Q: I know that sometimes it can be hard for some women to orgasm, but it's physically possible for every woman to have one, right?
A: This seemingly simple question has a somewhat complicated answer, but the short version is that there's really no way to know if every woman is physically capable of having an orgasm. Imagine trying to test a group of women who all bring to the table their own physical, emotional, personal, and sexual nuances; who find different touches, sounds, words, and settings completely sexy or total turn offs! The sexual response cycle can be broken down into five stages: desire, excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Each stage can last different lengths of time, vary in pleasure, occur in many different orders, and even skip some of the stages or repeat others. What's important to remember is that everyone approaches their sexual lives from a unique vantage point made up of their past experiences, influences, and knowledge of their own body. For example some women may find that they can easily bring themselves to orgasm, but that sharing intimacy with a partner is an anxiety inducing situation that prevents them from climaxing, while others may require the touch of a hand other than their own. Similarly, orgasm can be painful for some women, both physically and emotionally due to the intensity of the sensation or memories that it might cause to surface and they may choose to avoid it during intimate play. If you are worried about past experiences affecting your ability to respond sexually in a way that you are hoping for, Counseling Services (x2037) is a great resource to turn to. Regardless of where you or a partner stand in pursuit of or in deciding to refrain from orgasms, it's important to respect an individual's choice and voice regarding intimacy.
Q: Does abstinence mean not having intercourse? What about other sexual activities?
A: Abstinence refers to refraining from sexual intercourse and/or other kinds of sexual activity like oral sex, kissing, heavy petting or anal sex. So technically, every individual person could have a different definition of what abstinence means to them and which kinds of activities in which they choose to participate. Abstinence from all or some sexual activities is an individual choice that many people make for short periods of time such as remaining chaste before marriage or for long periods of time such as for religious asceticism. Whether abstinence is a choice made just for now or for a lifetime, there are many reasons to choose to refrain from sexual activities. Many men and women around the world and at Mt. Holyoke remain abstinent for religious reasons, as a means of birth control, to prevent STI transmission, as a result of negative past experiences, and/or emotional reasons. The term abstinence might also sound familiar or raise controversy as abstinence only sexual health education is offered in many schools throughout the United States and the world and is a topic of contemporary political debate. The bottom line: abstinence, however an individual defines it, is a personal and valid life choice!
Q: If I'm a female and my male partner and I both don't have orgasms during sex, can I still get pregnant?
A: Yes there is a risk of pregnancy, regardless of the orgasm status of either partner during male/female vaginal penetration. The female orgasm in this case does not affect the ability of the woman to get pregnant because it does not affect her exposure to sperm. Speaking of sperm, there is sperm in both pre-ejaculatory fluid AND semen. So even if your male partner does not ejaculate, sperm has been released into the vagina when penetration has occurred. This is why the contraceptive method of pulling out before ejaculation can be ineffective. The bottom line: regardless of your amazing orgasm (or lack thereof) pregnancy is a real risk without the proper use of barrier, hormonal, or abstinence based birth control methods.
Q: What is female ejaculation, and how can I make it happen?
A: One very common belief about female ejaculation is that it’s something you can just make happen. Although most women have the ability to, not every woman can or will, and in fact a minority of women do.
Female ejaculation, or ‘squirting,’ is when vaginal fluid is released at a high pressure from the paraurethral ducts. This is caused by pressure, both by the expansion of the area around them during arousal, and actual stimulation of the g-spot. Wherever the pressure comes from, it must be preceded by large amounts of sexual arousal from genital stimulus.
One should keep in mind that this will rarely, if ever, appear as it does in porn. High-powered fountain-like releases are usually faked or artificially emphasized. Usually, it will just be a mild ‘gush’ and you or your partner may not even notice.
To try to ejaculate, first make sure that your bladder is empty (as it always should be prior to sex.) During high arousal, try pressing down on your muscles like you would when urinating. Although this usually will occur during an orgasm, it doesn’t always need to be, and some women may find that the pressures experienced during an orgasm stops any fluid flow.
Again, not every woman will experience this. Not all women will get the right amount of stimulus, or be as sexually aroused as they need to be. In many cases, the glands may be too small to produce any noticeable amount of fluid. Also, since the feeling mimics that of having to urinate, many women will tighten up when experiencing the arousal, stopping the fluid release.
Some women will experience ejaculation without even trying. Often, they will not know what is even happening. Women who get embarrassed by, or have an issue with ‘squirting’ should talk it over with their partner beforehand.
The nature of the fluid being released is still under controversy. The most conclusive studies show that it most closely resembles the fluid that men release from their prostate gland, though there are enough differences to still make researchers disagree.
Q: I’ve heard a lot of negative things about masturbation. Is it bad for me? What are the risks?
A: For some reason (ask any feminist for specifics) female masturbation has acquired a taboo that you simply don’t see regarding male masturbation. No, your hands won’t get hairy, it won’t make you break out, you won’t become numb to sex, heighten your risk for infertility, or grow any extra limbs. Masturbating or not masturbating will not have any physiological damage (despite the belief that men ‘need’ to,) and how often, or if they even do, is entirely up to the individual and their personal comfort levels.
