Featured Image: @meundies
Article By: Meghan Steel
Fair warning, I will use the word “vagina” a lot in this article. If this makes you uncomfortable, you are probably too young to need this conversation anyway.
Many of the questions women have about their reproductive health can be awkward to broach with physicians and whispered conversations with friends could easily spread dangerous misinformation. While this article is not intended to replace sound medical advice, I hope that it will provide you with the necessary information to become an active participant in the management of your health. Even if you don’t have any symptoms or concerns, all sexually active women should see a doctor or a nurse at least once a year for a healthy women’s examination.
1. Is my vagina normal?
The abundance of free pornography available on the internet means that you have likely seen more penises and vaginas in your young life than any of your ancestors. The apparent abundance of genitalia available for viewing can lead to excessive and often unnecessary self-comparisons. Remember, women in pornography are often not representative of the general population. Since men are the primary consumers of their art, they are more likely to display characteristics of the typical young and fertile woman that appeals to men’s primal desire for reproduction. Therefore, the image of “normal” genitals will be skewed.
If your pubic hair extends onto your belly, it is perfectly normal, if your inner labia (the flaps of skin just outside the vaginal entrance) extend beyond your outer labia, it is perfectly normal. Can you barely differentiate between your inner and outer labia? Perfectly normal! Your clitoris protrudes or is so small you can barely see it, both are normal if you find clear to white liquid discharge in your underwear, it is perfectly normal. While the presence of discharge and smell is normal, if you notice the scent has changed or see the discharge of an unusual color, these could be signs that you need to see a doctor. Otherwise, unless you are experiencing discomfort or pain not associated with your menstrual cycle, any variations in the appearance of a vagina do not represent a potential medical problem.
2. How much pain is too much pain?
Unfortunately, the relatively recent integration of women into medicine has not yet filled the knowledge gap for women’s health. Assumptions about women’s pain tolerance stem from the old stereotype of women as the weaker sex. Accordingly, women more often than men receive a tranquilizer for pain rather than actual pain blockers.
Endometriosis, a disease which causes extreme and debilitating pain in the abdomen, has only been objectively diagnosed through non-invasive measures within the last twenty years. Currently, it is thought that at least 170 million women worldwide suffer from the condition. While pain associated with menstruation is the only type of pain considered “normal” by medical professionals, it can become a severe problem for women who are unable to meet their daily responsibilities because of its presence. If your cramps are becoming far worse than they use to be or if you are feeling pain when you are not menstruating, you should talk with your physician about the potential causes and treatments for this pain.
3. Can my tampon really kill me?
In short: yes, but only if you are using it wrong. Tampon-associated deaths have been attributed to a condition called toxic shock syndrome, in which bacteria have invaded the bloodstream and cause a shutdown of vital organs. The most common bug associated with this condition is S. aureus which lives harmoniously on the skin of about 20% of people. One collection of TSS cases was associated with a new type of superabsorbent synthetic tampons, but these were quickly discontinued, and further testing measures are in place for recent innovations. TSS can occur, however, if any tampon is left inside the body for too long. Most brands recommend that you change your tampon at least every 8 hours, even if it is not yet filled with blood.
4. I’m on birth control, why do I need to use a condom?
Due to the presence of more mucous membranes and a higher propensity for microtears during sex, women are more likely than men to receive a sexually transmitted infection. Furthermore, many STIs can live in your partner’s genitals without leading to any symptoms, meaning they can contaminate you and not even know they were infected. Finally, the most common STI, the human papillomavirus (HPV), is a causative factor for multiple types of cancer. Unless you are in a monogamous relationship with a partner who has tested negative in a recent STI screening, you need to use a condom with intercourse to save yourself the hassle of dealing with an infection.
5. What vaginal cleaning products do I need to buy?
None. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Women have lived for thousands of years without access to body wash or wipes just for their genitals. There is no need for you to waste your money on it either. As mentioned earlier, it is normal for your vagina to smell a little (that’s part of its cleaning process). Scented products can make the smell worse because they throw off the natural pH of the vagina and prevent your symbiotic organisms from fending off the invaders. If the scent is unusually strong or foul, you should visit your doctor or pharmacist rather than reach for that blossom-scented vagina soap.
6. Why don’t I enjoy sex as much as my partner?
Men and women might someday be social equals, but they are certainly not the same. The two sexes have evolved extremely different reproduction patterns; since women can only carry one baby at a time, they are more likely than men to want to build a relationship with a single partner who can help support the offspring. Since men do not have these same biological limitations, it is advantageous for them to place their genetic material in as many women as possible.
We are not as far removed from these animal instincts as we would like to think we are, but this does not mean that we can’t start changing these patterns. Of course, there are plenty of women who enjoy having a lot of sex, but men, in general, are more invested than women in the physical aspects of a relationship. Unlike men, who discover masturbation easily and independently, most women have not been exploring the pleasurable side of their genitals since they were small children. As such, it can be difficult for us to describe what a pleasurable touch should look like.
For this reason, the best solution for your comparatively reduced sex drive is to ensure that all communication channels are open between you and your partner and that you are both comfortable talking about sex without any feelings of resentment or judgment. You can have your partner watch you touch yourself so he can see how you prefer to be touched. Or maybe suggest that he watch some more lesbian porn to learn from their techniques. If you find yourself less interested in sex than your partner, it’s probably not a biological problem but rather one that proves that you are not as comfortable and familiar with intercourse as he is.