As a new year begins, we make so many promises to ourselves. Needless to say, fitting into that dress you can’t even get an arm into anymore never fails to top the list. Yet, when we think of our health, paying attention to the many happenings down there never seems to be on our agenda—lest, of course, you’re itching and burning like crazy! And since we are so out of touch with the usual trials and tribulations of our lady bits, whenever something even remotely noteworthy happens we can’t help but wonder—is this normal?
Well, ladies, in 2022 it’s time to leave this utter state of confusion about your intimate health behind and know—once and for all—what’s normal and what’s not. Then be it vaginal discharge that’s freaking you out or the dismal state of affairs between the sheets with your partner, we’re getting you the answers to all your burning questions with the help of gynaecologist in training Dr Tanaya Narendra, better known as Dr Cuterus.
Yup, we got Instagram’s very own millennial doctor who talks about sex and intimate health to her (nearly) 600K followers to tell you, what’s normal and what’s not when comes to the health of your dear vagina. So, let’s begin, shall we?
1. It’s normal to have vaginal discharge
If discovering that the white discharge clinging to the bottom of your underwear never fails to surprise you, then you need to know vaginal discharge is a fairly common—and much-needed— phenomenon. “Just like we mop our home and throw away the dirty water, the discharge that comes out is what your vagina expels after cleaning itself. It is required to keep your vagina moist, clean, and healthy,” explains Dr Tanaya. That’s not all this discharge does though. Turns out, it also helps the army of good bacteria in your vagina flourish by creating a favourable environment. So, for the sake of your vajayjay, stop Googling “how to stop vaginal discharge!”
2. It’s NOT normal to ditch condoms
While we’re pretty sure you already know why you and your partner need a condom, here’s a refresher course from the affable Dr Cuterus. “There are only two situations in which you don’t need a condom,” she says. “One, you’ve only been with one partner and that partner has only ever been with you. The other situation in which you can skip a condom is if you and your partner have recently tested negative for STIs.”
Since condoms happen to be the ONLY contraceptive that can save you both from unwanted pregnancy and STIs, it’s time to embrace this prophylactic—even if you’re in a same-sex relationship—because as our resident expert says, STIs don’t see sexuality.
Not just penetrative vaginal sex, you also need condoms for oral, anal, and anal-oral sex. “You need to use a dental dam if you’re engaging in oral sex on the vulva or the anus, then you need to use dental dams. In the case of anal-oral sex, there is an increased risk of getting parasitic infections, so it is very important to put a barrier.”
3. It’s normal to have a full bush down there
If the constant judgment from your parlour-wali aunty has you shaving and waxing like crazy, then we’re here to tell you it’s time to ditch the shame and embrace your pubic hair. “It is perfectly fine to have pubic hair. It’s not unclean or unhygienic. In fact, while we don’t fully understand why pubic hair exists, one of the theories is that it helps protect us from invading micro-organisms and bugs like lice,” she explains.
4. It’s NOT normal to fake orgasms
‘Tis a rare woman who hasn’t faked an orgasm.’ While this may seem like an act of service to keep your partner happy, the truth is far from it. “I understand the pressure of doing it, but then we can’t complain that men can’t make us orgasm, because we are giving them the wrong signal,” says Dr Tanaya, adding: “For most people, this pressure is media generated, because we don’t get accurate representations of how women orgasm. It is often clitoral stimulation and not vaginal stimulation that gets us going. The clitoris and penis originate from the same tissue—so expecting someone to orgasm from just vaginal penetration is like stroking somebody’s balls and expecting them to orgasm.” So, the next you aren’t satisfied in bed, instead of faking it, explain to your partner why you aren’t able to orgasm and what he can do to get you there.
