Care of Your Vulva and Vagina Part III:Menstruation,Tampons,Sexual Activity

The Challenges of Menstruation

Lets face it, life was much easier, in some ways, for women when we wandered the African plains and did not have to worry about getting our body fluids, including menses, on our surroundings. Back then, menses just exited the body and fell to the ground, dried on the body and was brushed away, or was washed away. No pads or tampons to worry about or social taboos to make life difficult. Since that is how we spent the majority of our evolutionary existence that is how our bodies are designed to function, and functions best. The problem is not menstruation; it is how women are forced to treat their body by society. Society expects women to control their body in a way that meets society's wishes, which is not to say it is a way that is necessary or beneficial to women, and as a result society.

As mentioned above, commercially produced pads and tampons are recent inventions. Prior to that women had to make do with homemade absorbent pads, and in some cases tampons, made from natural fibers, if an absorbent material was used or even required. I recall reading about an elderly man in a tribal society being observed scrapping dried menses from an animal skin mat a woman had slept on the night before so the use of absorbent materials have not always been a social necessity. Women in one society contracted their pelvic muscles preventing menses from exiting the vagina until they were alone. Today, women have many options available to them if they are willing to give them a try.

The first commercially produced tampons and pads were made of natural cotton. Today, we have super high-tech pads and tampons that are highly absorbent and can be worn for longer periods of time. Problem is, menses is made up of proteins and water, something harmful organisms can feed on and reproduce in when kept warm. A woman will likely become aware of a strong odor if she does not change her pad or tampons at an appropriate interval. She may even find herself dealing with frequent infection and irritation. The problem is not the menstrual fluid; it is with keeping it in or near the warm body for too long.

Tampons

From a health perspective tampons are not the best thing to use. They are a perhaps a necessity, but their limitations should be noted. They are comfortable to wear because you cannot feel them inside your body, because the inner vagina is relatively insensitive to touch. Pads are in contact with your sensitive vulva so you are obviously more aware of them. Tampons absorb all the moisture they come in contact with, not just menses, so they can dry out your vagina, interfering with your natural protection. Removing a tampon that has dried out your vagina can abrade and irritate the vagina. The applicators are not lubricated and may scratch and irritate your vaginal lining.

Remember, your body is trying to expel the menses and by using a tampon you interfere with that process. There are always good and bad organisms present in your vagina, and trapping blood there interferes with this natural bodily process. Pads do the same, but the menses is at least outside the body when you do so. Women probably change their pads more often because they are more aware of them and can "see" that they are menstruating. Women should change tampons on a regular basis, every four hours; the same for pads. At night, sleep nude on a menstrual towel or wear a pad. Is possible, only use a tampon while engaged in a sport or while exercising, if pads bother you during these and other activities. I know tampon manufactures are advising women they can wear tampons for up to eight hours, but that is not wise, or what is recommended for prevention of Toxic Shock SyndromeTSS. Tampon manufacturers simply want women to buy more of their product.

Sexual Activity

What are the health risks associated with sex, alone and with a partner? During masturbation women probably have little to worry about other than some possible frictional irritation caused by occasional over indulgence. This can be avoided by using a good sexual lubricant and perhaps latex or vinyl gloves. You should make sure your hands and sex toys are clean and your fingernails are free of rough edges, but other than that there is no health risks associated with the activity. You cannot give yourself a disease. Harmful organisms do not form out of thin air; you have to get them from someone else. If anything, masturbation is beneficial in that it gets blood flowing to the genitals and exercises all the sexual organs. It is a good way to relieve sexual and physical tension and relax.

Partnered sex is a little more risky, but not risky in of itself. While your body may be free of harmful organisms your partner's may not be, regardless of whether they are male or female. If you have only one sexual partner throughout your life and they have only you, the risks are probably pretty small. Each time you have sexual contact with a new partner, the risk increases. The risk increases exponentially since every one of their partners also becomes your sexual partner. You can acquire from your sexual partner any organisms they acquired from their past or current partners and vise versa. It is also important to keep in mind that teens, virgins with sexual partners, and girls and women with one sexual partner still get STD's. STD's do not discriminate based on sexual orientation, age, or sexual experience, or even inexperience.

