Do you remember how awkward your first talk about sex and puberty was? Maybe it came in the form of your parents explaining the birds and the bees, or maybe it was during health class when your teacher tried to demystify the changes going on in your body. No matter how hard you tried to play it cool, it was probably borderline traumatizing.
Unfortunately, talks like these don’t get any easier, just more intimate (read: not in a room full of giggling middle schoolers), especially when you start visiting a gynecologist. No matter how comfortable you might be talking to your friends about your latest hook-up or your weirdest bodily function, it can be pretty intimidating to talk about your sexual life and “down-there” problems one-on-one with a doctor.
Even though a gynecologist appointment can be awkward, it’s important to ask any questions you might have about your body so you can keep yourself safe and healthy. To lighten your load, we’ve talked to gynecologists ourselves to answer some of your most embarrassing questions.
1. I’m worried that I might smell or taste bad during oral sex. How can I make sure everything is okay?
Oral sex is extremely intimate, and no matter how good it is, sometimes it might be hard to tell what your partner is thinking while he or she is down there. But the only way to really tell how you smell or taste down there is if your partner talks to you about it.
Dr. Sarah Crane, an OB/GYN with Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts, says that many times, women are much more sensitive to their own vagina’s odor, real or imagined, than anyone else. So even if you think something is funky down there, your partner might not notice anything.
If you do have excess odor that is noticeable during oral sex, Dr. Crane says that it is most often due to an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria. To prevent this, Dr. Crane suggests wearing cotton panties and wearing loose bottoms or nothing to bed. Your vagina needs air to stay healthy, and these practices help maintain good air circulation. “Air is the friend of the vagina,” she says.
2. What is douching, and should I do it?
You’ve probably heard about this thing called a “douche”—and we’re not talking about that obnoxious frat guy who hits on every girl in sight. Douching is the use of a cleansing solution to freshen the vagina. Douches typically come in a prepackaged bottle that allows women to squirt the solution through a nozzle.
Although douching used to be viewed as a beneficial practice, gynecologists today are uniformly against douching, says Dr. Crane, because the substances in the solution can disrupt the normal balance of your vaginal ecosystem, potentially causing yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. In addition to throwing off your vagina’s natural chemical balance, using a douche has also been associated with an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease in women with vaginal infections. So even though douching used to be perceived as a sanitary practice, stick with the natural options of showering regularly and keeping a good airflow to your nether region.
3. How much discharge is normal, and what should it look like?
Who actually wants to talk about wet, sticky stuff that your body produces? On a meter of awkwardness, this question is definitely way up there. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to figure out yourself if your discharge is normal if you know what you’re looking for.
Dr. Crane says that clear, white or light yellow discharge is normal, and it should be in amounts that just slightly moisten your panties each day. No one really likes the word “moist,” but if that’s what’s going on for you, then you’re operating normally. According to the University of Illinois’s McKinley Health Center, a vagina produces discharge in order to “cleanse and regulate itself, similar to how saliva cleanses and regulates the environment of the mouth.”
But if your daily discharge is a different consistency or a drastically different color, then it’s time to bring the situation to the attention of your gynecologist. Discharge that is abnormally colored, thick or clumpy, noticeably odorous or accompanied by any itching or burning may be a sign of infection. Discussing your discharge with your gyno might be awkward at first, but you’ll feel better when your body is back on the right track.
4. I’ve noticed some painful bumps down there. What are they, and how do I know if it’s something more serious?
Horrifying thoughts can easily run through your head the second you see something down below that shouldn’t be there. Traumatizing lessons during high school sex ed taught us that no good can come from a bump or red spots, but if they do arise, it might not be what you’re thinking. Oftentimes you might get a pimple or an ingrown hair on your pubic region. This can be even more common if you shave your pubic hair.
But if the bumps are extremely painful, seem to be growing or spreading or secrete a colored liquid discharge, you should see your gynecologist, because it may be something more serious. Dr. Crane says that sometimes these bumps can result from the herpes virus or other infections, but you need to visit a doctor to confirm this. In the meantime, she recommends that you don’t have sex until you get it checked out.
5. Every time I have sex, it’s way too painful. What can I do to make this easier?
Sex is supposed to be enjoyable, not painful. If you are finding that sex is too painful or uncomfortable, then there are some tricks you can use to make this experience better.
A common reason why women experience painful sex is because they’re not properly lubricated, whether due to nerves, not being sufficiently turned on or other reasons. One of the options that Dr. Crane suggests is putting lubricant on your guy’s penis and at the entrance to your vagina. This will give the best odds for making a smooth entry. It’s also a good idea to go slow. If you’re new to having sex, one of the best ways to get your body accustomed to the feeling is by taking it easy and going slowly, attempting to relax. Tensing up will only make it hurt more!
Another option that Dr. Crane suggests is practicing with a tampon. Although this is a different feeling, it can still help prepare your body for what it feels like. If none of these techniques work, Dr. Crane recommends a visit to the gynecologist to make sure that there is not a medical or anatomical reason for the pain.
6. I’ve never had an orgasm. What can I do to change that?
Like we said, sex should be enjoyable. A lot of that enjoyment comes from having an orgasm. Even though you can have fun without hitting your climax, it can still be frustrating when you’ve been having sex for a while without feeling that peak of maximum pleasure. As exasperating as it might be, Dr. Crane says that it’s not rare to have not experienced an orgasm when you’re in your late teens or early 20s. In many cases you just need time, experimentation and an understanding of your body’s nuances to understand what it takes to get you to that point. Having a partner who is willing to work with you can make this an easier task.
“Women typically take three to four times longer to reach orgasm than men, so foreplay is important,” Dr. Crane says. Don’t just cut to the chase—let the anticipation build by engaging in enough foreplay with your partner. Dr. Crane adds that “stimulation of the clitoral region is necessary for many women to achieve climax, and this may require self-stimulation or adjustments on his part.” Your best bet is to get on top so that you can adjust your angling and positioning accordingly.
7. Does hormonal birth control affect my sex drive or anything else during sex?
When people go on birth control, like the pill, many times they talk about how their weight fluctuates or their boobs get bigger. But something that’s not usually mentioned is how hormonal birth control can affect your sex drive.
Dr. Crane says that birth control does not always affect a woman’s libido, but in some cases it can.
“Occasionally a woman who is very in tune with her natural cycle may note a decrease in libido when she takes oral contraceptives or other hormonal methods such as Depo-Provera,” she says. “These methods suppress ovulation and thereby prevent the surge of hormones that naturally occurs just prior to ovulation.” If you are finding that your sex drive isn’t what it used to be after switching to a new birth control, talk to your gyno about other options.
8. Is there less risk of pregnancy if I have sex the week after my period?
An unplanned pregnancy can be a scary thought when you’re in college, so many people take as many precautions as possible to prevent this from happening. Your fertility levels change as you move throughout your cycle, and it is true that there are times when you are more fertile than others. But Dr. Crane says there is never a time when your fertility levels drop low enough to completely eliminate the chance of becoming pregnant. She says that the time after your period is still a very fertile time, so it’s still important to use necessary protection.
Although these questions might make you feel mortified if you had to ask them out loud, gynecologists deal with these situations every day. It’s their job! By finding a gynecologist who makes you feel comfortable, you can continue to take steps to promote your sexual health and well-being.