5. It’s NOT normal to skip the HPV vaccine
You might be wondering what’s a vaccine got to do with your intimate health. Well, the HPV vaccine has the distinction of being the only jab that can prevent cancer. Explains Dr Cuterus: “HPV is a family of viruses with a few hundred strains. Two of these strains, in particular, are linked with having cancer of the cervix.” Not only is cervical cancer the second most common cancer to affect Indian women, but our nation also reports the highest number of deaths from this cancer. The HPV virus spreads not just through sexual intercourse but also via skin-to-skin contact, making it very easy for you to catch the infection.
“Before you get sexually active, you should get vaccinated against these two strains in particular, although you can also get vaccinated against up to nine additional strains, including those that can cause genital warts,” she adds.
6. It’s normal to have dark vulval skin
In a nation obsessed with fair skin, the desire to have a light-skinned vulva is bound to crop up. But pigmentation down there happens—and there is no need for you to change that. “There is only one situation in which you need to be worried about pigmentation is that if there has been a sudden change in the colour of your genitals. This can indicate an infection or a hormonal imbalance,” suggests Dr Tanaya.
If you’re still fretting over the dark contours of your genital area, wondering about the hows and whys, then you can put all the blame on puberty and chafing—the two reasons why your genital area is darker than the rest of your body. “You don’t need creams, lotions, or anything like that to lighten your skin down there. These products can do a lot more harm than good, as a lot of times they contain exfoliating acids,” she recommends. So, listen to the expert—rather than marketing gimmicks—and leave your vulval skin alone.
7. It’s NOT normal to confuse your vulva with your vagina
No matter the extent of your inspection of your nether regions, you have never seen your vagina—no woman has. And what you fondly call your vajajay, lady bits, vag, lady garden, vagine, and what not is your vulva. Don’t believe us? Hear it from the expert herself. “We often say, I am going to shave my vagina—which is absolutely impossible because what you see on the outside is the vulva. It’s the part of your body that touches clothing. The long canal on the inside that connects the outside to your uterus is the vagina. That’s where sex happens, where period blood comes out of, and where you put your menstrual cup,” explains Dr Tanaya.
Now that we’ve got the basics of biology out of the way, let’s give you a lowdown on why you need to know the difference—because confusing the two isn’t okay. “Imagine going to your doctor with an ulcer inside of your mouth on your cheek and telling them that you have an ulcer on your lips! They are not going to look in the right place, to begin with. So, not understanding and referring to your body in the correct terms is not only primitive but can also be harmful,” she stresses.
8. It’s normal to masturbate
Contrary to the popular Indian notion about masturbation, self-pleasure isn’t dirty or immoral—and it doesn’t have any bearings on your character. It does, however, have a plethora of benefits for you. “Masturbation is good for your brain health, heart health, and blood pressure amongst other things,” clarifies Dr Cuterus. Lest all you’re doing is touching yourself, forgoing your regular schedule—masturbation can help you understand what turns you on and what doesn’t, thus ensuring a better time between the sheets with your partner.
That said, in a few odd cases the risks of masturbation can outweigh the benefits. “If you’re really vigorous, you can break your penis and cause chafing and irritation to your genital area. Secondly, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, avoiding masturbation is a good idea because you might actually trigger labour.”
9. It’s NOT normal to be unfamiliar with what you look like down there
Now that you know the difference between your vagina and vulva, it’s time to take a pledge to look at your genital area from time to time. “We look at our entire body, except for looking at our genital area. But it is important to know what is normal for you down there. Knowing your normal, helps you identify the abnormal—which leads to better health straight away,” Dr Tanaya explains.
10. It’s normal to have sex on your period
Ahh… period sex. Just the thought of the literal bloody mess it can cause makes most of us cringe. Except, period sex is not only thoroughly pleasurable, but it can also free you of menstrual discomfort. “Orgasms are known for relieving period cramps. Plus, when you’re on your period there is natural lubrication,” she quips. “That said, please ensure you’re using protection because when we are on our period our cervix moves a little lower and is a little bit more open, which means it’s easier for the bad guys to climb up,” concludes the lovely Dr Cuterus.