Odours, Orgasms, STDs: Answers to Your Embarrassing Sex Questions
|Q: “Is there something you can eat to taste amazing down there?”
Well, I don’t know about amazing, but there are some things that will make you taste lighter — or better, if you will. Take a cue from your vegetarian friends: Fruits and vegetables like pineapple and celery give your vaginal fluids a milder taste. Meat, fish, and dairy products, on the other hand, make them taste stronger. So do garlic, spices, and caffeine. Drinking a lot of water actually helps flush out any possible offenders. Using flavored lubricants is another way to lighten the taste. Just make sure they don’t stray too far into the vagina, where they can irritate you.
Excerpted from “What the Yuck? The Freaky and Fabulous Truth About Your Body” by Roshini Raj, M.D., with Lisa Lombardi.
Q: “Is it true that some women just smell fishier?”
A word about vaginal odor: All women have it. It’s completely natural and not something to stress about. In fact, most men consider the scent arousing. That said, if you notice that you smell unusually fishy or particularly strong post-sex, or after washing your vagina with soap, you might have bacterial vaginosis or BV — an easily treated infection caused by an imbalance of normal vaginal bacteria. You should see your gynecologist, who can test for it and, if you come up positive, prescribe an antibiotic that should clear it up. One final note: While BV isn’t a sexually transmitted disease (STD), vaginal odor can sometimes be a sign of one, so your gynecologist may want to rule out that, too.
Q: “Anything I can do to prevent getting a vaginal infection?”
Some habits definitely up your odds. Here are three healthy moves to help keep you healthy:
Don’t douche. You may have heard this before, but your vagina is self-cleaning, so there’s no need to ever douche. Doing so can actually disrupt the natural harmony of your vaginal flora and put you at risk for another unpleasant infection.
Wear all-cotton undies. The all-cotton kind lets the air flow better than synthetics and keep moisture (which breeds bacteria) to a minimum. If you’re prone to BV or yeast infections, it’s also wise to swear off thongs.
Sleep commando. Forgoing panties at night helps air out your vagina, making it harder for bacteria to multiply and set up shop.
Q: “Can I catch his cold from going down on him?”
We catch the viruses that cause the common cold by breathing in airborne droplets or touching our noses or mouths with contaminated fingers (think: shared door handles). So technically, just performing oral sex on him shouldn’t get you sick. But if he touched his penis with germy hands, and then you put your mouth there, you could definitely come down with the sniffles. In general, being in close contact with someone who has a cold ups your chances of inhaling some of their virus, so if you can’t afford to get sick at the moment, keep things strictly platonic until your guy is feeling better.
Q: “Can he catch my cold from oral sex?”
Same story here: He won’t get it from being down there, but if you’ve touched your vagina with contaminated hands, he could very well pick up your virus from oral sex. My advice? No getting hot and heavy while one of you is hot and sneezy.
Q: “I had sex while I had a yeast infection. Could I have passed it on to my man?”
It’s possible, but not likely. Yeast infections don’t generally spread person to person. We get one when there’s an overgrowth of the yeast that’s normally present in our own genital area. What causes yeast to multiply? Antibiotics (because they kill the good down-there bacteria that keep this fungus in check), a depressed immune system, and a warm, damp groin (from too-tight clothes, say, or synthetic fabrics). But let’s say you have loads of yeast and then have sex. You could spread the yeast to his penis. If he notices itching and redness, he should see his doctor and get a prescription antifungal treatment. While yeast infections are generally mild in men, he needs to zap it because if he doesn’t, he’ll just ping-pong it back to you.
Q: “Can he thrust so hard he does damage in there?”
Even if the sex gets a little rough, he probably won’t do any real damage. But the friction from his penis rubbing against your vagina could cause abrasions or tears in the delicate vaginal tissue, which is no fun. You’re more likely to suffer from this unpleasant side effect if you’re dry, so make sure you’re fully aroused before moving on to the main event. Add lube as an extra precaution. If you feel any pain or discomfort while he’s thrusting, slow him down to prevent more damage. Naturally, if it hurts a lot, stop the action completely. And if you experience pain or bleeding post-romp, take a sex sabbatical until everything has healed. Otherwise, you risk more pain and permanent scarring.
Q “Is semen fattening?”
Not at all. The average ejaculate is about the size of a teaspoon. It contains sperm, sugars, proteins and water — and only about 7 calories. You’ll burn all those calories (and more) just rolling in the hay.
Q: “If I have a cold sore and go down on him, can I give him herpes?”
