19 Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask Your Gynecologist

Everything you ever wanted to know about sex, body odor, and bladder problems, but were afraid to ask.

How you look 'down there'

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"Women often come in asking whether they are 'normal'—are their labia too big, too small, crooked, or different? Women do not understand the large anatomical variation in our bodies, beyond weight, eye color, and hair color. Our genitalia are no different, and there is no 'good' or 'bad' or abnormal. This has given rise to a number of cosmetic surgical practices that ignore the normal variation and try to create the illusion of an ideal anatomy. I will even share "The Great Wall of Vagina," a website that shows pictures of many different vaginas so women can understand variation is normal." —Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD, Co-Chair of The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative

The deal with anal sex

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"Having anal sex can make the muscles around the anus loose and stretched out. Over time this loosening can make it difficult to control your bowel movements. Anal sex can also cause painful tears around the anus and worsen hemorrhoids." —Sherry Ross, MD, ob-gyn in Santa Monica, CA

The truth about sensitive nipples

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"There are thousands of nerve endings in the nipple. Many women find they can be more sensitive just before their period starts, but some women just have ultra sensitive nipples all the time. Either way is completely normal and not a sign anything is wrong." —Allison Hill, MD, an ob-gyn at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles and co-author of The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth

Why you leak pee when you sneeze or exercise

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"No, urinary incontinence is not normal. Although not usually a serious condition, it can significantly affect your quality of life. The most common reasons include an overactive bladder and anatomical changes that are correctable with minor surgery or use of a pessary." —Gerardo Bustillo, MD, ob-gyn at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA

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Painful sex

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"Sex is not supposed to hurt at all. But if you experience pain, both physical and emotional factors may play a role. For example, an infection can cause inflammation of your vaginal tissues or dryness resulting in painful intercourse. But it’s also important to understand if the patient is aroused enough. Are they comfortable? Using lube during sex can be very helpful." —Octavia Cannon, DO, of Arboretum Obstetrics and Gynecology, LLC, in Charlotte, North Carolina

Messy periods

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"Use a menstrual cup (you can leave it in during sex) and place a towel underneath you to help make the process less bloody!" —Sherry Ross, MD

Vaginal discharge

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"Women are especially embarrassed to ask about vaginal discharge because they think it means they have bad hygiene—but it doesn't! Many things can influence the color, consistency, and smell of your discharge including sexual activity; bowel and bladder habits; use of topical creams, lubricants, or moisturizers; use of condoms; recent antibiotics; soaps or powders; and the time of the month. Most discharge is completely normal and not a sign of disease, infection, or cancer. And abnormal discharge is rarely serious or difficult to treat, so you shouldn't be afraid to discuss it with your doctor."  —Diana Bitner, MD, of Spectrum Health Medical Group, Women’s Health Network

Bad mood or PMS?

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"Many women experience mood changes during the week before the menstrual cycle. But when the mood changes become so pronounced that she cannot work or go to school, or if her moods are adversely affecting her personal relationships, this is considered outside the normal range and something should be done. There a number of strategies for addressing this problem, including natural ways to overcome depression and medications." —Allison Hill, MD

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Masturbation habits

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"The good news is that you cannot over masturbate, unless it starts to disrupt your daily life and responsibilities."  —Dr. Ross

Orgasm and getting pregnant

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"Orgasm is not necessary to conceive. The pumping action of uterine and vaginal contractions associated with orgasm might help the sperm out a bit, but sperm are quite good at propelling themselves where they need to be on their own."  —Philip Chenette, reproductive endocrinologist from Pacific Fertility Center, San Francisco (Make sure you're not falling for these myths about fertility, conception, and your sexual health.)

Not wanting kids

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"Parenting is one of the most important jobs on the planet; however, it is not for everyone. This is such an important decision and it’s not anyone's place to judge your personal choices. Everyone has a different pathway in life. You can still be the best auntie ever. I know that I am the awesome auntie of nine fabulous kids!" —Octavia Cannon, DO

Need a vibrator to orgasm

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"For many women, having an orgasm with a vibrator is a no-brainer, and there is not much work involved. It’s important to communicate what you like in bed and what gets you excited in order to be able to have a sexually satisfying relationship with your partner." —Dr. Ross

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Sex toys

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"When used during consensual love-making, sex toys can enhance the experience. Experimentation can be stimulating and by no means signifies that you are perverted. Of course, the toys should be clean and not potentially dangerous. It is also very important to remove any toys from the vagina after sex. In general, toys inside the anal canal are potentially dangerous, as they can damage the bowel and cause serious complications." —Dr. Bustillo

Smelling funny down there

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"A healthy and clean vagina has a certain natural scent and taste that should not be unpleasant. If you or your partner notice an offensive, fishy, yeasty, or foul odor, see your gynecologist to rule out an infection. Your diet, including garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, and red meat, can also create a different odor in the vagina. Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine also affect the vagina’s smell and taste." —Dr. Ross

Sex later in life

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"No, but it may feel differently than it used to. Vaginal dryness during sex often results from the effect of insufficient estrogen on the vaginal wall and is quite common in menopause. There are a variety of potential treatments, including lubricants, local estrogen treatment to the vagina (in the form of creams, vaginal pills, or a vaginal estrogen ring), and an oral estrogen pill which targets primarily the vaginal lining, while not stimulating other tissues such as the breasts. There is also a vaginal laser procedure called Mona Lisa Touch which is effective and drug-free." —Dr. Bustillo

Lower libido

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"As women age, libido may normally diminish. This may not cause a problem in the relationship, if the woman’s partner has a decreased libido as well. If the woman’s partner continues to have a strong sex drive, this may cause tension—in this situation, communication between the partners is key. Discussing this with the gynecologist may offer some solutions." —Dr. Bustillo

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Bladder problems

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"The average women waits between five to seven years to tell her health care provider about sensitive bladder issues because they're so embarrassed or scared. But most treatment today does not require surgery, though that was the case 20 years ago. Today there are a variety on non-invasive approaches and even over-the-counter treatments that can be obtained. Medications are a second line of treatment and if surgery is needed, the procedures are minimally invasive in many instances and done as an out patient." —Mache Seibel, MD, professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of The Estrogen Window

No interest in sex

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"The most common sexual problem for women is loss of sexual desire but it's one they are often most reluctant to bring up. They are usually otherwise happy with their relationship and have no health issues or psychiatric problems that would be an obvious cause, and so they are scared because if they don’t know what is causing the problem, then they are clueless about how to fix it. Women want to 'want'—they want their desire back and talking to your doctor is the best thing you can do. Don't suffer in silence—we have many options to help you."  —Sheryl A. Kingsberg, PhD, division chief, ob-gyn Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and professor of reproductive biology and psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Pregnant during your period

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"If you have a short interval between each period, meaning you ovulate early in the cycle, you can get pregnant. For example, sperm lives for three days so if you have sex on day six of your period and ovulate on day nine, you could get pregnant." —Dr. Ross

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