I don’t know about you, but when my feet are in the stirrups and someone’s poking around down there, the last thing on my mind is the list of questions I wanted to talk to ask OB-GYN. Keeping up with your gynecologist can feel more difficult than keeping up with the Kardashians; while you should be going to regular appointments, sometimes we forego, forget, or miss out on some of those important conversations during the 30-minute (max!) appointment, particularly when it comes to sex (anyone else spend the entire time complaining about their period cramps?).
If all of the knowledge you have about sex comes from the birds-and-the-bees talk with your mom, that “experienced” friend’s dating life, or watching Sex Education three times in a row, you could probably benefit from more conversations with your gyno. Just as a reminder: you deserve and are entitled to a pleasurable, fulfilling, and healthy sex life. Your gynecologist is one way to help you stay healthy, explore your sexuality, and feel your best. Until you make it to your next gyno appointment, I asked Dr. Kiarra King M.D., a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist (who somehow still has time for blogging like the ultimate boss she is), for some of the info she tells her patients, that many of us could be missing out on. Here are five things she wants you to know about sex:
1. “Good sex” is relative
The phrase “the best sex of my life” has been thrown around so often in movies and TV shows, and I’ve always been confused about what that really means. I’ve heard frat douchebags in college talk about their sexapades with phrases like, “the sex wasn’t great,” as if there’s a checklist that determines “good sex” from “bad sex” (and where the hell can I find this checklist!?). If you’re like me and have wondered what makes sex “good,” you’re probably not as focused on your own pleasure as you should be.
Dr. King explained that whether sex is good or bad is only for you to decide; it’s always an individual opinion. “Only you can determine what is good and ultimately what is better for you,” she said. If you’re so out of touch with your pleasure (literally), she also recommended asking yourself questions like, do you genuinely enjoy your partner? Does your partner seek to pleasure you, or is it a one-way street? Do you feel safe and validated? Is the experience equally enjoyable for both of you? Bottom line: “good” or “bad” sex is defined only by how much pleasure and enjoyment you feel.
2. Stop comparing
Back to that “good sex” versus “bad sex” crap, comparisons are common when it comes to sex since it has been a taboo subject for far too long. Many women want to know what’s considered “normal,” or feel lesser-than if friends have different sexual experiences than they do. But guess what: you don’t need to compare in order to know what’s normal, and someone else’s experience or preferences do not mean anything about yours. “When it comes to an intimate partnership, what benefits will be gained by comparing to the point that better sex is defined by someone else’s experience?” Dr. King said. “Of course, a couple can try new things, but the goal should be that they enjoy one another, not out of comparison.” Explore your sexuality to find more and better pleasure, but don’t compare other people’s experiences and preferences to your own.
3. Sex should not be consistently painful
If you’ve ever had discomfort or pain during sex, you’re not alone. In fact, as many as 75 percent of women will experience pain during sex, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dr. King advised that a momentary sensation with a specific position that resolves itself is likely of no concern (just don’t forget your lube!). However, sex does not have to be painful. Not only does pain during sex suck, but it contributes to the orgasm gap, and, most importantly, prevents you from experiencing the optimal pleasure that you deserve.
“If a woman experiences continued pain or is unable to engage in sex due to fear of pain, I recommend talking to your doctor,” Dr. King said. Your doctor might be able to identify an underlying cause and provide treatment options, like pelvic floor physical therapy (which is more common than you may realize). The point is that pleasure is your birthright; your body is not trying to prevent you from it, so anything that is can (and should) be resolved.
4. If you’re experiencing low sex drive, you can fix it
When we experience low sex drive as women, we typically accept it as a reality, not see it as a symptom. It’s the stereotype we’ve seen in every sitcom and comedy film in the United States: the constantly-horny husband and the “not tonight, honey” response from the wife. We’re taught from old-school beliefs that women are inherently more sexually restrained than men, and therefore, have a lower sex drive. The truth? The female sex drive is consistently underrated; not only is it inherently strong (duh!), but it can increase with age. That also means that low libido, in fact, can be a symptom, and not “just the way you are.”
“Lack of sex drive or decreased libido can occur for a variety of reasons including stress, depression, anxiety, chronic medical conditions, or certain medications,” Dr. King explained. In other words, you don’t have to settle for low libido. Talk to your doctor about identifying the root causes of low sex drive and come up with a plan to restore your libido. PS, if your doctor doesn’t prioritize your sex drive and sexual pleasure, it might be time to find a new doctor.
5. Good news: your vagina can clean itself!
While there’s an overwhelming amount of products and processes promising reproductive health, Dr. King knows that it’s actually very simple. “The vagina is capable of cleaning itself,” she told Essence in 2019. “A good old-fashioned shower or bath daily during menstruation should do the trick to help rinse away any old blood or discharge. Women shouldn’t use scented hygiene products, as they may cause an allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis.” When it comes to sexual health, Dr. King recommended getting STD screenings before being with a new partner (both of you!) and using a water-based lubricant to keep up with vaginal health. Remember that your vagina is incredibly smart and self-sufficient (as are you!). It has its own self-cleaning mechanisms that will keep you healthy as long as you do your job with safe sex practices.
Please consult a doctor before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.
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