Because awkwardness is no excuse to stay in the dark about your lady parts
Coming in for your annual women's health exam can be anxiety-inducing itself, and speaking up about a nonexistent libido, sex on your period, or how you smell down there is even more uncomfortable (and sometimes scary). While you should never stay mum when it comes to your health, you can make your next convo with your gynecologist easier by coming armed with the following knowledge about common womanly concerns.
We all smell differently. "Everything we consume—food, drinks, medication, drugs, alcohol—change our vaginal secretions and men's semen," says Justine Shuey, Ph.D., a professor of human sexuality and certified sex educator. If you're self-conscious about your odor, try drinking more water, [Tweet this tip!] eating more fruits and vegetables (other than cruciferous veggies, as their sulfur compounds can give you that distinctive rotten-egg smell), and cutting back on alcohol since it can increase sweating in your crotch. And—no-brainer—quit smoking; the smell permeates everything—and we mean everything.
However if your scent suddenly varies greatly from your normal for no apparent reason, comes with a lot of discharge, or turns "fishy," see your doctor, as all of these are signs of infection. One possible culprit: your birth control method. “Both hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs have an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis, which is characterized by a fishy smell," says Colette Brown-Graham, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn and diplomat of the National Board of Medical Examiners. If you're prone to infection but don't want to change to another birth control, eating a healthy, well-rounded diet and supplementing with a probiotic can help.
There aren't any unique risks about having sex during your red week, except that the chance of pregnancy is more complicated, Brown-Graham says. If you have a 28-day cycle, you ovulate 14 days before the onset of your next cycle, so you would be relatively "safe" from pregnancy. But if you have a 22-day cycle and therefore ovulate on day eight, having intercourse immediately after your period would be decidedly more "risky." "No time is ever perfectly safe, but many women who understand their ovulatory pattern can tell when they have more or less risk of becoming pregnant," Brown-Graham adds. Of course if you use condoms or another form of birth control, you should be fine, and since some women report increased sensation and pleasure during that time of the month, you may want to consider it.
Since itching down yonder can happen due to anything from sexually transmitted infections or yeast infections to too-tight pants or staying in damp gym clothes for too long, it can be hard to know when to worry, says Allison Hill, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn and co-author of The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. If you're not sure of the source and the itching persists after you shower, she recommends making an appointment with your doctor, stat.
Moodiness is a common part of PMS, says Gail Saltz, M.D. a psychiatrist and author of The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead To a Better Life. What's uncommon, however, is anxiety that makes functioning in your daily life difficult or depression that leaves you highly irritable such that you are exploding at others or feeling hopeless and crying. These symptoms could indicate premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). If your PMS is interfering with your life, talk to your doctor, as PMDD can be treated with lifestyle changes, therapy, and medications.
Forget "normal," Hill says. "The amount of vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman, and the color and consistency change as you progress throughout your cycle." What's more important is to know what is normal for you. If you notice any sudden change in your discharge, make an appointment with your doctor to identify what may be going on, such as a vaginal infection.
You may have heard that you need to nix nookie for 24 hours after your Brazilian because the micro-tears created during the procedure make you more susceptible to infection. However Hill says the risk is minimal. "You can have sex anytime after waxing." [Tweet this fact!] So go for it if you're not too sensitive and can't wait.
"There are so many possible reasons—psychological, relational, and physical—that you have no desire that it can be hard to know where to start," says Stephanie Buehler, PhD., a sex therapist and author of What Every Mental Health Professional Needs to Know About Sex. Sometimes it's just where you are in life, such as if you've recently had a baby or are going into perimenopause, which can begin as early as your 30s.
But if the issue lasts more than a few months, it's a good idea to see your doctor to rule out physical problems such as low estrogen or hypothyroidism. Be sure to mention any medications you are taking, as many prescription drugs (particularly antidepressants) and supplements come with decreased libido as a side effect.
If everything checks out normally, Buehler recommends talking to a sex therapist. Your nonexistent drive may simply be a result of settling into a long-term relationship: The first heady rush of lust has abated, and now your desire may be more responsive and not kick in until after you start foreplay with your partner.
Vaginal lubrication and secretions are a totally normal—and necessary!—part of having sex, and every woman is different. "Some women have a lot of secretions during sex, and some have more when they get very aroused during foreplay or when they orgasm. Some women even ejaculate," Shuey says. As long as you feel fine, forget about it so you can focus on how good sex feels. If you really care, you can always put down a towel to protect your sheets.
Men aren't the only ones who can ejaculate. Some women also squirt as a result of g-spot stimulation, Shuey says. “The fluid is most similar to prostate fluid in men. It builds up in the skene's glands and exits through the urethra during orgasm," she explains. Although not all women experience it, most women likely can learn to ejaculate if they are confident and comfortable with experimenting, Shuey adds. But just like an orgasm, there's no reason to try and force it, especially if doing so will distract you from enjoying the moment.
As long as you don't have a medical complication like a placenta previa, cervical incompetence, or unexplained vaginal bleeding, Hill says it's totally fine to go for it in whatever way is coziest for you and your partner.
While most women are comfortable in a variety of positions for the first two trimesters, by the third you may need to be strategic. Hill says the majority of women find that lying on their side is easiest, but try a variety of positions and use pillows to find what works best for you and your man. Just be careful of lying on your back, as doing so can cause some pregnant women to become dizzy and nauseous—not exactly that loving feeling!
"An aching bump in the vaginal area is most likely a pimple or ingrown hair," Hill says. Both of which are not dangerous and will often resolve on their own. See your doctor for an exam if the bump persists for more than a few days or you can't figure out what it is, as it could also be a Bartholin's cyst, herpes, or genital warts.
The days right after and before your period are your least fertile, so if you have regular menstrual cycles, then you can use the rhythm method to avoid pregnancy, says Hill, who recommends using a period tracker app to take any guessing out of the equation. Of course—as with any birth control method—there's still a risk of pregnancy with natural family planning, especially if you're not good at keeping accurate records or have widely varying cycles.
Thanks to the thousands of nerve endings in the nipples, it's completely normal for them to be sensitive throughout your entire cycle, Hill says, although for many women they're most sensitive just before your menstrual cycle due to the sharp drop in progesterone.
If this sensitivity is a new development, you may want to run to the drugstore for a pregnancy test since it could be an early sign of a baby on board. Similarly, because of the change in hormones, new birth control and menopause can also cause sore nipples.