Women’s sexual health impacts every part of a woman’s life. It has a direct effect on our overall health and wellness, and directly contributes to self-love and confidence. It aids in shaping how we view and enjoy intimacy, affecting our relationships and families. How ‘sexual health’ is defined varies as each culture, sub-culture, and individual has different standards. We believe it to be: to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives as it is crucial to our physical, emotional, and mental health.
Women should never feel ashamed of their sexuality, and you should always have somewhere to turn when you have questions. Today, we’re sitting down with Keelyn Cazzolla, a Sexual Health and Wellness Educator who is answering our questions and giving us a positive perspective on sexual health.
*Keelyn is a sexual health educator, NOT a doctor. Please always consult your doctor with any concerns you may have.
What foods are good for sexual health?
Having a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet is extremely beneficial for all aspects of your health. Foods that improve functions such as circulation, hormone balance, energy, hydration, boost endorphins and serotonin are great to incorporate into your diet for sexual health benefits. A few examples of these foods include avocados, watermelon, almonds, dark chocolate, eggs, and peaches. More importantly, you should avoid (or reduce) foods that may be detrimental to your sexual health, or overall health in general. These foods include anything processed, cheese, high amounts of sugar, canned soups/meals, microwave popcorn, low grade meats, soy, spicy foods, and foods high in trans fat. Alcohol (especially beer), soda (especially diet), and marijuana have also been linked to being detrimental to sexual health and sexual performance as well.
- Myth: Pineapples can make your vulva smell and taste sweeter. Yes and no. Your diet does impact your smell and taste, but not just from pineapples alone. Basically, you are what you eat though! If you eat a lot of sweet fruits or foods with high sugar content, your bodily fluids may smell and taste a bit sweeter. This isn’t instant though, this is done through a consistent diet. If you are eating more pungent or bitter foods such as broccoli, garlic, coffee, alcohol, etc, then you are more likely to be on the bitter side. Don’t let this scare you away from bitter foods though!
What are some top initiatives you can take to increase your sex drive?
There are many things that can influence your sex drive, such as your diet, mental health, and physical health. Targeting these areas would be your best bet at increasing your sex drive. The top initiatives I would suggest are to make scheduled sex dates with yourself AND with your partner, as well as to increase sensuality without expectations, and make sure you are providing your body with proper nutrients (without restricting yourself!!). Some partnered ideas could be back rubs, intimate massages, tickling, hugging, synchronized breathing, or even just holding each other while naked. Sexting is another great way to engage in foreplay with your partner before a sex date. It also helps to communicate what you like and what turns you both on. If these don’t help or you are looking for more alternatives, consult with a sexual health professional or sex therapist! It’s their job to help you navigate through it!
- Myth: Engaging in sexual activities must always end with an orgasm. Nope! You and/or your partner are not required to have an orgasm. In fact, it can help your sex life by taking that goal oriented thinking out of the equation. Focus solely on the pleasure your body feels with your partner or by yourself!
What are some lubricant substitutes? What lubricants are NOT safe?
Let's start with what is not safe to use. First thing I need to mention is that spit is NOT a lubricant or lubricant substitute. It can transmit infections and STD’s into your vagina, just as unprotected oral sex can and it is not slippery enough to be an effective lubricant. Other noteworthy and unsafe lubricant substitutes are baby oil, refined oils, shortening, petroleum jelly, lotion, and pure essential oils.
For lubricants in general, I always recommend a good quality water-based lubricant. Pure Romance, Good Clean Love, and uberlube are a few of my go-to sources when helping to figure out what lubricant would be best. When using lubricants, it's always good to keep in mind NOT to use a silicone toy with a silicone based lubricant! Silicone breaks down silicone, which will not be a fun experience! As for substitutes, I have found mixed opinions on what to advise, I’ve done some research on coconut oil and aloe vera, but have yet to find hard evidence to advocate on their behalf.
- Myth: You don’t need a lubricant because you produce enough naturally. Even if you think you produce enough lubrication to be Niagara Falls, you should make sure you have a good quality lubricant! Lubricants help prevent vaginal micro tears and friction burns! If your partner has a penis, they are extremely porous and will absorb your natural lubrication and contribute to these burns and tears. You may not feel them when they occur, but trust me when I say “get a good lube” and use it!
Is vaginal discharge normal?
Absolutely! Vaginas are self cleaning (how cool) so discharge is expelled during this process. Discharge varies in color, consistency, and odor depending on where you are at in your menstrual cycle. Even if your discharge looks slightly different from week to week or even month to month, it doesn't always mean you have an STI or infection. Keeping an eye on what is normal for your body is important for indicating when you should consult a doctor if something has changed. There are a number of reasons your discharge could change, such as antibiotics, STI’s, birth control pills, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), douching, scented soaps, bubble baths, yeast infections, and so much more. If you are ever worried about your discharge or experience itching or discomfort, please consult your OB/GYN, they are here to help!
