From squirting to the pelvic floor, it's time to learn about your bits.
Squirting is a phenomenon a lot of us may only have seen in porn. Usually depicted as a stream of liquid ‘squirting’ from a vagina, there has been huge debate over whether it is a form of female ejaculation, or, in fact, just, er, pee. Shawna Scott, owner of Sex Siopa, says there is a difference.
“It is important to point out that squirting and female ejaculation are not the same thing. Female ejaculation refers to a small amount of milky, white fluid that sometimes is expressed from two tiny glands (called the Skene glands) through the urethra during an orgasm. Squirting refers to large amounts of clear fluid expressed through the urethra. Our best science has shown that while squirt does indeed contain some urine, it is diluted and contains other chemicals not found in urine – primarily small amounts of the ones found in female ejaculate.”
Sex and relationship therapist Teresa Bergin says that it’s completely normal for a woman to never experience squirting in their life.
There is nothing abnormal whatsoever about the phenomenon, but we are unsure as to the rate of occurrence. For some women, it occurs once in a lifetime, others not at all. It’s difficult to ascertain just how commonly this happens because women may be uncomfortable talking about this, either among themselves or with a medical professional.
“Many types of pornography depict squirting as a usual and indeed desirable phenomenon, but as with most aspects of pornography, what is depicted is not entirely an accurate representation of reality.”
Whether you can squirt during sex or not isn’t important, Shawna says. “What matters is that we encourage women to not be ashamed of their bodies’ natural function and let them know that if squirting happens, that’s completely fine and normal, and the same if it doesn’t happen. Anyone who puts pressure on anyone else to perform a sex act that they don’t feel comfortable doing or physically cannot do is, without question, a blundering prick of the highest order.”
You may think that letting out a vaginal fart after or during sex is the most embarrassing thing ever, but rest assured, the experts say it happens to everyone. “Queefing is a colloquialism for what happens when air that is trapped inside the vagina is released, creating a farting sound as the air causes the labia to vibrate”, Shawna explains.
Air can get up there lots of different ways, but most commonly it happens during sex when a penis or toy or fingers penetrate the vagina and push air up into it. Sometimes queefs happen completely involuntarily, but you can also practice pushing the air out by gently bearing down your pelvic muscles. Thanks, Kegels!
Still scarlet when your vagina decides to speak up after a good time? Don’t be! “Of course this can be a little embarrassing if someone is with a new partner but remember, the majority of people who have ever had sex have experienced this,” Teresa says. “Most couples tend to either ignore it or have a laugh about it… after all, it’s completely normal and isn’t sex supposed to be about having fun?”
Ahh, discharge. Out of all the considered ‘grisly’ vagina topics, this is the one we’re probably least likely to want to discuss with our gal pals, but let’s get real here, vaginal discharge is something every woman experiences and to different degrees. Although it is completely normal, it’s important to note a change in your discharge as it could be a sign of infection. So then, what’s normal and what isn’t?
Dr Shirley McQuade notes that it’s completely normal to notice a change in discharge during the usual monthly cycle. “Around the time of ovulation there is an increase in the amount of discharge and at other times it is normal to have a small amount of clear or white discharge.”
Take note of your birth control too, because “taking hormonal contraception will cause changes too – either more or less discharge, and since ovulation is not happening there will be no cyclical pattern,” Shirley points out.
Noticing a white discharge? “An overgrowth in the normal fungal elements can cause thrush. It’s a white discharge that can cause a lot of discomfort due to itch,” Shirley explains. Fortunately, it is easily treated.
Antifungal pessaries are available in pharmacies and no doctor prescription is needed, unless the pessaries don’t stop the problem. Thrush can be brought on by antibiotics, a diet high in sugar and yeast or simply by being very stressed, so it is worthwhile looking at your lifestyle if you find yourself using antifungal products frequently.
And if your discharge is more dark in colour? Well, it can be a cause for concern. “An overgrowth in the normal level of vaginal bacteria can cause a darker coloured discharge that is light brown or greenish and is termed Bacterial Vaginosis,” Shirley clarifies. “It often has an offensive odour. Wearing tight jeans/leggings and synthetic fabrics is often the cause.” We’re looking at you, lycra gym leggings!
“Vaginal gels can change the ph which promotes the normal balance of bacteria or some specific antibiotics prescribed by a doctor may be needed,” Shirley continues. This is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) so partners do not need treatment.
Vaginal discharge can be a sign of an STI so if you have changed partner in the last few months it would be advisable to get checked. If you are experiencing vaginal discharge which seems different than usual visit a doctor and get it checked out.
To recap then, a healthy discharge is typically white in colour and thick in consistency with the absence of other symptoms such as itching, burning and irritation, which, more o en than not, point to a yeast infection or other underlying problem. If your discharge is more yellow, brown or green in colour, it’s certainly worth getting it checked out by a professional, especially if it comes with a foul smell or other not-so pleasant symptoms.
