like actress/lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow can simplify our choices. In her weekly online publication, she recommends the little known but ancient Korean practice of vaginal steaming to increase fertility (it’s never too late!), release toxins and revitalize our uteri. Just perch your nethers atop a pail of steaming mugwort, motherwort and yarrow to balance your hormones and your mood. I’ll admit, I’m a bit skeptical about mixing any type of wort with my vagina, but Gwyneth must know.
Once you’re steam-cleaned down there, she also suggests that we insert a jade egg the size of a golf ball into our vaginas and keep it there all day or while we sleep. Apparently, ancient Chinese queens and concubines mastered the art of suction in order to better please their emperors. As a by-product, we may also enhance our own orgasms, balance our hormones, increase our chi, and revel in an overall sense of nirvana as the porous egg cultivates bacteria and propels us, unwittingly yet dutifully, toward a case of toxic shock syndrome.
Following painstaking research, I’ve decided to forego any surgical procedures that might restore my neglected vagina to its former glory. Instead, I turned to a handful of topical vaginal tightening products that are easily found online.
Sifting through remedies with subtle names such as Everteen, Like a Virgin, Crazy Girl So Tight, and Liquid Virgin, I began to glean that these remedies bear names that appeal to men rather than to rapidly aging women with disintegrating vaginas.
A closer look at the products’ active ingredients yielded equally disturbing results: some contain an herbal extract used for centuries in the tanning of leather, characterized as “one of the most powerful astringent herbs known to man.” Astringent? Down there? Another active ingredient: alum, long respected for its ability to increase the firmness of fermented pickles.
I’ve also noticed that most of the physicians that offer surgical tightening, vaginal lip reduction/removal, or the reshaping of the clitoral hood are male. Their websites are replete with terms like “enhancing your sexual pleasure,” “rebuilding your confidence,” and “restoring your youthful beauty.” But I can’t help wonder how quickly they’d sign on to have their penises or scrota carved up in order to better please their partners. After all, remember men’s reactions to Lorena Bobbitt?
My own husband seems relatively undiscerning about my vagina. He’s too busy worrying about his painful knee, throbbing rotator cuff, and Medicaid eligibility. In my heart of hearts, I believe he’s just grateful it’s there. And I, after hours of due diligence and contemplation, have decided to resume my search for the perfect azure blue throw pillows.