- Myth: Douching is a healthy way to clean the vagina. Vaginas are self cleaning!! Please do not douche. Ever. You should only be cleaning your vulva (gently) with an unscented, mild cleanser (preferable ph balanced if possible). Avoid anything scented near your vulva or in your vagina. Fragrances are a harmful irritant and can cause infections. Also worth noting: douching does not prevent STI’s or pregnancy. In fact, it can actually make it easier for you to become pregnant as it pushes the semen further up towards the cervix.
Are hormone replacements bad for women?
If you are considering hormone replacement therapy (HRT), please consult your doctor first so you can discuss the benefits and risks. For a majority of women, the benefits are considered worth it as the benefits outweigh the risks and improve quality of life. Follow up with your doctor annually if you chose to do HRT. If you are looking for an alternative to HRT, discuss that with them as well and come prepared with a list of questions and symptoms you are concerned about. When it comes to your health, it's best to be prepared and pay attention to what your body needs and is trying to tell you!
- Myth: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of cancer. This myth is based on one study from years ago, but has been debunked many times since then and have even found flaws in that research. While it may increase the risk of certain cancers, the risk is minimal and only applies to a tiny portion of the population.
What are the necessary feminine-care checkups in addition to your annual exam? Always make sure you are doing your own self exams of your breasts and your vulva. It's important to know how they both look and feel to make it easier to report any changes to your doctor. For self breast exams, look at your breasts in the mirror to check for any visual changes such as shape and/or swelling. Also use the pads of your three middle fingers to feel your breast and apply different levels of pressure. There are three ways to do this: circular, vertical, and wedge. Remember to check your underarms and upper chest as well. For a self vulva exam, use a handheld mirror to make sure you can see your genitals clearly. Check your pubic area, clitoris, labia majora (outer lips), labia minora (inner lips), and perineum (area located between vagina and anus). Check for anything abnormal, such as growths, bumps, rashes, lesions, white bumps, red bumps, pimple like growths, etc. Report anything abnormal to your doctor, even if it seems small! Vulvar cancer is one of the most unknown, but easily treatable if detected early!
Commonly asked Q’s about Pap tests:
- Do you have to see a gyno?
- Some primary care physicians perform pap tests, but typically they are done by a gynecologist.
- Avoid sex, douching, spermicidal foam/creams, and any vaginal medicines for at least 2 days before the test. Body hair is completely natural and normal, no need to worry about that before your appointment. Also, avoid scheduling during your menstrual period! Call your doctor before going to your appointment if you end up having your period the day of your exam. Sometimes menstruation can obscure the results of the exam.
- The test only takes a few minutes. You will lie on your back on the exam table, then your doctor will gently insert the speculum so they can observe the cervix. Your doctor will take samples of your cervix with a soft brush and a flat spatula. Afterwards, you are free to go about your day!
- Everyone is different, but you may feel pressure and discomfort in the pelvic area during the test. Good news is that it's super quick!
- Each doctor varies, but around 1 week is average.
- Don’t stress if you have abnormal cells from a pap smear! Your doctor will have you schedule a colposcopy to examine the tissues of the cervix, vagina, and vulva and to also obtain a biopsy of the areas that appear abnormal. This tissue will be sent out for analysis and diagnosis!
What are some of the top myths about women’s sexual health?
- A pap smear tests for cervical cancer and changes in the cells within the cervix, it does not test for STI’s or STD’s specifically. Talk to your doctor if you wish to have an STI/STD screening.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong or bad about getting tested! In fact, it's totally normal. Even if your test comes back positive for something, it does not mean you are “gross” or “dirty” or “unworthy” AT ALL. There are still a lot of stigma and myths that revolve around STIs/STDs. It is much better to know if you are positive for something than to unknowingly spread it or to leave it untreated and begin to impact your health. Discuss a treatment or management plan with your doctor. Leaving it untreated can sometimes lead to issues such as infertility or cancer. If having a positive STI diagnosis is causing distress in your life, please consult a therapist, specifically a sex therapist if you can. They are trained in helping you learn to cope and life a healthy, normal life even with a positive diagnosis. You are not alone and it does not mean you are unworthy of love or a normal sex life!
- 70% of women need clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm. Roughly about 30% of women are able to reach an orgasm through vaginal penetration alone.
- While it is more unlikely during this part of your cycle to become pregnant, that does not mean you are unable to. Sperm can live up to 72 hours in your reproductive tract.
- This is not the same as the pill that causes an abortion. Actually, if you were to take Plan B while you are already pregnant, it won't make a difference. Plan B pills work similar to birth control pills, but have a higher hormone content. There is no limit on how often you consume the morning after pill, just as long as you follow the directions, you’re good to go!
- The vagina is a muscle and works similar to an elastic band, meaning it has the ability to expand and contract. When you become aroused, your vagina begins to soften and expand in order to make penetration easier. If not, the walls of the vagina will stay contracted and make penetration more difficult. It does not matter who (or what - think vibrators and dildos) you have sex with, or how often. Penetration will not cause your vagina to stretch permanently, but childbirth or age, however, can cause changes.