By Julie Vargo, Editorial Contributor
Women's general health is a topic discussed daily. Casual conversation about female sexual health, however, appears more taboo.
“For whatever reason, some women’s health issues get talked about a lot and others not so much,” says Dr. Shweta V. Patel, a board-certified OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates. “It’s time to be more upfront. Sexual health is important to a woman’s emotional and physical well-being.”
Here are four undercover topics to start with.
Because it’s predominantly a male hormone, testosterone gets overlooked for its presence in women, albeit at lower levels. Used by a woman’s body to make a form of estrogen called estradiol, testosterone affects fertility and sex drive, among other things, and naturally fluctuates throughout a woman’s lifetime.
But there is more to testosterone than creating fireworks in the bedroom. In addition to keeping the sex drive active, testosterone helps improve a woman’s cognitive functioning, memory and metabolism. It also facilitates lean-muscle development, boosts levels of other hormones, increases energy levels and helps with emotional balance.
Post menopause, testosterone levels drop. “If you are not actively trying to conceive or are done with child bearing, it’s safe to consider testosterone therapy,” says Dr. Patel. “Consider it an alternative approach to improving your overall quality of life. Better orgasms are just an added benefit.”
Many women don’t realize the vagina is a self-cleaning unit balanced with natural, healthy secretions.
“The vagina doesn't require extensive upkeep other than regular hygiene and a good diet,” says Dr. Patel. “Chronic, vigorous cleansing, especially with soap, can actually alter the vagina’s acidic pH. This invites the wrong sorts of bacteria, which create infections with the unpleasant odors we’re trying to avoid. Yeast also can over-proliferate, creating a cottage cheese-like discharge.”
To prevent problems, simply wash the area with lukewarm water. Avoid tight-fitting clothing. Eat extra yogurt to replenish the vagina’s natural lactobacilli. If you have issues with chronic infections, consider using a condom during sex to help maintain a normal vaginal pH environment.
What Influences Intimacy
Sexual satisfaction differs for everyone and is influenced by many factors. How you feel about your partner, relationship, body image or even your personal belief systems can play into how often you want to have sex. Toss in wondering about the likelihood of your own orgasm or the potential of painful sex and it’s little wonder women tend to have more difficulty getting aroused than their partners.
“Most men might consider sex a stress relief,” says Dr. Patel. “Many of my female patients, however, consider sex part of their to-do list.”
Life’s distractions can depress the desire for intimacy. Being in the right headspace is important for sexual pleasure. Make time to turn off cell phones and digitally detach. Find something to occupy the kids. Lock the door, relax and focus on your partner and how your body feels. If you continue experiencing a plummeting sex drive, have an open discussion with your doctor for solutions.
Women on birth control pills often believe the “period” they experience is real and medically necessary. In actuality, it’s not even a true period. Called “withdrawal bleeding,” this pseudo period occurs when the levels of hormones in your pills drop.
“A woman only truly menstruates after she ovulates, and it doesn’t result in pregnancy,” says Dr. Patel. “Birth control pills suppress ovulation and the response the uterus would have had to the fertilized egg. No ovulation means there’s no need for menstruation.”
Because pill-created periods are not scientifically necessary, women can take active birth control pills without the placebos or a break, and simply skip the monthly bleed.
“It’s healthy and might even be more practical,” says Dr. Patel. “Think about it — no more tampons or pads, no cramps, more energy.”
If this sounds like an option for you, talk to your gynecologist.