Dr James Ferry has racked up 25 years in obstetrics and gynaecology, but he says women can still drive him mad.
“They put up with things, like painful sex,” says Dr Ferry, who is head of obstetrics at The Mater Hospital. “They suffer in silence because they think their symptoms are normal.”
Dr Ferry has delivered more than 6000 babies over his career. His Northern Beaches practice, Manly Beach Babies, offers obstetric services as well as treatments for conditions such as infertility, endometriosis and heavy periods. But discomfort between the sheets is what drives many women through his doors.
Vaginal discomfort can affect a woman’s self-esteem, personal health and relationships. Often women put up with the problem for years without seeking help. Sufferers generally fall into two categories: menopausal and post-menopausal women, and post-natal women.
Normal side-effects of the menopause include vaginal itching, burning and dryness, and a loss of lubrication. Hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) can help with these symptoms but many women are not suitable for the treatment or have found it to be ineffective.
“A lot of women in their 50s and 60s have painful sexual intercourse but they assume that nothing can be done,” Dr Ferry says.
Many younger women struggle with sex after having a baby. While a level of post-natal discomfort is normal, some women still find penetration painful many months on. This could be for various reasons, says Dr Ferry, but often the cause is scar tissue that's the result of an episiotomy (a surgical cut to enlarge the vagina just before delivery) or a tear during the birth.
Vaginal laxity is also a common post-natal complaint.
“If someone comes to you and says they can’t have sex with their husband six months after a baby, then you have to help them,” Dr Ferry says.
Manly Beach Babies offers MonaLisa Touch, a treatment whose results can be "life-changing” for such women, he says.
MonaLisa Touch uses a fractional carbon dioxide (CO2) laser that stimulates the tissue under the vaginal skin to produce more collagen and more elastic fibres. While CO2 lasers have been used on skin on other parts of the body for years, their use on vaginal skin is relatively new.
Dr Ferry describes the five-minute procedure as “essentially painless, low-risk, with little or no side effects, and very little downtime”. Most women are advised to have three treatments six weeks apart, then perhaps an “upkeep” treatment once a year.
The effects, says Dr Ferry, are “dramatic”.
“It makes the vagina tighter, more elastic, almost youthful again,” he says. “It increases hydration. It also increases the acidity of the vagina so it’s better able to fight infection.”
This is a common problem for older women because the vagina is less able to protect itself as it ages.
Despite the number of women he has helped, Dr Ferry offers some words of warning: nothing is a panacea. And he says women need to do their research and find an experienced practitioner.
“Vaginal rejuvenation is a medical procedure, not a cosmetic one. It’s a very poorly regulated industry and there are too many cosmetic physicians offering these services.”
Dr Ferry advises women to check that their practitioner is a fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.