That said, there are some precautions that women should take before engaging in this activity. You should always make sure your fingers and nails are clean, and that your nails aren’t too long or sharp. Vaginal skin is very sensitive, and abrasive surfaces could tear the skin, resulting in discomfort and opening the area up for infection. Also, if you’re going to use a foreign object, make sure that it is properly sanitized. Items like fruits or vegetables should be avoided, as they are more likely to cause infection than something like a vibrator, and could also break off inside of you.
Orgasms, or sexual arousal in general, can have many positive effects. Endorphins, oxytocin, and testosterone are released during orgasm, and can offer a wide range of benefits, from easing menstrual cramps, to reducing depression, to strengthening your body’s immune system. Also, masturbating, and climaxing in general, burns calories, encourages muscle growth, and improves circulation.
Many women are turned off to the idea of masturbation because they aren’t sure how to do it. A lot of women think that masturbation is strictly fingering, and are surprised when they feel nothing from it. It is difficult for most women to find pleasure in vaginal stimulation alone; usually, it is accompanied by self-stimulation of the breasts, butt, perineum, nipples, neck, and clitoris. Mental arousal, such as pornography, erotica, or even your imagination is helpful to many people. You could also try different positions or techniques, such as squeezing your thighs together tightly, trying in the bath or other water, or using a vibrator against different areas of your body like your clitoris, neck, or thighs. More than anything, women need to remember that masturbation will not be the same for every person, or even in every experience. The best way to start is to take time and explore your body.
Q: I live a "green" lifestyle, and I am concerned about the amount of waste I create while using tampons and pads during my period. Are there any alternatives?
A: Did you know that the average woman uses up to 16,800 tampons in her lifetime? This amount of waste is harmful to our beautiful planet - and hard on our pocketbooks! There are a few good solutions to non-reusable feminine products. Sea sponges cost between $2 and $4. They are simply inserted into your vagina, and naturally absorb your menstrual flow. Re-washable pads are made from 100% organic cotton, and can be used for years! The Keeper is a small rubber cup which is internally worn. It "catches" your menstrual flow rather than absorbs it, and can provide you with up to twelve hours of protection. The Diva Cup is similar to the Keeper, except it is latex free. The Keeper and The Diva Cup run about $30. Lastly, if you need environmentally friendly feminine products that are easily accessible, try o.b. tampons. They don't have an applicator, so they generate far less waste!
Q: Is it true that my birth control pills might one day give me breast cancer?
A: The link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer still remains unsolved. Some studies have suggested that if a woman takes oral contraceptives for a number of years, she is at higher risk for breast cancer. Do your best to prevent breast cancer by knowing your family history, eating a low fat diet, not smoking, exercising regularly, and drinking in moderation. Beginning at age 20, get a breast exam annually (Some gynecological offices will give you a breast exam when you receive a pap smear. If not, this is a good is always a good time to ask for one!) Beginning at age 40, get a mammogram (breast x-ray) annually.
Q: Female Ejaculation: is it normal? Every time I am having sex I am very self conscious when I get to the point where I am going to cum. I know it sounds weird, but I get embarrassed and I try to prevent myself from ejaculating. Is this normal? What can I do to set myself at ease and enjoy having sex as I reach my climax?
A: Well first of all it is normal to feel a little self conscious about one’s body fluids, but the first thing you have to do in order to enjoy reaching your climax is to remember that ejaculating is very normal. Ejaculation occurs when a spongy region near the urethra also known as your G-spot gets overly stimulated. The “spongy” region begins to collect fluid as you begin to get more and more excited. When the “spongy” region gets filled with fluid ejaculation begins to occur. Because of the sudden flow of fluids, many get embarrassed or begin to panic because they feel as if they were going to urinate, this is very normal because it originates almost from the same spot. It might feel as if you were letting go of your urine, however it is not urine. It is nearly impossible to urinate and ejaculate at the same time.
Q: I have really irregular menstrual cycles – sometime I bleed a couple times a month, sometimes I skip months, sometime I just spot. Is there something wrong with my parts? What can I do?
A: It is important to know that everyone’s body is different. Also, menstrual cycles can be influenced by stress, nutrition, excessive exercise, and change in routine. However, if this inconsistency is occurring regularly, you should defiantly see a physician or gynecologist. One option is to go on a form of hormonal birth control to help regulate your periods. Another option is to alter different elements of your life style – take steps to reduce stress, eat a healthy and consistent diet, and so on.
Q: There is a burning sensation in my vagina, its sensitive “down there”, it hurts when I pee and there is a thick, white discharge. What might be going on?
A: You may have a yeast infection, also known as Candida. There are many different ways that you can get a yeast infection – from wearing a wet bathing suit for too long to the type of condom used for safe sex to antibiotics to sweating to wearing tight underwear.
Once again, the importance of different bodies cannot be stressed enough. A friend once said, “For some women, yeast infections are as frequent as a common cold. Others hardly, if ever, get them.” Women are particularly at risk, since yeast thrives in moist places. So, do not be afraid, you are not alone.
