It’s Women’s Health Week, and this year’s theme is ‘Am I normal?’. We’ve put together some answers to your most commonly asking sexual health questions. Happy reading!
I have lumps on my genitals – does this mean I have herpes?
Lumps on your genitals can be caused by a variety of conditions. Some lumps are completely normal, but some lumps may indicate you have a condition like genital warts or genital herpes. If you are concerned by any new lumps or bumps in the genital area, please see a health professional.
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus HSV-1 or HSV-2; type 1 generally infects the mouth (causing cold sores), while type 2 generally infects the genital area (genital herpes). However, more than half all of new cases of genital herpes have been passed on through oral sex (ie with someone about to get a cold sore). Most of the time people with either of the viruses are unaware they have an infection.
What are the symptoms of herpes?
While many people experience no symptoms at all, the first symptom of a herpes infection is often an itching or tingling sensation in the genital area. You may have flu-like symptoms with fever, headaches and muscle aches and pain. Within one to two days a cluster of small blisters appears. They break and weep after a few days leaving sores that may crust over. The first ‘outbreak’ can be very painful.
In women, outbreaks of herpes can be anywhere on the genital area, but commonly occur around the vagina, urethra, cervix or anal area, and may include vaginal discharge. In men, outbreaks usually occur on the penis and under the foreskin, or around the anal area. There are treatments available which can help to improve symptoms. If you are getting recurrent outbreaks, there is medication you can take to help reduce their frequency.
Do my genitals look normal?
This is a common concern for many men and women. Like all body parts, everyone’s genitals looks different, and just as it is normal for two breasts to be slightly different shaped, the same goes for both sides of a woman’s labia (vaginal lips). Remember that genitals shown in the media have usually always been photo shopped; you might like to check out http://www.labialibrary.org.au to see just how unique labias can be! Penises also come in all shapes and sizes. If you are still concerned, please discuss with a health professional.
I often skip my period by missing the inactive tablets in my Pill packet. Is it safe to continue doing this or should I let my body have a period every once in a while to give it a “break”?
Research has confirmed that it is safe for women to take the hormone pills in their pill packet continuously and miss the non-active sugar pills altogether if they want to skip a period. This won’t do your body any harm.
Does using hormonal contraception such as the Pill for a long time cause infertility? Should I have a break?
Long-term use of hormonal contraception such as Implanon® or an IUD has not been shown to have an impact on fertility. Fertility usually returns almost immediately upon ceasing use of hormonal contraception.
I haven’t had children: can I still get an intrauterine device inserted?
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, flexible device which is inserted into the uterus (womb) by a health professional to prevent pregnancy. IUDs are usually a very suitable option for women looking for reliable long-acting reversible contraception, or those who can’t take oestrogen (found in most oral contraceptives and the vaginal ring).
Despite common misconception, they can be used by women before or after having children, and can be removed at any time (and fertility returns immediately). Your health professional will take a detailed medical history and pelvic examination to ensure that an IUD is suitable for you.
I often bleed after sex. Is this serious?
The majority of the time bleeding after sex does not indicate a serious problem, but should always be investigated by a health professional. Sometimes it can be a sign of an infection.
Bleeding after sex is rarely a sign of cervical cancer. Having regular Pap smears every two years is the best way of detecting early warning signs of cervical cancer.
I find sex painful…
Many women experience painful intercourse, but it should not be ignored. Some women find it painful when a penis, finger/s or toy is first inserted, while others find it more painful when something is deep inside the vagina.
Painful intercourse can often be linked to vaginal dryness and lack of lubrication. Over-the-counter lubricants, eg KY Jelly, may be helpful, as can spending more time on foreplay. There can also be other different causes such as an infection, a small tear, or the possibility of endometriosis.
Emotional disturbances, such as a history of sexual abuse, can also be responsible for pain. Some women have vaginismus, a condition in which the vaginal muscles tighten so much they make penetration difficult and painful.
If you are experiencing persistent painful sex it is important to see a health professional. It is important to exclude physical reasons for any pain before putting it down to psychological factors.
I can’t have an orgasm through intercourse – is there something wrong with me?
This is a common issue for many women and there are many factors which can be the cause. Lots of communication and practice with a loving and sensitive partner can be the best way to enjoy sex. Many women are able to experience orgasm through clitoral stimulation rather that vaginal penetration. Practicing on your own (masturbation) and working out what feels good can also help, as can spending more time on foreplay.
Please contact the Sexual Health Helpline for a confidential chat if you have any more questions or need further information. Our staff answer questions like these all the time, so please don’t be embarrassed!
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