Fact: Vaginas have bemused, and confused, mankind for generations.
Centuries ago, physicians thought that women getting a higher education could harm their reproductive systems. They also argued that women could only fall pregnant if they had consensual sex. Oh, and who could forget the old wives' tale that suggested vaginas had… teeth.
Luckily, we've come a long way since then. Although, even in the 21st Century, women's sexual health is still clouded in mystery; questions like 'Can I get pregnant on my period?' 'My vagina smells, do I have an STI?' often feel awkward or embarrassing to ask.
Here, Dr Fiona Cleary lends her expertise to help us debunk some of the most common myths about feminine hygiene that some of us don't always feel comfortable talking about.
According to Dr Cleary, vaginal discharge can be normal.
"The vagina's discharge will change throughout a menstrual cycle due to different hormone levels," she tells us. "Normal discharge doesn't have a strong odour and generally is clear/white."
However, as Dr Cleary explains, if your discharge changes colour or smell, or if you have associated changes like itchiness, pain or changes to your period, you should see your GP.
No, not always.
Some people may notice a smell to their own discharge – and Dr Cleary reassures us that this is normal. She does advise that if it changes in smell, ask your GP to check it out.
Seems like a no-brainer… Not washing your vagina with soap sounds… weird, right? Wrong. "The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, so you shouldn't wash your vagina with anything other than water," says Dr Cleary.
This is because if you use soap and other scented products to disguise smells, it could make it worse.
"Using soaps could alter this environment, meaning that bacteria or fungal organisms can overgrow, causing infections like Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)," she says.
Don't know what BV is? Approximately 12 per cent of Australian women suffer from BV, yet many are not aware of the condition. It's more common than thrush, and while its symptoms usually come in the form of a thin white/grey discharge and a fishy odour, in some women, BV can also show no signs at all.
Fortunately, BV is easily treated with antibiotics or a new, behind-the-counter, non-antibiotic treatment. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for more information.
Actually, you can.
"It is rare," Dr Cleary begins, "however, you can get pregnant on your period."
"Sperm can live in the body for up to five days and so could catch an egg when you ovulate after your period."
Did you know one in three women find it hard to orgasm with sexual activity?
"There are many causes including medical reasons, medications, recreational drugs, emotional and physical reasons," says Dr Cleary.
"Don't feel shy to discuss with your GP or sexual health clinic to see if there are any ways to improve sexual pleasure."
Incorrect. Dr Cleary says many STIs can be asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms – especially in women.
Her suggestion to avoid STIs altogether? "Get a sexual health check every time you have a new partner," Dr Cleary explains.
"A sexual health check includes a simple urine test and/or vaginal swab. If you're at risk of infections transmitted through blood (like hepatitis or HIV), a blood test will be ordered as well."
This article is sponsored.
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