Solving your vagina’s deepest mysteries just got easier.
Going into the OB-GYN for your annual exam can be an extremely awkward experience.
Aside from the levels of anxiety you feel as to whether your female parts are perfectly healthy, nobody likes asking questions like, “Is this discharge normal?”
The list of potentially embarrassing questions we all have could fill multiple books. So, to save us all some blush-worthy blunders, we asked obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. David Shelley-Jones six of the most pressing questions we’ve all had about your vaginas at some point.
1. Can I have sex during pregnancy?
According to Shelley-Jones, it’s perfectly safe to have sex during pregnancy, from conception right through to full term. “Sex while you’re pregnant is fine, provided there are no unusual conditions,” he says.
These conditions can include placenta previa (a low-lying placenta, which can cause bleeding), and a shortened cervix. In cases of threatened preterm labor and shortened cervix, having sex can increase your chances of premature delivery. But as long as you pay attention to what your body is telling you, it’s okay to get down and dirty.
2. Is it normal to have asymmetrical labia?
“Yes, having asymmetrical labia is common, and of no medical concern,” says Shelley-Jones.
Just as for any other part of your body, there are many variations as to what’s considered normal. Asymmetrical labia majora (the larger, outer lips of your vulva) are extremely common. In most women, one is typically lower than the other.
The labia minora (the smaller, inner lips of your vulva) can also be quite varied, as their shape can be altered by childbirth. In some women, the labia minora are smaller than the majora, while in others the labia minora protrude beyond the majora and are clearly visible. These are both completely normal, and are not cause for concern. Yes, you can have vaginal cosmetic surgery to rectify this, but gynecologists do not recommend it, as it commonly leads to infection and loss of sensation.
3. Why do I have a funny smell down there?
“Smell can be insignificant and natural,” says Shelley-Jones.
“Sometimes there is an excess of bacteria, which leads to an increase in the smell. There are also other physical causes. Unusual diseases such as a large cervical polyp can contribute. Lost tampons are also a common cause of a change in smell. Your doctor can, and should, review this.”
Much like your skin, your mouth, and your gut, your body is covered with a range of “good” bacteria that help to keep things in balance and reduce infections. However, it’s important to watch for sudden changes in what’s normal for you. If the scent becomes very strong, or is accompanied by unusual vaginal discharge, play it safe and have a check-up with a medical professional.
4. Is vaginal itching normal?
“A short period of itching isn’t cause for concern. However, a persistent itch must be reviewed by your doctor as soon as possible,” says Shelley-Jones.
The most common reasons for continued itchiness are a yeast infection (thrush) or lichen simplex, which is a form of dermatitis. Lichen simplex can be a result of sweating, a reaction to clothing, soaps, lubricants, latex condoms, medications, hormonal changes, and other lifestyle factors. Rarer causes of chronic itch can include eczema, psoriasis and autoimmune diseases.
While it’s tempting to run to the drugstore and self-treat with an over-the-counter cream, if the problem reoccurs, it may be time to book an appointment with your OB-GYN. In the meantime, avoid scratching, waxing, and shaving, as they can all exacerbate the itch and may lead to micro-abrasions.
5. How much daily discharge is normal?
Vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman, and it’s important to be aware of what’s normal for you. As with vaginal scent, the thing to watch out for is sudden changes in discharge levels. Shelley-Jones insists if you notice anything unusual, it’s essential you consult a doctor immediately.
“Discharge requiring you to change your pad more than twice a day is abnormal. It can be indicative of cancer, and mustn’t be ignored.”
6. Why doesn’t my vagina produce lubrication like it used to?
Vaginal discharge does vary in volume over the course of your cycle, due to changes in hormonal level. However, this changes on a more permanent basis over the course of a lifetime.
“After menopause, estrogen levels are often low. This can be a cause of reduced secretion,” says Shelley-Jones. If you find that the dryness irritates you, or causes problems during sex, there are actually a number of treatment options. “You can buy vaginal moisturizers over the counter at any pharmacy; they don’t require a prescription. Vaginal estrogen creams are also good options.”
Images via giphy, tumblr.
Comment: What’s your most embarrassing gynecological question?