Women’s Bodies and Health

  • My breasts are small and sagging. How can I increase their size and improve their shape?

    The size of a woman’s breasts has no bearing on her interest in sex or her ability to give or receive pleasure. So don’t fret! Exercise and massage do not increase the size of breasts; they strengthen and tone the muscles around the breasts. Perfectly hemispherical breasts can be created through surgery and other techniques only. Your sexuality is not confined to certain parts of your body. Your whole body, regardless of size, shape, colour and weight, is sexual. Enjoy it.

  • I have a lot of pain during periods. What should I do?

    Pain or heaviness in breasts, lower abdomen, lower back and/or thighs before or during periods is quite common. It might help to use a hot water bag and/or gently massage the lower abdomen. Gentle exercise like walking and doing routine daily activities is helpful in preventing muscles from cramping up. In case of extreme pain, excessive flow or irregular cycles, please consult a gynaecologist as soon as possible. Avoid taking medicines on your own to hasten or delay periods.

  • Lately after my boyfriend and I are done having sex, I swell up down there, and it is really sore, and it burns when I urinate. What is making this happen?

    There are many possibilities. Swelling of the vulva may be caused by an allergy to a contraceptive or lubricant; a yeast infection or other kind of vaginal infection; a lack of lubrication; or a sexually transmitted infection. A change in soaps or laundry detergent could also be the cause. Any of these can lead to irritation of the vagina and vulva and create tiny abrasions that would sting if they came in contact with urine.

    Very sensitive nerve endings in the vulva can lead to a condition called vulvodynia. It causes chronic and potentially severe pain for many women. The pain is often made worse by any kind of physical contact — sex, tampons, or tight clothing. Vulvodynia can sometimes be treated with various prescription medicines.

  • Is it infectious or dirty to have sex while on my period?

    There is nothing dirty or unclean about menstruation. Blood from menstruation is no more likely to infect a woman’s partner than sweat, saliva, or vaginal secretions caused by sexual arousal. We know that menstrual fluid itself is not infectious, and it does not cause disease or sickness. Some women today enjoy their periods as a proud reminder of their femininity. Many others see it as an uncomfortable inconvenience that they could do well without. And many have found that they can enjoy their sexuality and express themselves sexually during menstruation.

  • My friends keep telling me I need to have a Pap smear test, but I am not sexually active. Is it necessary?

    It recommended that women should have Pap tests when they become older than 21 or three years after their first sexual contact.

    “Sexual contact” means any kind of intimate manual (fingers), oral, vaginal, or anal sex play with a partner. The kinds of virus associated with cervical cancer can be passed through any intimate skin-to-skin contact. Pap tests are used to detect whether or not cells in the cervix are developing abnormally because they have been affected by certain kinds of human papilloma virus (HPV) that are transmitted through intimate contact. Early detection leads to early treatment and saves thousands of lives.

  • I tried using tampons once. I developed rashes, and it hurt. Why? I had heard that they are better than pads.

    Some women prefer tampons to pads. You should use what you find most comfortable. Although it might take some time and effort to learn how to use a tampon, it is safe and convenient if used properly. A tampon can cause discomfort if it is not correctly inserted and/or positioned. If you are tense while inserting a tampon, it might hurt you. Read the instructions manual carefully to insert a tampon properly. Tampons must be changed every four to six hours to prevent infection. You might have developed a rash because you had not changed for a long time. Some people are also very sensitive to the material used in the tampon.

  • I missed my period. I should have had it last week. Do you think I’m pregnant?

    The only way to be sure of pregnancy early on is to have a pregnancy test. Pregnancy tests are accurate after a missed period — some can even detect pregnancy a few days before a missed period.

    The most obvious symptom of pregnancy is a missed period. Other possible symptoms include

    • nausea
    • inexplicable fatigue
    • sore or enlarged breasts
    • headaches
    • frequent urination

    However, it is possible that any combination of these symptoms could also indicate that a woman is premenstrual, or that she has the flu or some other illness.

    Many women, especially young women, have normally irregular periods. These irregularities may include missed periods and other changes in the menstrual cycle. These irregularities can vary from month to month. Although pregnancy is the most common reason for missing a period, irregularity is also caused by illness, travel, worry, or stress.
    Pregnancy testing is the only way to be sure.

  • What is meant by the terms peri-menopause and climacteric?

    Perimenopause- The period before a woman reaches menopause. During this time, the ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen, a hormone that helps regulate menstruation. Perimenopause can begin to occur a few years prior to menopause. Within the last two years of perimenopause, oestrogen production decreases more rapidly, which can lead to menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, changes in libido, and vaginal dryness.

    Perimenopause and menopause are often thought of as a time when women experience diminished sexual desire. While libido (sexual desire) might decrease, this idea may have more to do with prevailing social attitudes that look down upon women’s expression of sexuality, after they have fulfilled their reproductive responsibilities towards the family.

