I used to have a job where women asked me about their vaginas, non-stop. After I earned Planned Parenthood's Responsible Sexuality Educator certification, I spent a few years working in the clinics. It was the coolest gig ever, because I got to learn so many things about birth control, sexuality, sexually transmitted infections, anatomy, and healthy relationships. The reason this information stuck with me (unlike, say, college French) is because I pretty much repeated the same information over and over again. People have a lot of questions about vaginas.
What's interesting is that nobody realized they were all asking similar questions. They hunched over, leaned in, and whispered these things to us like they were confessing to murder. They cringed when we didn't whisper back, and looked all around to make sure nobody could hear (They couldn't. The beauty of confidentiality). So what I want you all to know is that these questions aren't embarrassing. They're not weird. They're not even unique.
While I could talk about the misconceptions and worries surrounding vagina ownership all day, and I use a lot of generalizations here, the main takeaway is: No shame. Get to know your body, get to know your health care provider, and then embrace the awkwardness. You’re in a very large club of people with very similar experiences. It’s all good.
1. Is This Herpes?
This is literally the number one, most-asked question in vagina health care history, in my experience. All the shaving and waxing means more ingrown hairs and irritated skin, which means more bumps. Typically, herpes presents more like an open sore than a pimple, according to the American Sexual Health Association, and it's much more painful. That being said, some people never notice their initial outbreak and some people do have pimple-like outbreaks, so you're totally right to ask. Most of the time, however, it's nothing. Just normal vagina stuff. And if it is herpes, although it can't be cured completely, it's treatable according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and probably not as big of a deal as you might think. No shame.
2. Do I Really Have To Get An Exam Every Year?
Yes, it's important! But there is another reason for yearly check-ups (besides general health and STI prevention) that you might not have considered. A lot of women coming in for annual vaginal exams were doing so to get birth control. There are some cancers that are affected by hormones in some birth control methods, according to Mayo Clinic. Also, a lot of medical conditions that take root in your lady center have no symptoms, so it's just good medicine to get it all checked out.
3. So, I Have This, Like, Discharge?
You're probably fine. During the course of the month, you can have everything from slippery, egg-white discharge (usually at ovulation) to gunky mucus to watery mucus to brown vagina snot to whatever it is that just causes gunky or crusty yellowing of your favorite underpants, according to Healthline. What you need to worry about is discharge that is foamy, chunky, an unusual color or strong-smelling, according to the National Institutes of Health. These kinds of vaginal discharge can mean a bacterial infection, yeast infection, or trichomoniasis (an infection caused by a one-celled parasite who lives in your lady garden). You can be totally normal and have discharge every single day. You just have to learn what's normal for you and pay attention to changes.
4. Can You Lose Stuff Up There?
Don't be embarrassed. I'm going to tell you something that will make you feel better. Tons of women came in to have someone look up in there for a lost condom or forgotten tampon. We even searched for the occasionally missing sex toy or household object. But to answer the original question, no, things can't get "lost" in your vagina. It's about as long as your hand, give or take, and it's walled off at the top by your cervix. You might not be able to grab what's in there, but it won't get lost. And you won't be the only one who has asked for help getting something out. Check out this walk-through of your lady anatomy by the makers of Our Bodies, Ourselves to become a vagina expert.
5. What Is It Supposed To Smell Like?
It smells like a vagina. It is not odorless. It smells different for every woman and that scent changes based on where you are in your cycle , according to Mayo Clinic. You have to get acquainted with how your vagina normally smells so you can watch for changes. Strong odors (especially fishy or yeasty ones) are typically signs of common, treatable infections, according to the Mayo Clinic. Pro tip: Mayo Clinic advises against trying to hide vagina smells with sprays and scented powders because it usually makes things worse. Those products have been known to cause irritation, pH changes, and disruption of beneficial bacteria and yeast.
6. Why Is It Always Itchy When I Don't Have Anything?
Lots of reason. Hair growing back. Hormonal changes. Chafing from tight or wet clothes. Allergic reactions to laundry soaps or scented products. Sweaty workout vagina. Even skin conditions such as eczema can cause itching, according to Women's Health. And sometimes vaginas just itch without any discernible reason. If the itching just won't stop, is accompanied by unusual discharge, or it's so intense that you can't take it, it's time to see your doctor, according to the National Institutes of Health. But occasional itching happens to everyone. No worries.
7. Why Does Sex Not Work For Me?
Your reproductive health care provider is absolutely the right person to talk to about sexual problems. You can ask anything without judgement and get good information. Sometimes it's as simple as needing clitoral stimulation in addition to penetration. Sometimes it's a mental block because of fear, distrust, past trauma or nerves. Sometimes there's a real, underlying medical condition, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Odds are, if you have a vagina question, your medical professional has heard it before, so fire away. Besides, confidentiality means you'll never run into your gyno at the grocery store and worry that she'll ask you if you're having orgasms. It's like a vagina temple. Secret and sacred.
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