Sexuality is a normal, healthy, and positive aspect of everyday life. Yet, even in the 21st century, speaking about sex is taboo—and that carries serious consequences. When people feel ashamed to talk about their sexual health, they’re less likely to get tested, treated, and receive the information they need to prevent infections and save lives.
At ZOOM+Care, we believe sexual health should have the same stigma as any other kind of health: none. That’s why, in honor of Sexual Health Month and World Sexual Health Day, we’re answering your most most pressing sexual health questions. Whether its vaginal pain, STIs, or mysterious genital spots, no topic is too taboo. We’re here to give you the info you need to empower yourself.
Before we dive in, a quick note about the language we use in this article. We want to make sure everyone feels included when talking about sexual health. Many of our inquirers referred to their gender when asking questions, which is totally normal. However, since not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas, we’re going to respond using words that refer to genitals rather than gender. And now that we’ve got that out of the way…
Do condoms protect you from all STIs?
First off, it’s great that you want to do everything you can to protect yourself from STIs! Here’s the deal with condoms: when used correctly, they’re really effective at preventing contact with bodily fluids (like semen and vaginal fluids) that can carry infections. However, they don’t eliminate the risk of STIs.
Some infections, such as herpes, genital warts, and syphilis can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. Since condoms don’t cover all your skin down there, there’s still a chance you can get an STI.
Bottom line: If you’re sexually active, it’s important to get tested regularly, even if you use condoms religiously.
I’m a woman, and I frequently experience pain during sex. Is this normal?
The most important thing to realize is that discomfort during sex is nothing to be ashamed of. If you regularly experience painful sex, it’s not your fault, and you’re certainly not alone. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an estimated 75% of people with vaginas will experience uncomfortable sex during their lifetimes.
The truth is, there are dozens of reasons for painful sex, ranging from emotional factors to infection. Today, we’ll go over a few of the most common causes. (However, we recommend consulting with a provider you trust before moving forward with any treatment.)
One common cause of painful sex is insufficient lubrication, which results in friction and discomfort. If you’re going through menopause, are postpartum or breastfeeding, you may have low estrogen levels. This can cause dryness and thin vaginal tissues, making your vagina especially sensitive and susceptible to tears. Similarly, you can experience pain from a lack of arousal. Arousal changes the sensations of genital touch and insertion, helping them feel more pleasurable. Be sure to take your time before sex, and give your body a chance to lubricate, so dryness isn’t an issue.
Another cause of pain during sex is endometriosis—a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis causes uncomfortable sex in approximately half the people who have it, with pain ranging from mild to excruciating. To prevent discomfort, try switching up positions, and plan sex for times of the month when you’re experiencing less pain. (Endometriosis is especially painful before and during your period.)
Sexual pain can also be the result of an infection (such as a yeast infection), which can cause your vaginal tissue to become inflamed. Yeast infections affect your ability to self-lubricate as well, presenting yet another barrier to enjoyable, pain-free sex.
Other causes of painful sex include uterine fibroids—benign, non-cancerous uterine growths made of muscle tissue—and ovarian cysts.
Any time you experience acute pain during sex, you should get it checked out. Zoom’s team of every-day providers and Women’s Health experts can help you sort out what’s going on (and get it treated) so you can get back to enjoying your sex life.
Is a yeast infection an STD?
The short answer is no, but you’re definitely not alone in thinking so. Eighty-one percent of patients believe yeast infections are sexually transmitted through their partners and can spread to another person during sex. In reality, yeast infections are the result of pH imbalance inside of the vagina (or head of the penis—people with penises can get them, too!) that leads to a buildup of yeast. Often, they’re caused by your hormones being off-kilter.
Other causes include hormonal contraceptives, stress, a weakened immune system, recent antibiotic use, and environmental conditions, like not changing out of sweaty clothes after a workout. And while a yeast infection isn’t an STD, there is a chance sex can lead to one. Sometimes, your body chemistry can have an adverse reaction to another person’s genital yeast and bacteria, which causes yeast to grow.
Is it normal to feel anxious during my period?
Every period-having person knows—they can really wreak havoc on our bodies. The days (or sometimes even weeks) leading up to that time of the month can bring on any number of unpleasant symptoms, including bloating, cramps, fatigue, acne, breast tenderness, and a myriad of emotional symptoms.
If you’ve noticed your anxiety spike before and during your period, it’s not a coincidence. Hormones regulate our bodies as well as our mental health. During PMS, fluctuations in powerful hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can upset that balance, triggering symptoms like increased anxiety or depression. If you already suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder, these can be more severe before and during your period.
To help ease emotional extremes around your time of month, try staying active with exercise, getting enough sleep, and making small dietary changes such as reducing caffeine and eating more omega-3 fats. Mindfulness practices, such as journaling and meditation, can also help your body to find balance.
Should I get the HPV vaccine?
We’re not here to tell you what you should do with your body, but let us put it this way: if there were a shot that could prevent STIs and cancers, you’d consider it, right? That’s what the HPV vaccine is for.
As for why you should consider it, HPV is crazy common. There are over 150 types, and about 80 percent of sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Some strains of HPV can lead to cervical, anal, penile and throat cancer, which is why many doctors now recommend the vaccine before you’re even thinking about having sex.
If you’re already sexually active or have an existing HPV infection already, getting the vaccine won’t treat it. However, it can protect you from getting and spreading other strains of HPV.
How often should I be having sex? What’s normal?
First of all, there’s no such thing as “normal”, and there’s no one right answer to this question. Like many things in life, it’s best to focus on the quality of sex over the quantity. A healthy sexual relationship is one where both partners are getting their needs met, and—more importantly—are communicating their wants and desires. If your partner wants sex every week and you want it once a month, you should try and negotiate a win-win compromise.
However, if your low desire for sex concerns you, you should talk to your doctor.
While every month is the right time to assess your sexual health, we hope you use September as an opportunity to check in with yourself, get tested, and clear up any gaps in your knowledge. Want to talk to a caring professional? Schedule a daily care or gynecology visit today.