Sexual Health Problems in Women

Sexual Health Problems in Women

This is obviously a serious topic and, generally, the problems faced by men and women are largely on the same scale. They share the same risks of contracting STDs/STIs of course, but there are some issues which are specific to a person’s sex which doesn’t apply to the other. So let’s have a look at the sexual health risks and problems which are only applicable to women. But before we do this, remember that it’s essential to use protection during sex, this is an extra layer of safety.

Starting off, it’s important to know that there are multiple factors which can cause these problems in women, and a lot of them are day to day issues. For example: sex, the menstrual cycle, infection, contraception methods, medicines, aging and complications after pregnancy. All of these are run-of-the-mill things which can happen and yet can also cause problems as a direct result.

Vaginal infections and their causes.

There are some infections which are more common than others, such bacterial vaginosis (BV), thrush (a yeast infection), Human papilloma virus (HPV) and herpes. There’s actually a vaccination for HPV available now for young teenagers, which consists of two, simple injections, a few weeks apart. But this is a relatively new thing so there isn’t much info on the long term effects of the vaccine yet. You can also develop an infection of the cervix (cervicitous) which is much less common, but still a prominent issue, for its long term side effects as much as anything else.

So, what can cause these infections?

  • -A forgotten object in the vagina, usually a tampon. It’s easily done, a tampon gets pushed high up inside the vagina and the string tucks itself in so you can’t feel it. Then you insert a new one and the old one gets pushed up even further against the cervix. Having a foreign object lodged in your vagina is clearly going to cause problems, not least of which is toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a problem which can be a medical emergency.
  • -Issues arising from having oral to vagina, or anal to vagina, contact. Luckily, there’s a contraceptive device which has been especially formulated to prevent this exact problem. Dental dams are thin pieces of latex which you lay over the vagina/anus before anything happens. You have to remember to use a fresh one each time you move between the two intimate areas because you’ll be transferring any bacteria present, but they are highly effective as a form of protection.
  • -Taking vaginal medications or douching. The latter is an old practice which was started off when people thought that by rinsing the vagina after use would prevent problems. In fact, it does the opposite by changing the pH balance in the vagina and therefore making it a breeding ground for infection.

It’s perfectly normal to experience these relatively mild vaginal problems, even if you’ve done everything by the book. The signs to look out for include:

  • -Changes in urination habits.
  • -A burning sensation whilst peeing.
  • -Peeing more often.
  • -Pelvic pain.

Any and all of these can indicate a vaginal problem. It can be tricky to pinpoint the exact cause of pelvic pain, but it definitely shouldn’t be ignored. There are some causes which are more common than others: functional ovarian cysts, for example. These can cause vaginal bleeding when you’re not on your period and substantial pelvic pain. If you experience any of these then a visit to the GP is most definitely on the cards.

Other, most common vaginal signs that there might be something unwanted going on are:

  • -Redness, pain, itching and/or swelling down there.
  • -Changes in your normal discharge: becoming a thick, creamy texture for example, or changing colour, yellow and green discharge are commonly seen with an infection.
  • -Bleeding or pain during sex.
  • -A distinct and unpleasant vaginal odour.

Obviously these are signs that you need medical attention. Probably not urgently, but a visit to your GP is certainly on the cards. However, if you are experiencing any of these and you’re pregnant, you must contact your doctor ASAP. And don’t be tempted to use an over the counter remedy because some treatments are not appropriate and can negatively affect the pregnancy, so play it safe.

Ovarian cancer.

This is one of the cancers with the highest death rate. Why? Because the symptoms of it often mimic things which have the same ones and by the time it’s found it’s often too late for effective, life-saving treatment. It usually affects women over the age of 50, but it can strike at any age, so it’s vital to know what to look out for:

  • -Unusual bloating after a meal.
  • -A feeling of fullness after eating just a small amount.
  • -Pelvic and/or abdominal pain, cramps, feeling pressure in the abdomen.
  • -Urinary problems; peeing more frequently, having urgency or even incontinence.
  • -Loss of appetite.

It’s easy to see how these symptoms can be missed, or attributed to something else. Indigestion, for example, or simply not being hungry. The real danger sign is when one or more of these is ongoing after a couple of weeks and treatment for other possibilities has been ruled out. There’s a simple blood test available from your GP, called the CA125 test, which can help them in diagnosing ovarian cancer.

Stuart Brown
Doctor of Sexual Health at the NHS Royal London Hospital & Relationship Expert. Columnist at An advocate of safe sex. Avid Arsenal fan.

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