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Lavinia has a personal story which is inspiring and inevitably all too familiar for many. Medical Liaison at YES Lubricants, Lavinia brings her own perspective to her role, having experienced many years of mis-diagnosed intimate health issues, menopause and a more recent womb cancer diagnosis and total hysterectomy. From a professional point of view she attends many medical conferences and engages with the leading specialists including Gynaecologists and Women’s Health Physiotherapists. This has given her valuable insights into certain aspects of sexual dysfunction and sexual recovery following surgery. Here she kindly shares her experience with us.
I know menopause has been a taboo subject for many years, but more recently TV and press coverage and the revelations from celebrities about their experiences has made it more acceptable to discuss openly. Hot flushes, anxiety, depression and foggy brain are all symptoms of the menopause and are often the subject of humour amongst men and women, but less well known are the changes to the vagina and urinary tract as a result of oestrogen depletion. In my mind this can now be considered as 'The Silent Taboo'.
This lack of oestrogen and the resulting vaginal dryness are not only symptoms of menopause. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and particularly after childbirth can cause dryness and discomfort. For women who are exclusively breastfeeding and not ovulating, levels of oestrogen will be extremely low and this can result in vaginal dryness. If the birth has been traumatic and involved an episiotomy and stitches then getting back to pre-pregnancy sex can be a challenge. This is not an easy subject to talk about and many couples struggle to deal with it on top of the adjustments to family life. This can lead to relationship problems which could be avoided if expectations were matched to the reality of the physical changes that occur.
I had my first baby in 1980 and although the delivery was straightforward, I did have an episiotomy and found sex painful and natural lubrication was reduced. In those pre-historic ages, KY was the only lubricant available and I used to ask my husband to go to Boots and buy some ‘slippery stuff’ for those occasional romantic nights.
After a while, I began to experience bouts of thrush, cystitis and worst of all severe vulval irritation, burning and even small fissures. They seemed to be cyclical, but at the time I had no idea that it might be related to using KY. I later realised that the bleach in sanitary products might also have contributed to the condition, as it was often in the latter half of my cycle after my period that the symptoms were worse.
I was referred by my GP to a leading dermatologist specialising in vulval conditions and after many tests was told that it was most likely vulval eczema and was prescribed a steroid cream to use sparingly.
Looking back, it is hard to imagine how we managed to maintain any intimate life at all, but we struggled on and my husband was incredibly patient and understanding. Fast forward about 20 years and as I approached menopause I began to experience some more urinary symptoms. I had a Cystoscopy and the Urologist found nothing to worry about. He did not mention that these symptoms were very likely to be related to menopausal oestrogen depletion. It wasn’t until I started researching and then asked to be referred to a Urogynaecologist that it was confirmed these symptoms were indeed common during menopause. Topical oestrogen was prescribed and helped a little with dryness and the urinary discomfort, but I was still using a standard lubricant for sex, so the vulval irritation didn’t improve at all.
Around the same time, my husband met Sarah Brooks and Susi Lennox at a business conference, and being completely open about all things relating to female health and sexuality, he was fascinated to hear about their revolutionary approach to personal lubricants. He introduced me, and with a background in new business I asked if there might be any opportunities for me at the company. This was when on a personal level things started to improve for me. The YES YES Company’s mission is ‘To Change the World from the Inside" and my world was about to change, as I learned for the first time about the importance of the formulation of intimacy products. I was offered a job and one of the perks of working for The YES YES Company is as much free product as you like. I started using YES OB, certified organic plant-oil based lubricant, not just for sex, but as a daily emollient to calm and sooth the inflammation. That was nearly nine years ago and I haven’t had any more vulval symptoms since that time. Launched in 2003 after 3 years of research YES is the world’s first range of lubricants, moisturisers and intimate washes certified organic by The Soil Association. The formulation is glycerine, perfume and paraben free and contains no petrochemicals or ingredients likely to cause side effects on sensitive vaginal or vulval tissue. Plant-based bio-adhesive gums form the basis of YES products. These are food grade ingredients and usually found as thickeners in ice-cream and yoghurt.
After a while, my role changed from Business Development to Medical Liaison and so I now work closely with Healthcare Professionals to raise awareness about the difference between standard lubricants and vaginal moisturisers which are not formulated with vagina and vulva friendly ingredients.
In 2015 I underwent a total hysterectomy for endometrial cancer, and the side effects of the surgery have led to more challenges in terms of sex and intimacy. This has made me realise how lucky I am to have the knowledge that I have gained through attending medical conferences, talking to leading consultants and providing support and guidance to our many customers who have not received the help they need from the NHS. This is mainly due to lack of menopause training for GPs and the need for published research into the side effects of the different formulations of lubricants and vaginal moisturisers.
In 2015 Nick Panay, a leading Gynaecologist and former President of the British Menopause Society, and Dr David Edwards wrote a research paper which was published in Climacteric, the official journal of the International Menopause Society. The basis of the article was the importance of lubricant and vaginal moisturiser formulation for treating urogenital vaginal atrophy, and this has become a valuable resource for all HCPs working in Women’s Health. It can be found here:
By Lavinia Winch
Lavinia Winch has been responsible for Medical Liaison at The YES YES Company since 2009, and is Brand Ambassador for YES Certified Organic Intimate Lubricants and Vaginal Moisturisers. You can shop the range here.