The passage of time changes us. This is one of the inescapable realities of life: as we grow older, our outlook on life is altered, our priorities shift, and our bodies change. Some of these changes are hoped for, and some are not.
Now, examining how a woman’s face changes with age belongs to a different specialist. But as an OB-GYN, your other lips do fall within my purview. Your labia (poetically called “nether lips”) start to look different with age. In fact, your entire genital area is as likely to show your age as the rest of your body. So let’s take a look at what’s changing and why.
Why your vagina changes as you age
It’s primarily estrogen levels that are accountable for any changes to your labia, vulva, or cervix. A steroid hormone, estrogen affects the vagina’s lubrication, blood flow, and collagen production. In turn, your genitalia’s ability to contract, widen, or even fight infection may change.
When we are talking about age-related vaginal changes, the discussion often centers on one radical transformation period: menopause. However, this is not the only thing affecting your hormones or the way your labia look. Pregnancy, birth control choices, and even overall health will all affect hormone levels. As a result, much of what is described below can start before perimenopause. The job of preventing them can also start early!
5 ways that labia change with age
All of the changes described here are a normal part of aging. They are rarely a sign of something serious or even concerning, but they may still be uncomfortable or unwelcome.
#1 – Your vulva may get larger
Clinically speaking, “larger” may not be the most accurate term, but it sounds nicer than “saggier.” But “larger” is often how it looks the first time you notice it (or someone else remarks upon it).
In reality, what happens is that the labia and vaginal opening get progressively stretched out as we age. Meanwhile, collagen production starts to slow down around your 30s, and the decline grows sharper around menopause. Collagen is a key component of skin’s elasticity. With slower collagen production, the skin of the labia and vaginal canal loses tightness.
Pregnancies and plain old gravity do the rest: eventually, your vulva at age 50 will not look the same as it did at 20. This is known as “vulvovaginal atrophy,” and it looks different from person to person. In some cases, the labia will appear looser, deflated, or saggy, and your clitoris may also look like it hangs lower.
#2 – Your labia may get paler
Another side effect of menopause is decreased blood flow to the genitals. In women with pale skin, this can also affect the coloring of their labia. Essentially, what was once a deep pink may start looking lighter. In some cases, labia can also look smaller — which could make any changes in the size of your clitoris more noticeable.
These esthetic changes alone don’t affect function. However, many women do feel self-conscious about it, which can get in the way of their sex life. As a result, we now have a handful of techniques that can help reverse the changes of vaginal atrophy. These include moisturizing creams, surgical “tucks” (labioplasty), as well as laser-based procedures such as the MonaLisa Touch®.
#3 – Your pubic hair may grow sparser
Does pubic hair change as you get older? Yes! Even if we think it’s different, pubic hair is just hair, it will be affected by the same age-related changes as the hair on your head.
So, what can you expect here? Mostly, changes in quantity and pigment. Lower levels of estrogen and progesterone will alter your hair growth cycle. With age, many women experience female pattern baldness and lose some hair at the top of their head. Even if that doesn’t happen to you, you may still notice a loss of pubic hair.
If you’re fond of going hairless, this may be a blessing. However, the onset of grays around your vulva is often less welcome. Gray hair usually appears on your head several years before it does in the pubic area.
If you are someone who gets self-conscious about gray hair, remember that it is unsafe to dye your pubic hair.
#4 – You’ll be more susceptible to infections
Now, we’re entering the territory of changes that could affect sexual health, at least if left unchecked: frequent infections, including yeast infections or more serious urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.
If you were prone to any of them before the age of 40, you can expect them to become a bigger deal as you approach menopause. But even if you never had them, there’s a good chance you’ll have to start adjusting your routine to prevent them.
So why does this happen? The main reason is that hormone changes can slightly alter your vaginal pH, which protects your vagina from fungus and bacteria alike. A slightly less acidic pH can then alter your vagina’s natural bacterial flora, allowing bad bacteria and yeasts to grow more aggressive, or harming the habitat of your “good” bacteria.
As you grow older, vaginal atrophy can also play a role. The same loss of elasticity that’s affecting your labia or vulva can weaken your vaginal wall or even your pelvic floor muscles. This can create a new host of problems, such as urinary incontinence or frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
This part can’t be stressed enough: after menopause, we need to take any signs of vaginal infection more seriously. If you notice any changes in your vaginal discharge, especially a change in color or smell, it’s time to call your healthcare provider.
#5 – Dryness may become a problem
But where other aspects of vulvovaginal atrophy are purely esthetic, drier vaginal tissue can significantly affect wellness. The lack of lubrication can make sexual activity unpleasant, diminish sex drive, and further increase the risk of yeast infections and UTIs.
Here is where things have the potential to get tricky. Painful sex can affect your relationship with your partner. However, persisting with intercourse without enough lubrication can increase the risk of tears and injury. But giving up sex altogether can also work against your vaginal health: when we orgasm, we momentarily boost blood flow and hormone levels in the area — not to mention all the emotional benefits that follow sexual satisfaction.
Fortunately, there are a wide range of personal lubricants on the market to supplement or replace your vagina’s natural lubrication.
Labia change with age: Let’s Talk Solutions
Aging may be unavoidable, but not all of its health problems are inevitable. While some people choose cosmetic vaginal rejuvenation, there are other non-surgical ways to improve vaginal function or labial appearance. Some helpful interventions can delay or resolve the effects of lower estrogen levels, or perhaps prevent more serious complications.
Some of these options include:
- Kegel exercises (pelvic floor exercises) can keep the muscles around your pelvic organs strong. This prevents serious complications such as vaginal prolapse and reduces vaginal laxity by keeping the muscles strong.
- Estrogen therapy is available as creams, suppositories, or even oral tablets. Hormone therapy replaces your body’s dwindling estrogen production to prevent or slow bodily changes caused by low estrogen levels.
- Water-based lubricants or moisturizers are helpful for vaginal lubrication, especially for intercourse.
Of course, regular check-ups with your gynecologist are necessary to identify any serious problems in the making.
Dr Thais Aliabadi: protecting women’s health across all ages
For Dr Thais Aliabadi, a woman’s sexual health is one of the most powerful ways to protect her overall well-being. Her philosophy of care is to build trust, openness, and tight alliances with each of her patients. In this way, she can lift the shroud of secrecy behind questions like “Do labia shrink with age?” or “Is labia darkening with age normal?” and help women overcome painful conditions.
We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please make an appointment or call us at (844) 863-6700.
The practice of Dr. Thais Aliabadi is ranked as one of the top gynecology centers in the country. It is conveniently located for patients throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area. We are near Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Culver City, Hollywood, Venice, Marina del Rey, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, and Downtown Los Angeles, to name a few.