There are STD's that exist today that can literally kill you, just as was the case before antibiotics were developed. This is why it is important for couples to use barriers to prevent not only pregnancy but also the exchange of body fluids. We frequently hear about condom use but couples also need to use barriers to prevent a woman's body fluids from coming in contact with her partner. During cunnilingus a woman should cover her vulva with a dental dam or plastic wrap so her fluids do not enter her partner's mouth. When you use your hands to stimulate the genitals of your partner, use latex or vinyl gloves to prevent their body fluids from entering your body through small cuts in your hands. The use of gloves often makes this form of stimulation even more enjoyable for your partner. Safe sex is everyone's responsibility.

While there are women who do have multiple partners without contacting a sexually transmitted disease many are not so lucky. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) are very common, just not openly talked about. Unfortunately, admitting to having an STD has come to be seen as an indication of a personal flaw or defect even though getting an STD is really no different than getting a common cold. If you and your partner have multiple, more than one, past or present partners, you and your partner(s) need to be tested for infection, perhaps even before you become sexual partners. While most women may believe they will never get a STD, they fail to realize many of the women around them already have!

One way to limit the chances of contracting STD's is to limit the number of sexual partners you have during your lifetime. This is because the younger a person is when they become sexually active the more sexual partners they are likely to have during their lifetime. Relationships that develop during puberty are more likely to be short term, and as a result more numerous.

When your sex drive is surging a lot of people are going to be sexually attractive to you that might not otherwise be. Teens, as well as adults, may have partner sex for the wrong reasons. Even if all your relationships last five years, by the time you are thirty you will have had nine sexual partners if you start engaging in partner sex at fifteen, taking into account your partner's past sexual partners. That number increases to almost fifty if your sexual relationships last only two years on average. While teenagers having sex is not bad in of itself, we should acknowledge the risks associated with it. In a perfect world there would be no reasons why teens should not have sex with a partner, but we do not live in a perfect world. It should be noted that these risks factors do not apply to all teens, many if not most are very selective or reluctant to engage in partner sex. Just because a teen is "sexually active" does not mean they are promiscuous.

Daughters

Your preadolescent daughter does not have increased levels of estrogen that stimulate and toughen her genital tissues and natural cleaning process. This results in her being more susceptible to irritation and infection. To add to this, we start abusing her vulva as soon as medical personnel or ourselves put that first diaper on her minutes after birth. How many infants have you seen wearing diapers on documentaries about tribal societies? Diapers, like tampons and sanitary napkins, are another way society tries to force our bodies to conform to its expectations.

We have come to see diaper rash as normal but it is not. This is perhaps why the fusing of the inner labia occurs most commonly between the ages of one and two years of age. Ever wonder why some young girls resist wearing clothing that comes in contact with their vulva? Just as with adult women, a preadolescent girl's vulva should be also exposed to the open air.

We usually cannot allow infants to run around naked prior to being toilet trained for obvious reasons, but we can allow our young children to lie undressed on absorbent cotton towels placed over waterproof mattresses and pads for several hour each day while they sleep or nap to allow air to circulate freely around their genitals. We can wrap their nude body in a towel while we breast or bottle-feed them. It may not be as convenient as disposable diapers with plastic linings but does treat their genitals in a healthier and more respectful way.

When the diapers come off for good encourage them sleep nude or while only wearing a simple nightshirt, and when possible, like when at home, go bare bottomed. You do not want them wearing panties all day every day. When they do learn to wear underwear at all times they usually learn to hide their genitals in the process. Her genitals become off-limits to everyone, including herself. An added benefit of them sleeping nude is it allows them easy access to their vulva in the privacy of their bedroom and provides an opportunity to explore their body and masturbation. If it is warm outside, allow them to play naked in the yard, or while wearing just a dress. When they get home from school, encourage them to put on loose fitting clothing. Try to have a home where family nudity is accepted and comfortable for all. Do not be embarrassed by your child's nudity, or allow other's embarrassment over their nudity embarrass you. Is anyone going to be harmed by seeing your child's genitals?

