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A gynaecologist answers our most common sex questions

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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How can we prevent cystitis? And what is a normal amount of discharge? Harley Street Gynaecologist, Tania Adib, explains all…

Anyone who was unfortunate enough to get their sex education in a British primary or secondary school will know how woefully inadequate the teaching in this area currently is. From schoolchildren being taught bizarre songs and chants, to learning – inexplicably – how to roll a condom onto a banana, it’s fair to say we didn’t glean much genuinely useful information from the lessons – that is, if we had them at all.

Back in 2016, David Cameron and the Conservative party blocked calls for sex education to be made compulsory in schools, infuriating parents, feminists and generally sensible people in every corner of the country. But fast forward two years and sex education – along with information about how to form and sustain healthy relationships – is finally going to become part of the school curriculum, thanks to a successful campaign from Laura Bates, the founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, in partnership with members of the End Violence Against Women Coalition. The lessons will be rolled out as early as September 2019, with a panel of experts currently deciding what the curriculum will involve (fingers crossed that Johnny Condom and pet poodles won’t be making an appearance).

Speaking to stylist.co.uk about her campaign to make sex education compulsory in schools (which garnered over 46,000 signatures on an online petition), Bates said she had been “shocked” to learn how little information schoolchildren had about healthy relationships and sex. “I meet so many girls who have absolutely no idea about their own anatomy – young women, even at university, who don’t know the most basic facts, such as how many holes a girl has,” she said.

“Young women don’t know the most basic facts, such as how many holes a girl has.”

If you feel that you didn’t quite learn everything you needed to know about sex and your anatomy in school, you’re not alone. New research from Canesten finds that three quarters of women in the UK weren’t taught about intimate health conditions when they were growing up, while 44% of women are still unable to identify abnormal changes to their intimate areas, such as a change in discharge.

With this in mind we’ve asked Harley Street Gynaecologist, Tania Adib, to answer 10 of our most common questions about sex and our vaginas. Read on to find out everything you might need to know.

What is vaginal discharge?

Discharge is part of the vagina’s cleaning process, and a healthy amount is normal. However, many women have complexes about discharge, as it makes them feel uncomfortable, dirty and lacking in confidence. Women need to understand that a discharge is usually very healthy.

Changes in discharge may indicate an intimate health condition. Thrush manifests itself as thick, white curd-like discharge which causes itching and discomfort.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), on the other hand, smells distinctly unpleasant, and has a fishy odour. The discharge is thin and watery and sometimes grey, and there’ll also be itching and burning when you go to the loo. Using Canestest Self-Test for Vaginal Infections can give you an answer in 10 seconds to help you determine if you’re suffering with thrush or BV.

Three quarters of women in the UK weren’t taught about intimate health conditions when they were growing up.

Do I need to wax or shave?

Many women question whether it is better to wax or shave, however it is probably better to wax. The risks with shaving are such that you cannot see down there as much as someone else can, and you may be more likely to cut yourself.

Further to this, if you shave, you are more likely to do this more often, which increases the opportunities for irritation. In addition, if you use the same razor for shaving your intimate area as other parts of the body such as the armpits or legs, there is of course the risk of spreading bacteria.

How do I clean my vagina?

At some point, we all start thinking about our vagina more, what it looks like, what it does, what it smells like and what on earth is the best way to care for the intimate area?

Women need to understand that their intimate area can be hygienic without over washing with perfumed soaps.

Women could wash their intimate area with either water or an unperfumed, specialist wash such as Canesfresh Gentle Refreshing Mousse which helps maintain a natural pH and supports a healthy balance of microflora. It is also very important to properly dry before dressing again, as bacteria thrives in moist environments.

It’s the age-old question: is it better to wax or shave?

What is the best post-sex etiquette?

If women don’t pass urine after sex, they are more likely to get cystitis. The action of sex means that you are more likely to get bacteria into the urethra, whether you use protection or not.

The bacteria may then cause cystitis to take hold. However, if you urinate after sex, you will flush out bacteria before it takes hold.

What is cystitis anyway?

Cystitis is frequently thought to be caused by bacteria entering the bladder through the urethra, which can occur due to a number of reasons. Cystitis can commonly be caused by tampon usage, using a diaphragm for contraception, not emptying your bladder fully when urinating, wiping back to front after going to the toilet and dehydration.

The most common symptoms of cystitis are a stinging or burning sensation when passing urine, a need to pass urine frequently and urgently, dark, cloudy or odorous urine and abdominal or back pain. In some cases, women may experience fever, temperature or weakness, frequent and recurring UTIs, reduced sex drive and discomfort during sex.

Treatment options such as CanesOasis Cystitis Relief, contain sodium citrate which reduces the acidity of your urine and helps to alleviate the stinging pain that you experience when you urinate, treating the symptoms of cystitis supporting you to get over your infections.

Do I need to use a lubricant when I have sex?

It is common that women who are suffering with vaginal dryness naturally don’t get aroused very much during sex, as it can be quite uncomfortable. In these circumstances, lubricants can be very helpful.

There are many different treatments available for vaginal dryness which are very effective. Treatments include vaginal lubricants and moisturisers, or topical oestrogen creams.

Sex education will finally be made compulsory in schools from as early as next year

How can I manage heavy bleeding?

If you’re experiencing heavy bleeding, you should try and find out why. It’s a good idea to see a gynaecologist to look at what the cause is and look at treatment options.

This could be as simple as going on the pill or having a coil fitted. On a practical level, setting an alarm to wake and change whatever sanitary options they have decided on will help, as well as wearing double protection will help.

What contraception options other than condoms are available?

There are a vast array of contraceptive options available for women today and it’s important to find one that is right for you. They range from tablets and injections to implants or vaginal rings. If they contain both hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, they can be taken as pills or the vaginal ring.

Other options contain just progesterone, and come as a tablet, the so-called “mini pill”, or injections or implants. The Mirena coil contains progesterone and acts on the lining on the womb. It is fantastic for reducing heavy periods as well as being a contraceptive. Oral contraceptive pills are also used to regulate hormones, for example for women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and can help to reduce acne.

Other contraceptive pills can reduce heavy periods. For those who don’t want to take hormones, there’s the copper coil which is very effective and lasts for 10 years. It’s so convenient, too, as there is no need to remember to take a pill everyday. There is such a wide range of contraceptives, it’s normally possible to find one that suits you.

Images: Unsplash, Mike Dorner, Pixabay, Imani Clovis, Jonas Zurcher

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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