Okay, let’s break this down because it can be confusing. There are two types of herpes. Cold sores (or oral herpes) are very common and are usually caused by Herpes Simplex 1 (HSV-1), while genital herpes are somewhat rarer and usually caused by Herpes Simplex 2 (HSV-2). But you can get HSV-1 (aka cold sores) on your genitals and HSV-2 (“genital” herpes) in the mouth. So yes, you could spread herpes to your partner during oral sex. Your best bet: Hold off on the oral action at least until the sore has disappeared. Technically you can still transfer the herpes anytime, even when there isn’t an outbreak, so the only really safe move is to have oral sex with a condom or dental dam.
Q: “The condom slipped off him during sex. He fished it out, but do I have to worry about pregnancy?”
You sure do. If the condom breaks or slips off, the sperm are free to go looking for an egg to fertilize. So if you don’t want to get pregnant, talk to your doctor ASAP about the morning-after pill. This treatment is available over the counter, but there are a few different types, so ask your doc which one is best for you. Also, since condoms are not foolproof (as you now know), you may want to also ask your doctor about backup birth control. It sounds like a hassle, but if you really want to avoid pregnancy, it’s smart to use two forms of protection.
Q: “This is embarrassing, but he wants to use the back door. Can that cause GI problems?”
Whenever a patient asks me this question (and yep, I’ve heard even this one before), I say this: Anal sex usually isn’t a problem. But there are some potential concerns you need to be aware of before green-lighting this request. Because the anal sphincter is tight and there is less lubrication in the anus (it doesn’t produce the natural lubrication your vagina does), anal intercourse can cause tiny abrasions, or tears, in the anus. Also, stool bacteria are present so there’s a chance those abrasions and tears may become infected. My advice: Use lots and lots of lube. Plus, if this is a newer partner, don’t forget the condom. Though you won’t get pregnant this way, STDs can be transmitted through anal sex. Also, empty your bowels beforehand. And have your partner wash his penis before going from anal to vaginal sex and vice versa.
Q: “I have orgasms all the time — when I’m at the gym working out or just sitting at my desk. Am I a freak?”
Lucky girl! Many women have trouble having orgasms at all, and here you are having them all the time. Life isn’t fair! But seriously, spontaneous orgasms (those without direct genital stimulation) are not uncommon. Some women get them by thinking erotic thoughts. Others have them while doing things that indirectly stimulate the genital area, like riding a bike, tightening pelvic muscles (like when holding in pee), sneezing, etc. Some antidepressants can cause this happy side effect, though the effect usually wears off a few weeks after starting the meds. Don’t want to peak in public? If your climaxes are a result of friction (like during a workout), double up on your underwear or wear a pad to desensitize the area.
Q: “Sometimes when I’m getting hot and heavy, I’ll suddenly let out a vaginal fart.”
I guarantee this has happened to almost every woman at some point in her life, and it’s mortifying. But it has nothing to do with you or your vagina; it’s just a natural by-product of intercourse. During sex, air flows into the spaces around your genitals, especially any new spaces that are created from your vaginal tissues moving around as you get aroused. Sometimes, when these pockets of air escape, it makes what sounds like a fart. This air has had no contact with your colon, so there’s no odor. What can you do to avoid having a flatulent you-know-what? Use plenty of lube. Also, avoid doggie style: It causes a lot of air to flow in, upping your odds of letting loose with an embarrassing noise.
Q: “My husband has warts on his hands. Can I catch them if he touches my nether zone?”
There is a risk, but it’s a slight one. Hand and genital warts are caused by different strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. (There are more than 100 strains, and most are actually harmless.) But on rare occasions, the strain of HPV that causes warts like the ones on your husband’s hands can indeed lead to warts elsewhere. To be safe, ask your man to wear thin latex gloves during any “play” until his warts are gone. (He can treat them with over-the-counter salicylic acid medication or see a dermatologist for an even faster cure.) Even after his warts are gone, make sure you don’t have any cuts, nicks, or open sores down there — these can spread HPV even when all warts have cleared up. Incidentally, the HPV vaccine is no help in this case: It protects against separate strains that can cause cervical cancer.
Q: “Can head lice migrate to down below?”
No, it’s almost as if there’s an invisible boundary of sorts on your body. Head lice can get into the hair on your head — all of it: scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair. But they won’t go any farther south. Pubic lice (you know — “crabs”) can migrate north to your armpits and even your eyelashes, but not your scalp. Despite what we’d like to think, head lice are extremely common, especially among children. But pubic lice are a totally different bug; they’re considered an STD because they’re transmitted through genital-to genital contact. You can treat both with over-the-counter products.
Q: “I have an itchy bump in my pubic area. How can I tell if it’s a bite or an STD?”
