In Tantric teachings, our yoni – the Sanskrit word for vagina – is seen as the sacred symbol of the divine feminine and our juices are thought to have healing powers. The yoni is considered the cornerstone of creativity and the internal compass between our thighs, but in this digitally distracted world, we’ve lost touch with our intimate feminine intuition and the power it wields in our daily lives.
The link between our mental and physical health is well-known and the effects of stress on the body can be far-reaching, presenting in many different ways including insomnia, migraines, chronic pain, chest pain and inflammation. But have you ever considered how stress could be messing with your vagina’s inner peace?
We spoke to Pelvic Health Expert and Managing Director of Kegel8, Stephanie Taylor, to find out how stress can impact our vaginal health and what tell-tale signs to look out for.
Here’s what your yoni is trying to tell you…
Vaginal dryness (atrophy)
Chronic stress (stress that stays with you for longer than it should) can reduce the amount of moisture in your vagina.
When you experience stress, your adrenal glands make and release the hormone cortisol. This hormone works to increase your heart rate and blood pressure to allow your body to react to stressful circumstances.
However, when you constantly experience high stress levels, this excess cortisol can cause several health concerns, including vaginal dryness.
Vaginal dryness (also known as atrophy) can cause a sore or itchy sensation around your vagina and pain and discomfort during sex, which, in turn, can stop you from reaching orgasm or put you off sex completely.
How to tackle it:
Pay attention to what you’re drinking, as alcohol and caffeine can exacerbate the problem. If you aren’t properly hydrated, you’re likely to see signs around your vagina. Aim to drink at least two litres of water a day.
Consider using a water-based lubricant during your intimate time. Alternatively, a vaginal moisturiser can help alleviate itching or pain and keep skin nourished.
For a longer-term solution, you can also use a topical oestrogen cream (prescribed by your GP) and take special supplements for vaginal atrophy rich in Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, Beta Carotene (provitamin A) and Power Dophilus.
Libido (your sex drive) is sensitive, and when influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors, such as stress, you can lose it.
When under pressure, your testosterone levels dip as stress-related hormone levels like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine rise. And as testosterone is also a big driver behind getting turned on, the influence of chronic stress can cause your sexual urges to drop or disappear.
How to tackle it:
Testosterone can manage low libido in men – with good results. While there is some evidence that testosterone can boost sexual appetite in women, there isn’t enough data to say that it is an effective long-term solution.
However, making simple lifestyle changes, including getting more sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and giving up smoking, can help boost your libido. While these are beneficial for your sexual wellbeing – it may take some time to notice changes.
For more immediate results, some natural remedies, including maca, ginseng and fenugreek, have shown to be beneficial in boosting libido. Alternatively, consider testing out a new lubricant or masturbating to help arousal.
There are millions of bacteria living inside your vagina. While this may sound scary, it works to protect you from infection.
The vaginal microbiome (the collective term for this bacteria) is extremely sensitive, and if the balance of bacteria is disturbed, this can lead to infection and inflammation.
The most prominent bacteria in your vagina, called lactobacilli, ensure that your vagina’s pH balance stays at a normal level (usually less than pH 4.5), preventing the growth of other organisms.
One study found that an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone) affects glycogen levels in the vagina and harms the production of lactobacilli. Without the good bacteria acting as a defence, your body is more susceptible to infections.
Meanwhile, another study found that stress and anxiety can result in inflammation and a weakened response to fighting infections, including in your vagina. – which puts you at a higher risk of contracting bacterial infections and thrush.
One of the tell-tale signs of an infection is a change in appearance, smell, and discharge texture. A fishy smell may indicate bacterial vaginosis, while thick, white discharge is a symptom of thrush. It’s important to not self-diagnose and visit your GP to discuss your concerns.
Healthy vaginal discharge doesn’t have a pungent odour; it should be clear or milky fluid or mucus that actually keeps your vagina clean and moist to protect it from infection.
How to tackle it:
Bacterial vaginosis, or thrush, can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, but unfortunately, if your stress levels remain high, you may experience recurring infections.
Focus on restoring or maintaining the balance of your vaginal microbiome by consuming probiotics through fermented foods and drinks like yoghurt, kefir or probiotic supplements.
Irregular or missed periods
While getting your period can be a pain or inconvenience, it can tell you things about your health.
Irregular or missed period is a common first sign that something isn’t 100 per cent right. Research has found that the body’s reactions to stress are associated with enhanced secretion of several hormones that increase energy and help you adapt to new circumstances. However, this often means that parts of your menstrual cycle, like ovulation, are disrupted.
Irregular periods aren’t so sinister but can be an inconvenience. Although, one study found that those who are more stressed are up to four times more likely to experience moderate to severe PMS symptoms like water retention or bloating, stomach cramps and severe mood swings.
Unsurprisingly, cycle changes can also cause fertility issues, often through a chain reaction – as irregular periods distress our ovulation schedules, and, combined with reduced libido, getting pregnant can be more difficult.
One study also found that women with higher levels of an enzyme called alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than women with lower levels. Researchers believe that the body releases this enzyme as a part of its stress response.
How to tackle it:
It can be hard to keep track of irregular periods, so consider using a period tracker to help you identify any unique patterns and recall details if you’d like to raise any concerns with your GP.
Lifestyle changes like exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet are great ways to help reduce stress levels and regulate hormone levels.
A tight pelvic floor
Stress can make us physically seize up. We all know that jaw clenching feeling, right? If excessively worked up, tension can reach your pelvic floor and cause serious complications.
A hypertonic pelvic floor (when the pelvic floor muscles can’t relax) is often associated with stress. When your pelvic muscles are overworked, you will feel tenderness and deep aches in your pelvis as they tighten.
Certain activities and movements may aggravate this pain by putting pressure on trigger points. Constipation, pain during sex and lower back pain are some of the first warning signs that your pelvic floor is tight.
If your pelvic floor muscles are overloaded frequently, they can experience long-term fatigue from being contracted for long periods. Too much pressure can also lead to weakened muscles that subsequently will be unable to react quickly and result in the development of pelvic floor disorders, such as incontinence and even pelvic organ prolapses.
According to a study, women experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression are more likely to experience urinary incontinence. Incontinence may also cause more feelings of stress and anxiety, which only exacerbate the problem.
How to tackle it:
Try to spot the signs early where you can to avoid long term damage to your pelvic floor.
Both weak and tense pelvic floor may show similar symptoms but can require different treatments, so it’s important to discuss your concerns with your GP to find the best solution.
Low impact exercises like swimming and Pilates are a great way to strengthen the core and pelvis without causing more damage.
And investing in a pelvic toner can be helpful in teaching you how to exercise and relax your pelvic floor muscles.