March 6, 2019
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Kristen L. Aland, M.D. contributes to topics such as Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Louisa Essandoh, M.D. contributes to topics such as Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Robert J. Gallo, M.D. contributes to topics such as Obstetrics and Gynecology .
By Brianna McCabe
Talking about your private parts is something that you might want to keep, well, private.
But let’s face it, ladies, sometimes we may have questions regarding our vaginal health. So, we may turn to our gal pals or the genius that is Google search. In actuality, though, we should seek the advice of an OB/GYN.
While a visit with an OB/GYN can feel awkward for some women, Kristen Aland, M.D., Louisa Essandoh, M.D., and Robert James Gallo, M.D., board certified OB/GYNs at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, explain that not a single question exists that they haven’t heard before. (Yes, really.)
Though an open and honest dialogue is always encouraged, our physicians have outlined questions that they find their patients are often initially hesitant to ask:
- Can I have sex on my period? “You absolutely can!” explains Dr. Gallo. “You’re not going to disrupt anything, but it may be a bit uncomfortable since your vaginal area and cervix are a bit more swollen.” He advises placing towels down to avoid any mess. “There can also be an odor as a result of blood being exposed to the air,” he adds. Clinically, though, Dr. Gallo assures that there is no reason to hold off on having sex.Dr. Aland adds that it is typically a lower-risk time of the month for possible pregnancies, but it is still hypothetically possible to become pregnant – especially if your cycle is irregular. “This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use other forms of contraception,” she warns.
- Can I have sex while pregnant? If you are having an uncomplicated pregnancy and you aren’t at risk for any issues, then Dr. Essandoh confirms that sex while pregnant is absolutely okay. “Sure, it becomes technically more difficult to do as the pregnancy advances, but there are no reasons why a healthy female should have to abstain,” she says.She continues, “Some people have jokingly, but with an underlying serious tone, asked me, ‘Is the baby going to come out with a dent? Will he or she be a one-eyed monster?’ The baby is oblivious to what is going on. Trust me, it is safe and you won’t harm the baby.”
- Is it okay to be a bit itchy down there? Dr. Aland explains, “It’s not really normal to feel itching or irritation.” If you are experiencing those symptoms, she recommends talking to an OB/GYN. “It can be due to a bacterial or yeast infection, but sometimes it can be indicative of something more serious like an STD.”
- What’s with the odor? As a general rule, Dr. Gallo says that odor is symptomatic of a problem. “Remember, you can have odor from a serious issue, like an infection, but there’s also other reasons, like having a retained tampon (when it becomes stuck or ‘lost’),” he says. “You know your body and your natural smell. If you feel off, that’s when you should seek medical advice.”
- How much discharge is too much discharge? “As with everything in life, it depends,” says Dr. Essandoh. “Most women don’t want to see anything. However, if you talk to an 85-year-old woman, she would beg for some. It’s all relative.” She explains that sometimes it may seem disruptive, but it’s not necessarily a medical concern. “If you feel that your body is producing more than normal, chat with your doctor.”
- Is breakthrough bleeding normal? Breakthrough bleeding is any bleeding or spotting you may experience between your normal menstrual period. According to Dr. Aland, this occurrence can be common, but it depends on whether you are getting a natural period or if you are on birth control. She clarifies, “If you are not on birth control and notice irregular bleeding, you should talk to your OB/GYN about the exact pattern of bleeding and what tests or lab work might be necessary. Most cases of irregular cycles or unpredictable bleeding can be managed with different medications – usually a form of birth control. On the other hand, if you are already on birth control, but still experiencing irregular or unpredictable bleeding, you should talk to your doctor about possibly switching your prescription or adding a new medication to better manage your cycles.”
- Is it normal that I urinate a little when I laugh or cough? “If you ever had a child who was a nice chunky 8 or 9 pounds and you pushed for a long time, then this is your battle scar,” teases Dr. Essandoh. “It’s definitely possible post-birth. If it’s unprovoked, though, then you need to check with your OB/GYN or urologist.”Dr. Gallo explains that the bladder is a balloon-like, liquid-filled structure that is supported by pelvic muscles and maintains continence, or the ability to hold urine. “If you put enough pressure on the bladder, it can leak,” he says. “Coughing, sneezing or strenuous activity also trigger it.” Depending on the frequency and amount, an OB/GYN can assess if it is a symptom of something a bit more problematic, such as an advanced degree of prolapse or a bladder infection.
- Why is my libido low? “Have you looked at your sexual partner, ladies?” jokes Dr. Essandoh. According to the doctor, there are various reasons that can play a factor in decreased sexual drive including age, vaginal issues (such as dryness), previous history of trauma or emotional/psychological blocks. “It’s really important to make your sexual history and current sexual state are part of the conversation with your OB/GYN,” she says.
- Is it normal to experience pain with intercourse? Dr. Gallo explains that sex is designed to be a comfortable and pleasurable experience for both men and women. “Is it irritation? Pain with penetration? Is it present when you first start? Are you lubricated? There’s a million different questions that we will ask to try to narrow down what is going on,” he says.
- When should my teenage daughter begin seeing an OB/GYN? Dr. Aland says, “I’ve been telling most parents that adolescent girls who have started getting their periods can see an OB/GYN at any time. This way, we can talk periods, period symptoms or other concerns related to female hygiene.” By introducing younger females to an OB/GYN, Dr. Aland feels that this reassures the adolescent that it is normal to discuss her reproductive health and make her feel comfortable with her anatomy.
- Can I bring my friend to an appointment? “If you feel more comfortable coming with a parent, family member or a friend that is totally fine,” says Dr. Aland. In fact, bringing someone along can even help you remember details or recall instructions your doctor may give you, she notes.
“It is the job of an OB/GYN to create an environment where women can freely communicate,” shares Dr. Essandoh. “It’s a collaborative approach between the patient and the provider to understand the sexual, mental, emotional and physical health of the patient and provide care in totality.”
“So please, never ignore your symptomatology and never be afraid to talk to your provider,” explains Dr. Gallo. “Nothing should ever be embarrassing. If something subjectively bothers you, it warrants a call to your health care provider.”
Listen to Dr. Essandoh talk questions you shouldn’t be too embarrassed to ask your OB/GYN on the HealthU podcast:
Dr. Aland rotates between her offices in Freehold, Jackson, Lakewood and Tinton Falls; Dr. Essandoh practices in Edison; and Dr. Gallo practices in River Edge. To find a provider near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.