Sexual health: why we’ve been getting it all wrong…
As World Sexual Health Day approaches (4 September), let’s review the great sexual health bias and explore ways to keep your vaginas healthy and happy.
By Aurelie | 29 August 2021
As World Sexual Health Day approaches, let's review the great sexual health bias and explore ways to keep your vaginas healthy and happy.
… and what we can do about it. As World Sexual Health Day approaches (4 September), let’s review the great sexual health bias and explore ways to keep your vaginas healthy and happy.
Pleasure vs health: the dichotomy that never was.Our overactive brains love to rationalise and compartmentalise everything. When it comes to sex, we more or less consciously tend to adopt a binary approach: a fun-spirited, light-hearted approach that treats sex as frivolous and a game; a more stern and serious approach based on the notion of sex as a series of health risks and issues to prevent. This unnecessary dichotomy is highly reinforced by our institutions and popular culture, which seem to attribute different moral values to our conversations around sex: while it is legitimate and to an extent encouraged to discuss the risks associated with sex from a medical standpoint (birth control, STI prevention etc.), any conversation around sex as a source of wellbeing and the pursuit of pleasure is still surrounded by an aura of shame and provocation. Why is this completely misguided? We need to look no further than the World Health Organisation’s working definition of sexual health…
When viewed holistically and positively:
- Sexual health is about well-being, not merely the absence of disease.
- Sexual health involves respect, safety and freedom from discrimination and violence.
- Sexual health depends on the fulfilment of certain human rights.
- Sexual health is relevant throughout the individual’s lifespan, not only to those in the reproductive years, but also to both the young and the elderly.
- Sexual health is expressed through diverse sexualities and forms of sexual expression.
- Sexual health is critically influenced by gender norms, roles, expectations and power dynamics.
Healthy is happy. Happy is healthy.Since day one, we have strived to make vaginas happier. And vulvas, and all genital organs. Is the right vibrator merely enough? Not quite.
How healthy is your vagina? A sexual health checklistLet’s take a few things for granted: as responsible adults, we all pay regular visits to gynaecologists and trained professionals for in-depth check-ups such as pelvic exams. There are a few things we can do solo however to routinely check how our vaginas are doing, and spot any sign of what might indicate an STI or any other health problem. WebMD’s medically reviewed article on vaginal self-exams recommends the following approach:
- The best time is in between periods.
- Avoid using vaginal creams or douches for at least 24 hours before doing the exam.
- Some useful tools include:
- A hand-held mirror
- A small light source
- Pillows and a towel for extra comfort.
- Make sure your hands are clean or wear sterile gloves. Watch your fingernails.
- Sit comfortably with your legs spread. You may use a towel if you wish.
- Relax your pelvic muscles.
- Start by examining the parts of the vulva: the clitoris, and the outer and inner labia. Take note of the color and size of each part, so if anything changes you’ll notice it easily. You may need to pull back slightly on the hood of the clitoris.
- For an internal review, gently spread the labia apart and angle the mirror and light so you can see into the vagina. The walls should be pinkish in color. If you’re comfortable, place your finger inside your vagina and feel along the vaginal wall. You may notice it feels a little like the roof of your mouth. If you push a little farther, you may feel your cervix. It feels like the tip of your nose.
- Should you notice any genital warts, sores, bumps, spots, or unusual coloration, make an appointment to see your doctor. The same is true if you notice a smelly discharge.