It could be a herpes outbreak, but if it doesn’t develop into a painful or itchy blister within a few days, it’s probably not. Herpes blisters also tend to show up in clusters, not as isolated spots. If you’re worried, though, make an appointment with your gyno to get it checked out, and avoid sex in the meantime. The spot could also be one of several minor things — from a pimple (uncommon but not unheard of) to a type of painless cyst called Bartholin’s gland cyst, which sometimes shows up on the vagina. If you suspect a cyst, it’s nothing to worry about, but do have it drained by a doctor. Don’t poke at it yourself because it could get infected. Another culprit could be an obstructed hair follicle, which is sometimes caused by shaving. Washing the area carefully and drying it well should help free the impacted hair, but if you begin to see signs of infection (the spot widens or develops a white tip), see your doctor or dermatologist to have the hair removed.
Q: “Why do I get a headache after sex? Am I allergic to orgasm?”
The root cause of your headache — called a “coital headache”– probably isn’t your orgasm but the sex itself. Your body is reacting to the fact that sex is a strenuous activity. Or it could be from the increased muscle activity and dilation of blood vessels around your neck and brain as a result of the sex. I would suggest taking an OTC anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or a doctor-prescribed migraine med 30 minutes before hitting the sheets. If these headaches get persistently worse or if you start having them at other times, bring them up to your physician. She might want to check for possible medicine complications or even run a few tests to rule out other problems.
Q: “Can I get HIV from oral sex?”
Yes. Although the risk is less than with anal or vaginal sex, there have been cases of transmission through oral sex. Infected blood from the mouth can enter your body through the lining of the vagina. You can also get HIV by performing oral sex because semen or pre-seminal fluid (the little bit of juice on the penis tip) contains the virus. Your risk goes up if you have any sores or cuts in your mouth or vagina (which you may have without even realizing it) and if he ejaculates in your mouth. So it’s best to use condoms or dental dams or make sure your partner gets tested before you engage in this kind of intimate behavior.
Q: “Is it dangerous to ‘play’ with food during sex? Anything safe to put in my vagina?”
The honest truth? It’s best not to put anything up there. Vaginal bacteria love to feed on sugar, so foods with a high-sugar content (chocolate sauce, sweet whipped cream, honey, fruit… all the traditional sex-play staples) are a no-no. If anything remains post-sex or isn’t washed away quickly, the bacteria, loving their new source of nutrient, will start eating and multiplying and might cause an overgrowth of bacteria, leading to infection. In addition, the sugar can throw off the pH of your vagina, increasing your chances of a yeast infection. Another avoid-at-all-costs: oily foods. They can trap bacteria and are hard to wash off (yuck). If you really want to mix food and fooling around, just feed each other sexy foods like chocolate-covered strawberries before getting down to business.
Q: “This is mortifying, but I’ve never had an orgasm. Are some people just incapable?”
Unless you’ve just recently gone from being able to orgasm to not — or you suspect something is interfering with your ability to climax, such as pain during sex or medicines lowering your drive — there’s probably no physical reason you can’t orgasm. While we see women in movies who peak with vaginal sex, in real life, it’s just not always that way. The vagina isn’t very sensitive to stimulation; the clitoris, which is our version of the penis, needs to be stimulated for orgasm, and the more direct the stimulation the better. So ask your man for oral sex or manual stimulation of the clitoris: Even if it doesn’t send you over the edge, it should feel amazing, which is really the point, right? Better yet, figure out how to flip your switch on your own. Getting hands-on with your body is a great way to figure out what you love and what you don’t.
Q: “Lately I’m sore and itchy after sex. Could I be allergic to condoms?”
It’s possible but not all that likely. Latex is in tons of things besides condoms (Band-Aids, dishwashing gloves, balloons, sanitary pads) so if you were allergic to latex, you’d probably know already. What is more likely is you’re allergic to another part of the condom — the spermicide or the lubricant. Try a different brand of condom or use one without a lubricant and supply your own, preferably a water-based one because they’re way less irritating. That soreness and itchiness could also be a sign of an early-stage yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (a bacterial infection of the vagina). These are usually also accompanied by discharge, so if your symptoms progress, see your gyno. She’ll prescribe either an antifungal medication or antibiotic to help clear it up.
Q: “I’m sexually active, so shouldn’t I know by now if I am allergic to semen?”
Surprisingly, you might not. This allergy is usually a reaction to a specific protein in a specific man’s semen. So it’s completely possible that you wouldn’t have had a problem with other guys but just happen to react to your current man.
Q: “Are there foods I can eat to put me in the mood?”
The Frisky 5: Libido-Boosting Foods
Almonds: These heart-healthy nuts are rich in zinc, a mineral that boosts libido.
Seafood: Oysters and other kinds of seafood also serve up zinc. And fish with omega-3 fatty acids like salmon keep your blood pumping and your heart primed for romps.
Avocados: Avocados boast potassium, which helps regulate a woman’s thyroid gland, in turn increasing libido.
Dark chocolate: Some research shows it ups feel-good chemicals in your brain, putting you in the mood for you-know-what.
Asparagus: This veggie serves up a hit of vitamin E, helping your body pump out testosterone.