By ERIN HILL
This Friday and Saturday, several UMW students will be acting in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. If you’re not able to see the production this weekend, I highly encourage you to read the book. Either way, the monologues are thought-provoking and highly relatable.
Like Ensler, I have discovered that once you open the dialogue, women love to talk about their vaginas. At first, discussing sexual matters, especially female genitals, is quite awkward, even among friends. However, once the ball is rolling, I have found that women are intrigued by their own bodies. Women like to learn if they are normal “down there.” They like to compare themselves and their sexual habits with those of other women. They like to listen to other women’s stories of sexual exploration and discovery.
An important issue that tends to arise in my conversations with other women regarding vaginas and sexual health are visits to the gynecologist. Many women have fears, questions or stories of awkwardness related to gynecological exams. For this reason, I asked my gynecologist if she would answer a few questions during my last visit, in hopes of clearing up some questions and curiosities. I began with the basics, and then moved on to a few more interesting questions…
When should women begin seeing a gynecologist?
Women should see a gynecologist when they first become sexually active or when problems arise, such as menstrual problems, irregular or heavy periods, possible infections, pain, etc. Otherwise, a pap smear is not necessary until you are 21 years of age.
Concerning confidentiality, what are doctors required to tell parents? If a woman relies on her parents’ insurance for billing, is the doctor obligated to share the health information with the parents and those who pay?
By law, doctors are not allowed to tell parents about a minor’s STDs, pregnancy or other things related to pregnancy. [My gynecologist] informs parents of this law. The only way a parent may see your sexual health records is through the bill that he or she receives from your health insurance. For instance, the bill may say what tests were administered, such as STD testing.
Do you find that most women shave their pubic hair or leave it “au natural?”
It’s about 50/50 overall. Most young women tend to shave some or all of it. Nearly everyone trims it in some way.
Is it true that Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, is now available to men? If so, can they obtain it at their normal doctor?
Yes. They should be able to get it from a normal physician. Because it is new, the doctor may not have it readily available. I highly encourage males to get the HPV vaccine.
Regarding female masturbation, do you believe it is healthy? Does the use of sex toys stretch the vagina too much? If stretched, will the vagina return to its original size?
Yes! It is a healthy and normal activity. Many women masturbate. Sex toys and masturbation do not significantly affect or permanently stretch the vagina. Perhaps there would be a difference if a virgin began using sex toys, but even then, it’s quite difficult to see a noticeable difference.
We talk about penis size. Do vaginas significantly vary in size and capacity from woman to woman?
Yes. In fact, there are big differences in size. Obviously, having children affects the size. In general, length varies. Women have longer vaginas depending on where they are in their “sexual response cycle.” In addition to lubricating itself, the vagina, too, grows in size during periods of arousal. As it reaches the plateau and climax phase, the vagina swells and becomes much larger than its original size.
I’ve noticed that girls who live in close quarters with each other, such as a dorm setting, tend to have similar menstrual cycles. Is this biological?
Yes. The scientific evidence varies but most data illustrates that cohabitation tends to have a synchronizing effect on menstrual cycles and ovulation.
One piece of advice to young women?
Protect yourself. Use a condom. Get your guy tested. You do not want to be visiting [the gynecologist] frequently because you weren’t cautious. Having HPV requires frequent visits and cervix samples. [The gynecologist] would much rather see you once a year for your exam to make sure you are healthy and well, as opposed to frequent visits to check the status of your sexually transmitted disease.
I interviewed my gynecologist, Dr. Jill Gaines of Physicians to Women in Roanoke, Va. Many thanks to her for allotting some time to answer my questions, despite the fact that she had to deliver twins following my appointment!