    Climacetric: When men begin to produce decreased level of testosterone, usually around the age of 45-65. This has been linked with the female menopausal process. Unlike menopausal women, this is not often accompanied by decreased sexual libido.

  • How can I protect myself from pregnancy and infection?

    Regular condom usage provides protection from both pregnancy and infection. Washing, douching, urinating immediately after sex, using special positions, antiseptics, creams etc, DO NOT prevent pregnancy or infection. Precum (few drops of clear liquid are formed at the tip of the penis much before ejaculation) contains sperm (that can lead to pregnancy), and HIV (if your partner is infected). Therefore, a man should wear the condom as soon as he gets an erection. Your partner can practice wearing a condom during masturbation.

  • Can Prozac affect my sex drive? I never feel intimate anymore, and it’s really hurting my relationship — my partner gets so upset thinking I don’t find him/her attractive anymore. I just don’t feel like having sex, ever.

    Antidepressants are of many categories one of which is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, and Paxil. SSRIs are used to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and other conditions, including premenstrual dysphoric disorder. A possible side effect of SSRIs includes decreased sex drive and/or more difficult orgasm — for women and men. Each SSRI may have different effects on different people.

    Talk with your health care provider if you feel this medication affecting your sex life. Your provider may be able to substitute a different SSRI or a different kind of medication.

    Similarly, share with your partner any concerns you may have about changes in your sex drive — no matter what the reasons may be. It may be difficult to assure partners that one’s feelings are not about them, but it is worth trying — communication is everything. Understandably, partners may find it difficult to accept that their significant other’s appetite for sex has changed, especially if it needs to be for an extended or indefinite period of time.

  • I’ve heard that the pill and other hormonal methods of birth control will lower my sex drive? Is that true?

    The side effects of the pill have been studied for more than 40 years. Many of these studies have examined the effect of the pill on sexual desire and arousal. A recent review of 30 original studies concluded that using the pill, the patch, the ring, and the shot has no effect on sexual desire or arousal for most women. For other women, sexual desire and arousal are affected: Some experience more sexual desire and arousal. Some experience less.

    The causes of these changes may be psychological — for example, a woman may enjoy her sexuality more when she doesn’t need to worry about getting pregnant. Some may be hormonal — for example, the estrogen in the pill may affect the testosterone in a woman’s body in ways that influence her sex drive. If a woman experiences an unwelcome change in her sex drive and thinks it is caused by her method, she may want to change to another method.

  • Does using the pill really help cure acne?

    Yes. Less acne is one of the many non-contraceptive advantages to using combined hormone methods of birth control — the pill, the patch, and the ring. In fact, as many as one third of the prescriptions written for the pill are not written for birth control; they are written for the non-contraceptive benefits.

  • Is it safe to take the pill continuously to avoid having periods?

    Yes, it is — except for women who should not take the pill at all. Likewise, it is safe to continuously use some other hormonal methods, like Depo-Provera injections, the Mirena IUD, or the vaginal ring to suppress menstruation.

    Many women would rather not menstruate using hormonal contraception to control their cycles for various reasons — to plan a trips, travels, athletic event, to alleviate medical conditions such as endometriosis, to avoid discomforts like PMS, for convenience, or simply because they don’t like menstruating.

  • My friends tell me that I sound too insecure about my body and my looks, and that i take an abnormally long time getting ready to go out. When does caring about my looks become a problem?

    Many people are concerned to a greater or lesser degree with some aspect of their appearance. If looking good becomes a significant distress or handicap in at least one area of your life then it my be defined at body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). For example, someone with BDD might avoid certain social and public situations to prevent themselves from feeling uncomfortable and worrying that people are rating them negatively. Alternatively a person may enter such situations but remain very self conscious. He or she may camouflage themselves excessively to hide their perceived defect by using heavy make up, brushing their hair in a particular way, changing their posture, or wearing heavy clothes. They may spend several hours a day thinking about their perceived defect and asking themselves questions that cannot be answered (for example, ”Why was I born this way?”, “If only my nose was straighter and smaller”) They may feel compelled to repeat frequently certain time consuming behaviors such as:

    • Checking their appearance in a mirror or reflective surface
    • Seeking reassurance about their appearance
    • Checking by feeling one’s skin with one’s fingers
    • Cutting or combing their hair to make it “just so”.
    • Picking their skin to make it smooth.
    • Comparing themselves against models in magazines or people in the street

    While BDD is a very medical term we need to remember that the social context in different places of the world may skew the intensity of it. In Lebanon looking good is too connected to being “decent” “classy” “clean” and from “good” upbringing; all of which are also problematic.

  • Can all women of any age use the pill?

    Young women and older one often choose the pill for its contraceptive and non-contraceptive benefits. Not only can the pill help prevent a surprise unintended pregnancy later in life, it can also help regulate menstruation during perimenopause, help reduce symptoms of PMS or certain symptoms of perimenopause, and help protect against ovarian and endometrial cancer.

