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Sexual Problems

Using condoms and dams is the only way to reduce the risk of getting or passing on an STI – being on the Pill doesn’t protect you from infections!


  • The Menstrual Cycle
    For over half of our lives, most women experience the recurring changes of the menstrual cycle. As young girls our ovaries do not yet perform their adult reproductive role. At some point, usually between 9 and 14 years of age, the brain begins sending messages to the ovaries that it is time to begin cyclical production of the two main female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Actually, men have small amounts of female hormones too. Women also have some testosterone.
    Estrogen and progesterone, under direction from the brain, work together to orchestrate the maturing and releasing of eggs (ovulation), as well as to prepare the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg. Should this happen, they continue to work together to allow pregnancy and the development of the embryo. If no fertilized egg is implanted uterus sheds its lining as menstrual blood, and the cycle begins again.
    Cycle lengths vary from woman to woman, and will even vary at different times for the same woman. The average length is 28 days. Interestingly, this is the time for one full lunar cycle. Ovulation can be induced by night light, and so women who sleep under natural moonlight often will ovulate with the full moon and menstruate with the new moon. One reason many women experience irregular cycles may be related to artificial light.
  • General Facts About STDs
    Sexually transmitted diseases (also called STDs, or STIs for sexually transmitted infections) are infections that can be transferred from one person to another through sexual contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 15 million cases of sexually transmitted disease cases reported annually in the United States. There are more than 25 diseases that are transmitted through sexual activity. Other than HIV, the most common STDs in the United States are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and bacterial vaginosis. Adolescents and young adults are the age groups at the greatest risk for acquiring an STD. Approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among people ages 15 to 24. Some STDs can have severe consequences, especially in women, if not treated, which is why it is so important to go for STD testing. Some STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility, while others may even be fatal. STDs can be prevented by refraining from sexual activity, and to a certain extent, some contraceptive devices, such as condoms.
  • Vagina stuff
    My vagina’s leaking!
    Secretions from the cervix (the lower end of the womb) and the glands at the entrance of the vagina help to keep it clean and healthy. These secretions vary during the menstrual cycle and are part of a normal, healthy vagina. Fluid also passes through the vaginal walls in response to physical activity and sexual arousal. All these secretions make up the vaginal discharge that a girl normally notices. Usually discharge is whitish, drying yellowish on underwear, and varying in amount throughout the cycle. It has a characteristic (but not bad) smell unnoticeable to you or others if you wash regularly.
    If you notice your discharge is different from usual (such as heavier, or with a different or unpleasant smell), see a doctor, as this can indicate an infection. Remember that the vagina is very sensitive.  Avoid irritation by using plain water or a soap-free wash to bathe the area, rather than soap or antiseptics, and don’t use perfumes, deodorants or talcs on the vagina.
  • Masturbation
    Most girls (and guys!) masturbate and as long as it is done in private or with a partner, masturbation is a normal and healthy way of experiencing pleasure and understanding what feels good for you.  There are lots of different ways to masturbate, and frequency of masturbation varies from person to person – everyone is different.
  • Pap smears
    A Pap smear is a simple test used to detect early changes in the cells of the cervix. Without treatment, these changes can lead to cancer. Regular Pap smears help detect early warning signs of cervical cancer and allow women to receive treatment before the cancer develops.
    All girls who are sexually active (with girls or guys) should start having Pap smears two years after first having sex or when they turn 18, and continue to have a Pap smear every two years until they turn 70. Your clinician may recommend you have more frequent Pap smears if a previous one showed significant cell changes. An abnormal Pap smear result very rarely means you have cancer, but it is important to discuss your results with a doctor and what treatment, if any, you should have.
    A Pap smear can only be performed when you don’t have your period, with the ideal time being a week or so after you have stopped bleeding. An instrument called a speculum is gently inserted into the vagina so the cervix can be seen clearly (you can insert the speculum yourself if you want). Cells are collected from the cervix and sent to a laboratory for testing. While some women find Pap smears mildly uncomfortable, they are rarely painful and usually only take a few minutes.
    One of the main causes of cervical cancer is the Human Papilloma Virus, which is contracted through sexual activity.  A free cervical cancer vaccine is available for young women – talk to a doctor or FPWA clinician for more details.  You can also get tested for STIs at the same time as your Pap smear if you wish.
  • Breast aware
    There is no standard shape or size for breasts, and every set is different.  It is normal for breasts to change in size and shape at various times in your life – menstruation, pregnancy, age and weight changes can all alter the shape and size of a girl’s breasts.  It’s also normal to have two different-sized breasts.
    It’s important for all girls to be aware of their breasts.  Become familiar with your breasts and know their look and feel. Things to look for include:

    • A lump or thickening in the breast
    • Any sudden change in breast size or shape
    • Changes to the skin of the breast, such as dimpling or a rash
    • Persistent or unusual pain
    • Discharge from the nipple

    If you notice any of these changes, see a doctor immediately. Remember – breast pain or lumps in the breast rarely mean you have cancer.

  • Period stuff
    Periods explained
    Periods are part of the monthly menstrual cycle. They are caused by the changes in a girl’s body that happen when an egg is released and the body prepares for a possible pregnancy. This preparation happens each month when the lining of the uterus (womb) becomes thick with blood. If a pregnancy doesn’t occur, the blood-thick lining breaks down and is passed out of the body through the vagina.  This bleeding is called a period.
    A girl’s menstrual cycle begins on the day she gets her period (ie when she starts to bleed). Most menstrual cycles last for around 1 month (from the first day of one period to the first day of the next), but this varies for each girl. Things such as stress and weight loss can affect the length of the cycle. A period usually lasts for 3 to 7 days.  The amount of blood lost is different for each girl, but is usually around 1-2 tablespoons.
    Some girls feel fine when they have their period, while others feel a bit sick or sore in the lower tummy, sometimes with cramps. Taking a mild painkiller can help, as can having a healthy and active lifestyle.
  • Safe sex
    Condoms and dams help reduce the risk of getting or passing on an STI (a dam is a thin latex square held over the vaginal or anal area during oral sex) by stopping semen, blood and vaginal fluids from being exchanged. As some STIs can be passed on through skin to skin contact, it’s important to remember that condoms and dams only protect the area of skin they cover.
    Always use water-based lubricants with condoms, as oil-based lubricants like Vaseline and massage oil weaken condoms and increase the risk of breakage.  Use a new condom or dam everytime you have sex and check the expiry date before use. Condoms need to be kept in a cool, dry place.  If exposed to heat they are less effective, so don’t keep them in your car or purse. Condoms must be put on before any penis/vagina contact for them to be effective, as some sperm can leak from the penis before ejaculation.
  • Sex hurts – and I can’t orgasm!
    Many girls experience painful intercourse.  This can often be caused by a lack of vaginal lubrication, anxiety, or not being aroused enough.  Over-the-counter lubricants can be helpful.  If you are experiencing persistent painful sex see a doctor straight away, as you may have an infection.
    Lots of girls find it difficult to have an orgasm and there are many factors which can be the cause. Good communication with your partner and lots of practise can often be the best way to enjoy sex. Many girls are able to experience orgasm through clitoral stimulation rather than vaginal penetration. Practising on your own (masturbation) and working out what feels good can help, as can spending more time on foreplay.  Remember that most girls take more time to become aroused than guys do.
    Another common problem for girls is low libido.  This can be related to a variety of factors, including contraception, relationship problems and stress. Sometimes changing the form of contraception you are using can improve the situation – speak to your doctor for more details. Counselling is an option if you think the problem may be relationship-related.