There are many ways to cure a yeast infection – some more factual than others. To start, make an appointment and visit a physician or gynecologist who will be able to prescribe medicine and talk with you more about yeast infections. Drug stores also offer a wide variety of over the counter medicine. Beyond this, it is family secrets and “just give it a try” techniques that offer other options for curing a yeast infection. Two popular ones are to dip a tampon in plain, unsweetened yogurt and insert it into your vagina or simply rub some on the outside. But don’t leave it there for too long. Or to insert one garlic tab or a garlic clove into the vagina every few hours or as needed provides soothing relief. As neat as these options are, the medical options are top shelf.
While you have a yeast infection, try to avoid birth control pills (talk to your physician or gynecologist), antibiotics (talk to your physician or gynecologist), douching, feminine deodorants, non-cotton underwear, tight clothing, and wet clothing.
A final tip, be sure to drink lots of water!
Q: A friend of mine recently suggested I try this apparently amazing birth control pill, so I had my gynecologist write me a prescription. Except that I’m having terrible mood swings, and my acne has gotten worse. What’s wrong with me?
A: Well, chances are, there isn’t anything wrong with you. We’re all unique in our body chemistry, so not everyone is going to respond to a single type of birth control in the same way. Your friend may love it, and that’s great that she found the right brand for her, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right brand for you. Talk to your doctor about switching to a different brand of pill, or even a different method of contraception entirely, like the patch or the ring. There are many options on the market, and they work differently; it’s all about finding what’s right for you.
Q: Why do some bodily fluids taste differently than others? Is there a way to make mine taste better?
A: Every body is different, so naturally you are going to experience different tastes with different partners. One’s diet does however have an effect on the taste and smell of his or her bodily fluids. Drinking less coffee and alcohol, eating less red meat and junk food, and doing less drugs, helps cut down on unpleasant tastes. Right before anticipated sexual activity, one might want to hold off on vegetables such as asparagus, onion, and garlic. Eating more fruit or drinking more fruit juice high in sugar content, like apple, melon, mango, or grape, may increase the amount of sugars in your bodily fluids, thus making them taste sweeter. Drink lots of water because being well hydrated deludes the intensity of the flavor. Always remember that exchanging bodily fluids can transmit STIs, so talk to your partner and consider using a condom or dental dam.
Q: My sex drive is all over the place. Sometimes I have a really high sex drive, and sometimes I am not interested at all. Why does this happen? Is there anything I can do about it?
A: There are many things that can effect your sex drive including prescription medication, alcohol, depression, anxiety, stress, pregnancy, the different phases of your menstrual cycle, birth control pills, recreational drugs, and ever something as simple as a change in scenery. If you are on medication, speak with your doctor about the possible side effects. If you have been experiencing a change in your sex drive for a short period of time, it might just be stress, or the phase of your cycle, in which case you could try waiting it out. Ultimately you must do what feels right for you, whether it is seeking medical advice, or waiting. It is natural to experience changes in your sex drive, much like mood swings. In the end, if you’re not feeling it, don’t force it.
Q: I know how condoms work but how does hormonal birth control work?
A: Homornal birth control uses progesterone and estrogen to control normal body functions that would allow you to become pregnant (IE ovulation). Your body makes the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These control your monthly cycle and specifically ovulation (when an egg is released from one of your ovaries.) Most hormonal birth control methods (The Pill, The Ring, certain IUDs etc.) contain a combination of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to prevent ovulation. A woman cannot get pregnant if she doesn't ovulate because there is no egg to be fertilized. These also work by thickening the mucus around the cervix, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus and reach any eggs that may have been released. The hormones in the Pill can also sometimes affect the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for an egg to attach to its walls. Several forms of hormonal birth control (Pills, Mirena, DepoProvera ect.) are progesterone only which generally do the same thing as the combination forms depending on their dosage.
Q: Am I at risk for contracting an STI, or even HIV, from having oral sex? Is oral sex safe?
A: Yes, you can still contract an STI via oral sex. Some STIs are more easily contracted via oral sex than others, however, safe sex (even oral sex) should always be practiced. Herpes is the most common STI transferred via oral sex. Although herpes is the most common STI transferred via oral sex, any exchange of fluids can transfer an STI. Other STIs are just as easily transferred through exposure to open wounds and fluid exchange. HPV that causes genital warts, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, the HIV virus, and Hepatitis A, B, and C can all be transferred and therefore, precautions should be taken even when engaging in oral sex.
Q: Can I get pregnant if I am on my period?
A: Although women are more likely to get your period during ovulation (approximately 2 weeks before menstruation), women are still just as likely to conceive during, before, or right after your period. Unprotected sex, even during a woman’s period, does not protect against pregnancy. Also, having unprotected sex at any time puts you at high risk for contracting an STI. Because sperm can live in a woman for up to 5 days, and because we are never sure where an egg is during a cycle, it is always safer to use a condom! Protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy and possible contraction of an STI.