Proper care of your daughter's vulva starts at birth. When you are counting fingers and toe, examine her vulva. For several months following birth her vulvar structures will appear swollen, as a result of being exposed to the increased maternal hormone levels. Examine her and make a mental note of things like the size and shape of her clitoris and labia, does she have a hymen and is there an opening in it, is her clitoral hood adherent to her clitoral glans, and are her inner labia fused together. If you are not sure what is what, ask your doctor or nurse for guidance. You will need to know if labial and clitoral adhesions were present at birth or develop later; the hood is most likely naturally adherent to the clitoral glans but the labia should not be fused together. You want to make sure there is an opening in her hymen so when menstruation starts the menses is not trapped inside her body, causing pain. It is important to have a baseline so you will know if things have changed when you care for her vulva in the future.

It is a good idea to start talking to your daughter about her vulva soon after birth. This is because you will likely feel uncomfortable doing so in the beginning. If she is an infant it will be easier than when she is older and understands what you are saying or trying to say. Tell her you are about to rinse her vulva, clitoris, and spread her labia to rinse between. Use the correct names like "clitoris" and "vulva," not "vagina" or "pookie." This is so you BOTH get comfortable using these words and it will not be uncomfortable later in life. The longer you wait to start talking about her vulva, the harder it will be. If you wait until puberty, that is simply too late and the barrier to communication will be more difficult to overcome.

Your daughter will learn more by example than by what she is told. If you really want your daughter to be comfortable with her body and care for it correctly, her mother or female role model must set a good example. A girl should bath with her mother from infancy on. She needs to be able to see how her mother cares for her own vulva and that she is comfortable with her body. If a daughter does not bath with her mother, she may learn to hide her body and possibly be ashamed of her female genitals. Fathers can also teach their daughters to be comfortable with their body by bathing with them. Even though they do not have the same anatomy they can demonstrate good genital hygiene. It also allows girls to become familiar with the male body, and are as a result more comfortable with it when they seek out sexual partners in the future. Parents and children should engage in mutual bathing versus the parent putting their own body off limits to their child. If you bathe them, they bathe you, if and when they are physically capable, willing, and express an interest in doing so. When they become curious about their parent's body they will explore it at whatever pace is comfortable to them. If you put your body off limits, they will do the same.

During the school years it can be more challenging to raise a girl who is comfortable with her body, as her peers and the increased numbers of adults she comes in contact with will influence how she feels about herself and her actions. If she senses other girls do not go about their home nude or bathe with their parents she may not want to. If she senses other girls hide their body, she may do the same. If she is the trendsetter by going bare bottomed under her dress or skirt when at school, her parents may hear about it from the school. If she is comfortable with her body she may be willing to show it to others and allow them to explore it. These are not bad things but our society often believes they are. We live in a society that has a distorted view of sex since it is anti-sexual. A girl being comfortable with her body is not overtly sexual, but that is how adult society usually views it. Things like this make raising a sexually and physically healthy child a challenge.

There are an increasing number of families in which the father is the primary care giver. This requires men to be just as aware of "feminine hygiene" as women. Having a penis is no longer an excuse for not knowing. Fathers need to know how to care for their daughter's vulva just as much as her mother. Fathers are increasingly the ones who buy their daughter her tampons or pads. They may even have to explain how to use them. They also have to be able to explain about female body fluids, natural vaginal fluids, and indications of infection. Especially in young girls, they may have to examine their daughter's vulva if she reports an injury or possible infection, to see if medical attention is necessary. Fathers need to know what they are looking at just as well as mothers. A girl will usually hide her body from her father only if his actions make her feel she should. If his body is off limits, so will hers.

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