After a frank and open discussion about all things women’s health with resident vagina and lady bits expert (not her official title) Dr Felice Gersh, we’ve put together a few facts that your OB-GYN really wants you to know… and we haven’t spared any blushes. It’s time we took a good look at women’s health and talk openly without fear of embarrassment or shame. So, sit back and relax as Dr Gersh shares her answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask…
STIs – be in the know
That’s right; we’re throwing you in at the deep end with some not-so-sexy (but very essential) advice on STIs. Hopefully, most of you will never need to know this but, let’s face it; we’re only human and very capable of making mistakes or getting carried away in the moment, if you catch my drift?
So, in the event that you find yourself playing host to an unwanted STI, be sure to get yourself checked by your physician and OB-GYN so they can put you on the best course of treatment.
Of course, you knew that already, but did you know you can spread STIs to other parts of your body and your partner’s? Horrifying! “STIs including genital herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be spread to your eyes and mouth,” says Dr Gersh. “You can also get oral herpes and spread it to your genitals, so it’s important you immediately get the infection cleared up, otherwise it will just keep on spreading.”
To douche or not to douche
That is the million-dollar question for many women. And while it might be tempting to lather up and give your most intimate area a good clean after sexual intercourse, a long day or a vigorous gym session, experts say we should hold off on the wash. “Your vagina is self-cleaning,” says Dr Gersh, “what’s more, it has a unique and delicately-balanced microbiome that acts as a protective barrier keeping you free from infection. This delicate microbiome can be knocked off kilter with the use of harsh soaps and perfumes and disrupting it can leave you open to imbalances such as Vaginosis (an excessive growth of bacteria). Simply wash your body in the shower as you normally would, leaving your delicate area well alone. If you really feel the need to clean it then use one clean finger and plain old water… no soaps or perfumes or anything fancy.”
Crack the contraceptive code
Hormonal contraceptives, such as the birth control pill, might be convenient – they’re easy to take, they allow you to control your periods and come with some pretty convenient side effects,including clearing acne – but it’s important to understand the risks associated with them. “Birth control pills are a popular method of contraception with many women hailing them a hero at regulating their cycle,” says Dr Gersh, “but it’s important to remember, they don’t actually regulate your cycle, they replace it with an artificial one. They also cover up symptoms such as cramps and heavy bleeding that should be addressed and checked out. Anything that changes your natural hormones should be considered carefully. I’m not suggesting you don’t use it, but make sure you’re clued up on the potential long-term side effects and consider other options, such as condoms or temperature control.”
Prepare for pregnancy
For anyone considering bringing new life into the world anytime soon, Dr Gersh has some words of advice to help you through pregnancy… and don’t worry, it’s a topic we plan to explore in much more detail going forward, so stay tuned for more. “When thinking about getting pregnant, women need to prepare their bodies physically like they would any other physical challenge because that’s what pregnancy is,” explains Dr Gersh. “This means preparing before pregnancy with good nutrition and exercise and ensuring your health is as good as it can be. Many women don’t realize that being unhealthy during pregnancy can impact the baby’s health for the rest of his or her life, so it’s vital to give your little one the best possible start.”
Don’t suffer in silence
It’s that time again; that time of the month when you start to experience the familiar cramps and pains. That’s normal, right? Just part of being a woman…. wrong! While it is normal to experience mild cramping during your period (after all, your body is trying to expel your uterus lining – ouch!), debilitating cramps are not normal and your OB-GYN can help. “Many women come to see me time and time again and don’t mention the pain or irregularities they are experiencing,” says Dr Gersh. “I think they just assume its part of being a woman and something they have to put up with but that’s not the case. Irregular periods, heavy bleeding and excessive cramps are all warning signs that something isn’t quite right. Your body is trying to tell you there’s something you need to address. There can be many underlying causes, such as stress or deficiency in certain vitamins (notably magnesium), but whatever the cause, you need to tackle it. You wouldn’t ignore other signs, such as a headache or indigestion without considering the cause, so why ignore this?”
So… here’s something I hadn’t thought of before speaking with Dr Gersh and now I can’t get it out of my head. How does your vagina get moist? Not something I had really considered up until now. Well, it doesn’t come from glands as you might expect, but from blood flow. That’s right, moisture from your blood vessels pass through the walls of your vagina to make you moist – who knew? So in order to ensure you are extra lubricated down below, you need to have good blood flow and stable levels of estrogen. Regular visits to your OB-GYN will ensure things are in good working order.
Reaching the big O
Struggling to climax through penetrative sex? We hear you, sister, and you’re not alone. “Clitoral stimulation is the main source of orgasms for most women – the nerve bundle can bring a whole world of pleasure,” says Dr Gersh. “Of course, there are a lucky few who can imagine their way to climax (you’ve gotta be kidding me?), or achieve it by stimulating other areas of the body such as the nipples or lips, but this is very rare, and for the overwhelming majority of women the clitoris is the key and generally more effective at getting you to orgasm than penetrative sex.”
There’s no getting away from it, vaginas come with their own unique scent and it’s no bed of roses, sadly! However, a slight musty aroma is actually pretty normal, as Dr Gersh explains… “While it’s completely normal for your vagina to have an odor, you need to know what’s normal for you. A slight scent is usually absolutely fine, but a foul odor accompanied by discharge or itching could signal a problem or an imbalance, so be sure to get checked out.” Don’t worry, there’s usually a pretty simple and painless solution to most conditions.
Over and above everything, your OB-GYN wants you to pay them a visit, be honest and never feel embarrassed – you can’t show them anything that they haven’t already seen a million times before!
Our sincere thanks to Dr. Gersh for her amazing advice; if you have any questions on what Dr. Gersh covered in her interview, please post in the comments section below.
Felice Gersh, M.D. is board-certified in Integrative Medicine and OB-GYN. She taught as an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Keck USC School of Medicine for 12 years, and is the founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine. A globally recognized expert on women’s health, she regularly speaks at conferences around the world. Dr. Gersh is the bestselling author of PCOS SOS.