Here are 12 things your medical practitioner wishes you knew about your sexual health


Visiting a gynae can be nerve-wracking. After all, anything dealing with genitalia can be a highly personal experience. Although your default may be to feel shy in such situations, there’s a good chance your doctor has seen and heard it all. At the end of the day, all they really care about is your health. So, the next time you book an appointment and feel hesitation, keep in mind these 12 things your medical practitioner wants you to know.

Every vagina is unique

Many women want to know if their vaginas look normal. They’re actually typically referring to their vulva, the set of external genitals that includes the clitoris, labia (lips) and vestibule (opening). Every vulva is unique – they come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and other physical variations. Women shouldn’t worry so much about their labia and the appearance of their vulva. Whatever yours looks like, know that it’s beautiful.

-Dr Hilda Hutcherson, Columbia University OB/GYN 

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Vaginas are not meant to smell like roses

Women are often concerned about the natural scent of their bodies and try to cover it up with artificial scents that can irritate sensitive vulvar skin and predispose them to infection. Besides, these products mask the natural pheromones emanating from the genitals, which are important in that spark of attraction between couples. Douching is unnecessary and can be harmful because it disrupts the self-cleaning mechanisms of the vaginal microbiome that works to maintain the ideal pH for the beneficial bacteria we need to fend off infections.

-Debra Wickman, MD, FACOG, section head – female sexual medicine, menopause, vulvar medicine, Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, Women’s Institute

You should speak up when something doesn't feel right

The biggest mistake women make in regard to their sexual health is remaining quiet when something does not feel right. Women may experience a number of issues such as pain, decreased arousal, or an inability to achieve orgasm. Remaining quiet has the potential to damage the individual, the relationship that individual has with her partner, and the relationship that individual has with her healthcare provider.

-Mollie Rieff, DNP, WHNP-BC, MPH, nurse practitioner, Center for Vulvovaginal Disorders (Santa Fe, New York, and Washington, DC) 

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Your sexual needs matter

Women often put their own sexual needs on the back burner, deferring to the everyday needs of their partner, kids or employer. Often, women are too fatigued to care about sex. This is a mistake, as intimacy is the glue that binds a relationship. It is also important for the relationship we have with ourselves, fostering self-esteem and satisfaction. Nurturing our own sexual response helps us engage with life as healthy, fulfilled beings. We must be intentional about making time to engage our sexual wiring, keeping the mind-body pathways primed and functioning.

-Debra Wickman, MD, FACOG, section head – female sexual medicine, menopause, vulvar medicine, Banner University Medical Center Phoenix , Women’s Institute 

Vaginal dryness is a treatable condition

This often occurs after menopause, as a result of decreased estrogen to the tissues. This problem can be addressed with local hormone therapy, lubricants, and vaginal rejuvenation using laser therapy. Vaginal rejuvenation is an in-office procedure designed to improve the tissue quality in the vagina. It is easily performed with low risk and no down time.

-Cristina Palmer, D.O. at Comprehensive Urology in Los Angeles 

Sex shouldn't be painful 

Women are typically such nurturers, they will grit their teeth, hold their breath and pray for it to end quickly rather than tell their partner that it hurts too much to have sex. They may feel inadequate as a sexual partner or feel guilty if they don’t fulfill their spousal duty or sexual role. Having sex through pain actually conditions the pelvic floor muscles to contract and clench in a subconscious protective spasm.

This high tone situation prevents normal blood flow and adequate oxygenation to the pelvic floor muscles, making the pain worse and even more prolonged. All sexual pain should be addressed with a gynecologist who can help resolve it and restore sexual function to bring back pleasure.

-Debra Wickman, MD, FACOG, section head – female sexual medicine, menopause, vulvar medicine, Banner University Medical Center Phoenix , Women’s Institute

READ MOREWays to benefit from vaginal rejuvenation

YOU are responsible for your orgasm  

Women frequently place responsibility for sexual satisfaction on their partner and feel resentful when they don’t experience orgasm as often as they would like during sex. While it is great to have a skilled lover as a partner, there is delight in the process of growing together, learning what each other enjoys, and building on that foundation. Women need to get curious about their bodies and connect with their unique form and function.

Stop faking pleasure and explore the details of “where” and “how” various ways of touching feel on your body. Practice saying what you like and want to your partner. Develop open communication about each nuance. Take responsibility for your own path to pleasure.

-Debra Wickman, MD, FACOG, section head – female sexual medicine, menopause, vulvar medicine, Banner University Medical Center Phoenix , Women’s Institute

Periods are optional 

By having fewer periods, you are decreasing your risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer, decreasing blood loss (which can lead to lower academic performance if you become iron deficient), and using fewer feminine hygiene products (decreasing the burden to landfill). Skipping your period is safe and easy to do by speaking with your reproductive healthcare professional.

-Dr Sophia Yen, clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford Medical School, CEO of Pandia Health

READ MOREHow do you know if you've got endometriosis? Being more tired than usual could be a sign

Antibiotics aren't always the answer 

Chronic yeast infections or UTIs mean you have a candida and/or bacterial overgrowth in your gut lining. To heal, antibiotics are not the answer, because the infection will just keep coming back. Find a functional medicine doctor to do a comprehensive stool exam on you to determine true cause of the infections.

-Maggie Berghoff, licensed nurse practitioner, functional medicine clinician and celebrity health expert

Pelvic organ prolapse can be treated 

Pelvic organ prolapse is due to a weakening of the pelvic muscles, often after hysterectomy or childbirth. Pelvic organs such as the bladder, uterus, rectum, or intestines can descend through the vaginal canal and become bothersome and painful. Women often complain of a vaginal “pressure” or a bulging sensation in the vagina. They may have difficulty with intercourse or with urination. Again, this is a common issue that can be taken care of with surgery or pessary use.

-Cristina Palmer, D.O. at Comprehensive Urology in Los Angeles  

Urinary incontinence can be managed – without pads or diapers  

Many women believe that this is just a consequence of getting older and think that having to live using several pads or diapers is expected, but it is not. Women should visit their urologist or urogynaecologist for the proper workup and discussion of management. There are several types of incontinence - stress, urgency, overflow and functional. All of these can be addressed with medical or surgical therapies. These treatments available can greatly improve women’s quality of life and stop the potential embarrassing unwanted leakage of urine.

-Cristina Palmer, D.O. at Comprehensive Urology in Los Angeles  

Know your resources  

If an individual decides to speak up, it is important to speak with an appropriate provider. Obstetricians and gynecologists can usually treat most sexual health matters. However, if a provider is not treating the issue successfully, it may be time to look for a provider who specializes in sexual health issues. Ask for a referral. If one is not available, the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health and the International Society of Sexual Medicine are appropriate sites to start the search for a provider.

-Mollie Rieff, DNP, WHNP-BC, MPH, nurse practitioner, Center for Vulvovaginal Disorders (Santa Fe, New York, and Washington, DC)

This article was originally published in 

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