    The pill, however, for fear of strokes cannot be used by women 35 or older who smoke.

    One other thing: the pill cannot protect against sexually transmitted infections. So, be sure to practice safer sex including condom use.

  • I heard it’s dangerous to take the Pill for more than 10 years. Is that true? Is there a limit?

    No, it’s not true, and there is no limit to how long a woman can take the pill. Millions of women around the world have taken the pill since the FDA approved it in 1960. It has been the most scrupulously tested medication of our time.

    Countless women take the pill from adolescence through perimenopause. Many stopped taking the pill only when they wanted to become pregnant and started taking it again after giving birth. Women not only rely on it for contraception but for menstrual regularity and other benefits. These benefits include

    • less menstrual flow and cramping
    • less infection of the fallopian tubes (pelvic inflammatory disease), which often leads to infertility
    • fewer ectopic pregnancies (those in a fallopian tube)
    • fewer noncancerous breast growths
    • fewer ovarian cysts
    • reduced risk of cancer of the lining of the uterus and of the ovaries
    • less iron-deficiency anemia that results from heavy menses
    • less acne
    • fewer premenstrual symptoms, as well as related headaches and depression
    • protection against osteoporosis — loss of bone mass
    • less excess body hair
    • less vaginal dryness and painful intercourse associated with menopause

    The fact is that over the long term, use of the pill has offered many health benefits to millions of women worldwide.

  • I used to get wet just at the thought of stimulation but now it’s difficult to get wet. What can I do?

    Changes in sexual arousal and lubrication patterns may also be associated with other events in a woman’s life. Having a new sex partner, or being with the same partner for many years, may affect the patterns of all the stages of a woman’s sexual response cycle: desire, arousal, excitement, and orgasm. Various health conditions — including depression and diabetes, for example — may also affect her sex drive. Age itself also has an effect. In fact, during perimenopause and menopause, many, if not most, women experience vaginal dryness.

    Women who would like increased lubrication should not be shy about using over-the-counter lubricants to enhance sexual pleasure. There are hundreds of products on the market to choose from. There are only two important cautions: Oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms. Silicone-based lubricants can damage barrier contraceptives made of silicone, such as FemCap, and a wide variety of sex toys that are also made of silicone. So, if you use sex toys or latex condoms, you won’t go wrong if you purchase a water-based lubricant.

  • If virgins use vibrators, do they lose their virginity?

    People think of virginity in different ways. Most people and cultures think of virgins as women or men who have not had sexual intercourse with another person. For most people “sexual intercourse” means vaginal intercourse. For others, it means anal intercourse or oral sex play, as well. Very few people consider masturbation, or self-pleasuring, as a way to lose virginity — even if someone else is present. Masturbation is natural and normal. Many women and men masturbate throughout their lives — before they have partners and while they have partners. There are nearly no health hazards associated with.

    Some believe that a woman is no longer a virgin if she does not have a hymen — the thin, skin-like tissue that stretches over part of the vaginal opening. This is a mistaken teaching, however, because many women are born with so little hymenal tissue that it may seem they have none. Many other women stretch their hymens open during activities that have nothing to do with sex. These activities include working out, gymnastics, horseback riding, and other sports. Penetrative masturbation — with or without sex toys, such as vibrators or dildos, may also stretch the hymen open.

  • The morning after having sex I always have pee that burns. I’ve noticed it happen more than once and it goes away. I always use condoms so i dont think its an STI. Why is that?

    Having sex can introduce bacteria into the vagina and urethra, causing urinary tract infections (UTIs). That could create a burning sensation during urination. When you sleep after sex you leave the bacteria to grow and then the next morning it burns but you would have cleaned out your urinary tract. What could help is to always remember to pee after you have sex so that you clean out your tract and avoid the burning feeling later.

    Many women dont get symptoms for STIs, condoms are protective, but it would be good to have regular checkups for STIs and especially in the case of unprotected sex.

  • I’m going to have my first pelvic exam. Can a doctor tell if you’ve had sexual intercourse?

    Not generally. The only way the clinician will know if a woman’s had sex is if the woman tells him/her.  Pelvic examination doesn’t reveal if you’ve had vaginal intercourse or if you masturbate, unless there are specific signs:

    • symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection such as herpes or genital warts
    • the presence in the vagina of semen from a recent act of intercourse
    • torn tissue from violent sex

    If your same doctor had checked your hymen before sexual activity and then after s/he may think that sexual intercourse has occurred, but cannot be sure unless told.

  • Is it true that using a tampon could tear the hymen? Would that mean that I am no longer a virgin?

    The hymen is a thin and highly elastic membrane present in the vagina. Using a tampon does not tear the hymen, as it is elastic. The hymen may however break or stretch during the course of running, cycling or exercising, at any point in life. So, the presence or absence of an intact hymen does not indicate whether or not a woman has had sex. There is no “proof of virginity” for either a woman or a man.