Every woman has been there … You're sitting on the exam table, and your gynecologist asks if you have any questions or concerns. You do, but you're also nervous and a little embarrassed about asking very personal questions.
"You should ask your questions — and anything else that's on your mind — without feeling ashamed," said Rachel Spieldoch, MD, a gynecologist and laparoscopic surgeon in Scottsdale, AZ.
1. Does this look normal?
"This is one of the most common questions women ask," said Dr. Spieldoch, "and the answer is almost always a resounding yes." While today's media can make it seem like women should only look one way, this just isn't the case. Just as people come in lots of different shapes and sizes, body parts are subject to different interpretations.
However, there can be times where you do have something abnormal going on that needs to be checked out. Skin conditions such as psoriasis, warts, rashes and vitiligo (patches of skin that lose their color) can all affect your nether regions. Lesions, pain, abnormal discharge and any other change should be addressed by a gynecologist.
2. How much "self-love" is too much?
While this may seem like a myth, it is possible to "self-love" too much. This can cause desensitization over time or make it difficult to climax from intercourse with a partner. While it is a normal part of a healthy sex life, if it's taking over your life or interfering with your relationship, it should be addressed.
3. How can I avoid embarrassment when exercising?
If you're experiencing leaking when you're exercising, it's likely due to stress urinary incontinence. That's defined as a loss of urine after some type of activity that puts pressure on the bladder, such as:
- Lifting weights.
This occurs when the muscles regulating the bladder and urethra weaken. While you may think of this as an older woman's problem, Dr. Spieldoch said that "around 20 percent of women in their 20s experience it, and a full 50 percent of women have leakage issues." Contributing factors include:
- Chronic coughing.
- Prior pelvic surgery.
While stress urinary incontinence is common, you don't have to live with it. If it's causing you embarrassment or interfering with your relationships or quality of life, talk to your gynecologist. Nonsurgical treatments have a high rate of success and include a pessary (a device inserted into the vagina to provide support), bladder tampons (same concept), pelvic floor rehabilitation, vaginal laser procedures and Kegel exercises. Kegels can improve symptoms up to 75 percent if you do 40-60 a day. In severe cases, bladder sling surgery may be recommended; it has a success rate of about 85 percent.
4. Are private piercings safe?
Intimate piercings are becoming more common and less taboo thanks to social and cultural influencers. However, it's normal to have some worries if you're considering going under the needle. While clitoral piercings are usually considered safe as long as they're done properly by a professional piercer, they can cause desensitization over time.
They can also increase your risk of sexually transmitted infections. It's important to avoid intercourse completely while the piercing is healing — which can take four weeks to six months — and that you're aware of your partner's sexual history and practice safe sex afterward.
Nipple piercings have been around for hundreds of years and have a more thoroughly documented history. They're considered to be safe when done by a professional, but they do carry a risk of infection or rejection of the piercing itself.
Rejections are more likely if there's excessive tugging or pulling on the piercing, or if you have a metal allergy. "Breastfeeding with these piercings is a common concern, but it usually doesn't negatively impact milk production, said Dr. Spieldoch. There are enough milk ducts in and around the nipple that even if a few are damaged from the piercing, it doesn't affect anything."
Developing an open, positive relationship with your doctor is an important part of your health. Remember that the gynecologist's office is a safe, confidential space and nothing is off limits or taboo. It may be embarrassing to you, but it won't be to your doctor. He or she really has heard and seen it all. Discuss your concerns to see if treatment could help or offer some peace of mind.