Camel toe is the slang term used to describe the outline of a woman’s labia in tight-fitting clothes. We’ve all been a victim of what has come to be the negative toe, but why is it something women are so self-conscious about? Surely, we all know what’s under the clothing, so why are we so shocked and embarrassed to see it shine through clothing in all its glory?
Although all women will experience camel toe in their lives, it tends to get worse with age. In the book Gross Anatomy, Mara Altman talks to Dr Red Alinsod, a surgeon who specialises in remodelling vaginas (yes, you read that right). Dr Alinsod explained that as you reach your fifties, your labia begins to somewhat sag, therefore making the camel toe look more apparent in tighter clothing. Dr Alison told Mara he performs four to six ‘camel toe-ectomies’ a month where he removes entire sections of vaginal tissue for a ‘Barbie doll look’.
So how do you conceal your camel toe if you’re embarrassed of it? Some people may suggest baggier clothing, special underwear or even surgery, however our answer is – you don’t. The less we start to care about camel toe the less we will be shamed for it. And although Kegel exercises are great for your pelvic floor, they won’t do anything for your camel toe.
“The pelvic floor is an amazing group of muscles and connective tissue, that sits at the bottom of the pelvis,” Niamh explains. “It surrounds the entrances to the bladder bowel and vagina and stretches from front to back and side to side. When you are sitting on a bike seat, your pelvic floor is the area in contact with the saddle.”
Trouble is, your pelvic floor can cause a whole host of problems, especially as you age or after you have a baby. “It has a number of really important jobs to do,” Niamh confirms.
It keeps control over the bladder and bowel, allowing us to decide when and where we go to the toilet. It supports our organs so they stay in the right place, and don’t get forced downwards by gravity and intra-abdominal pressure. It plays a role in stabilising the pelvis and healthy, strong pelvic floor muscles are important for a pain free, enjoyable sex life.
“If there is an issue with the muscles being too tight or overactive, this can be a source of pain with sex, as well as having a negative impact on the continence and support function of the pelvic floor. If the muscles are weak, there is reduced sensation with sex, often leading to less pleasure.”
So what can be done if your sex life is lagging due to a weakened pelvic floor? “There is a massive evidence base to show the benefits of pelvic muscle training for incontinence and prolapse, as well as sexual function. So we know that Kegel exercises can work,” Niamh enthuses.
However we also know that up to 50% of women will do the exercises incorrectly with just a verbal or written instruction. They engage the wrong muscles or they push down the pelvic floor instead of lifting it. When the exercises are done incorrectly, they can at best be ineffective and at worst, cause more problems.
And if Kegels really aren’t working for you? “Attend a women’s health physiotherapist for a full assessment, which often assesses the muscles directly,” Niamh instructs. “Some women find this daunting, but afterwards they can see the benefit.”
Once upon a time you could nearly last the whole working day without going for a wee, but now that you’ve had a baby you’re running every hour, on the hour, and boy when you have to go do you have to go Right. Away. What’s up with that, huh? “Incontinence is an issue for up to 50% of women after having a baby, and ranges from mild to severe incontinence,” clarifies Niamh Kenny, Senior Physiotherapist in the Rotunda Hospital.
It can be due to a variety of factors, the most significant being the stretching and tearing of the pelvic floor muscles during normal vaginal delivery. Instrumental deliveries and larger babies can also add to the trauma to the pelvic floor.
That’s the science bit, but what are your options when it comes to improving things? Is it even possible? “Initially, it’s important to think of the pelvic floor as needing first aid, to help it recover, just as you would any other injury to a muscle group,” Niamh insists. “Resting lying down is important to give the muscles a break, so whenever the opportunity arises in those early days, take it. Wearing good supportive underwear gives some compression to the pelvic floor too, which also aids healing.”
Regular naps and Bridget Jones knickers aside, there’s plenty of other tricks to try too. “Gentle pelvic floor exercises can be started as soon as 24 hours after delivery, once the woman has emptied her bladder normally,” Niamh asserts. “These exercises are best done lying down, not forcing the movement, but a gentle squeeze and lift of the muscles up to ten times in a row, three times a day. It doesn’t take long to do them, but remembering them can be a challenge, so perhaps doing them during a feed or after being to the toilet will help as a reminder.”
Good news too. “While the pelvic floor is weak, it’s important to avoid heavy lifting around the house,” Niamh explains. That means that you should accept all offers of help with the housework while your body is healing. “You baby should be the guide weight for what you can lift, as much as possible,” Niamh confirms. As the pelvic floor strengthens, you can start
to up the ante.
Increase the challenge to it, by doing your exercise sitting up, aiming for a ten second hold ten times in a row, three times a day. Start with a contraction of a few seconds, and let go completely. The contraction is a squeeze and lift from the back passage, around the vagina and then the front passage, and then relaxing all the way through to the back passage. See how many times you can do this well, until the muscle fatigues, up to ten times in a row.
“Try to keep your thighs, buttocks and other muscles relaxed. It can help if you breathe in first, and then contract the muscles as you breathe out and continue to breathe normally.”
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