A lot of us haven't been taught much about our bodies. Many of us don’t know our vagina from our vulva (the vagina is the inner canal inside your body. The vulva is the outer part of the genitals: the clitoris and the labia). So, if you feel like it’s hard to talk about things to do with your body, you aren’t alone. Here are some of the things women find hard to talk about.
Should I get rid of that hair?
It has been considered taboo in US and British culture (so by inheritance Australian) for women to have hair in their armpits since a Harper’s Bazaar marketing campaign in 1915 and it has been considered taboo for us to have hair on our legs since the 1940s. It’s strange to consider that for most of human history, and in most cultures, it hasn’t been taboo.
Our relationship with our body hair is complex one. Women have concerns about hair on their faces, necks, arms, toes…
Body hair is completely normal. Whether you keep it or get rid of it should be up to you. For a really fun exploration of how women see their body hair, look at this film by Tasmanian filmmaker Rebecca Thomson www.rebeccathomson.com.au/a-hairy-problem
Should I deodorise my vulva?
There are a lot of products out there marketing themselves as ‘feminine washes or sprays to reduce odour. They offer to clean your vagina and make it smell more like a potpourri. They have made women worry about what their vaginas should look and smell like. Don’t buy them!
Firstly, remember the difference between your vulva and your vagina (see above). You don’t need to wash your vagina. It cleans itself with natural secretions. It also keeps itself healthy. It has a lot of ‘good’ bacteria which maintains the ideal pH balance.
Using soaps, sprays, gels, even water, to wash inside your vagina can disrupt this natural balance. It can result in bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, or other irritations and it can affect your vagina’s ability to self-clean. So, as they used to say in the 1950s, ‘leave it alone!’.
But yes, you can wash your vulva. Use warm water, or a mild soap. Wash the area between your vulva and your anus every day, making sure you wash ‘front to back’ (wash your vulva first, and then your anus). That makes sure you don’t spread bacteria from your anus to your vagina (and cause an infection). Make sure you dry yourself thoroughly before dressing – bacteria thrive in moist environments.
And finally, if your vagina smells like a vagina, that’s ok!
What is normal vaginal discharge?
It’s normal to have vaginal discharge, but not all vaginal discharge is normal. If you’re worried about your discharge look at its colour.
Clear, white discharge could be the natural lubrication that your vagina produces, or it could be the result of ovulation. This is just your body doing its work.
Your discharge might be reddish-brown around your period as it has blood in it.
If your discharge is grey, green, or yellow, or if you are experiencing itching, pain, or any other unusual symptoms, talk to your GP.
How do I say, ‘I consent to sex’? It sounds ridiculous!
It can feel very hard to talk about what you would like to do sexually, and what you aren’t comfortable doing, especially if you are starting a new relationship for the first time, or the first time in a long time. The best tip that educators give young folk about this is don’t worry about being cool – be genuine and honest. That’s good advice for all ages.
Talking about consent is not a one sentence conversation (Shall I? Oh, please do!). It’s a dialogue of questions asked backwards and forwards (Are you ok? What would you like to do? Are you enjoying this?). It requires both partners to listen, and to observe each other (when you get to know your partner some signals about consent might be nonverbal). What could be sexier than talking, listening, and watching? And as someone wise said in the current national debate raging on consent, “if someone says no, that’s good. You know exactly what their boundaries are.” [i]
The best thing about having a conversation about consent is that it will make you feel less awkward because you will know what the other person is thinking.
(And if this discussion of consent has raised any issues for you, you can call us on the Women’s Health Information Line 1800 675 028 or 1800RESPECT)
[i] It was Yumi Stynes. Yumi has done a wonderful podcast series for the ABC called Ladies We Need to Talk. You can find it here www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/ladies-we-need-to-talk. She has also just produced a book for teenagers called Consent.