The world is rampant with misinformation about women’s reproductive health — but having a conversation with your doctor, even when it may seem uncomfortable, can help set the record straight. Here are the top three things you may have heard about your reproductive and sexual health that your obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) wants to debunk.
Myth #1: I need to have a period every month. Period.
While having an irregular period can be a sign that something is off — whether that be pregnancy or a medical condition that needs to be addressed, such as polycystic ovary syndrome — having a period every month isn’t a must for all women, depending on certain factors. Yet, women commonly believe they need to menstruate monthly for health reasons.
“Well, that’s true when you’re not on hormones of some sort,” Candace Howe, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., an OB-GYN at HM Medical in Newport Beach, California, told HealthCentral. “But it’s important for women to realize that when they are on a contraceptive method that suppresses their cycle, it’s truly safe and, in fact, protective in that it reduces the risk of uterine cancer and ovarian cancer.”
For example, some forms of hormonal birth control, such as the hormonal intrauterine device (IUD), may stop you from having a period altogether. Others, such as certain brands of birth control pills, can be taken continuously or for extended time periods to make periods come less frequently, such as every three months. But there’s no reason to be afraid when you don’t have a monthly period when you are on hormonal birth control, Dr. Howe said.
“There’s no lining that needs to be shed […] every month if you’re on a suppressive hormonal birth control,” she said.
Women may feel uneasy about the lack of monthly period if they use it as a marker for pregnancy, or they may perceive a need to ‘clean things out’ of their reproductive system each month.
“There’s a lot of cultural perception that it cleans out your system, but it’s OK,” Kristyn Brandi, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., a family planning specialist at Boston University and Boston Medical Center, told HealthCentral.
But it’s always good practice to pay attention to any changes in your menstrual cycle — whether or not you’re on hormonal birth control.
“Conversely, if something changes in your menstrual cycle, that could be a sign to come [see your doctor],” Dr. Brandi said.
Myth #2: I need to groom ‘down there’ before my pelvic exam.
If you get the urge to apologize to your OB-GYN about your grooming habits or the appearance of your body when you’re lying on the exam table, hold back.
“People will come in and they’re already nervous, and the first thing they’ll say to me is, ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t get a chance to get my bikini wax’—that’s like the last thing we’re looking at,” said Cheryl Iglesia, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., director of MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Section of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery and a professor of gynecology and urology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. “We’re not going to judge you.”
While the hair removal industry has continued to grow in recent years and pelvic grooming has become a well-established trend, especially among millennials, Dr. Iglesia told HealthCentral that women shouldn’t be overly concerned with what their external genitalia look like.
Some women may believe there is a hygiene or health element to grooming their pubic hair, but this is a myth as well, Dr. Howe said.
“No woman should be made to feel that it improves her health in any way to [remove pubic hair],” she said.
The bottom line? Do what makes you feel comfortable when it comes to pelvic grooming, and don’t worry about what your doctor thinks of it.
“Most of the time we’re not focused on those things, so it really doesn’t matter,” Dr. Brandi said. “As long as it doesn’t bother you, it doesn’t bother me.”
Myth #3: Condoms will protect me from all sexually transmitted diseases.
There’s no doubt that condom use is crucial in reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). But using condoms doesn’t 100 percent guarantee that you will never get any STD.
“People think condoms will protect against everything, but they do not,” Dr. Iglesia said. “They don’t necessarily protect against herpes, and condoms can break.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, condoms are likely to be more effective at preventing transmission of some STDs than others. For example, some STDs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV, can only be passed through genital fluids, so you’re likely to have greater protection against these when using a condom. Other STDs, however, like herpes, human papillomavirus, and syphilis, are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact that may occur even when you use a condom.
Additionally, Dr. Iglesia noted, people may not realize that oral sex can put you at risk of STDs, too.
“You can get herpes from oral sex,” Dr. Iglesia said. “I had a woman […] who had gonorrhea in her throat, and she never thought about that [as a possibility]."
Using a condom or dental dam during oral sex can help reduce this risk, she said, but again, nothing is 100 percent effective. The best thing to do, in addition to using protection, is to communicate with your partner about each other’s sexual histories, she said.
“[Getting] a good sexual history and understanding the rules of engagement to protect yourself is very important,” Dr. Iglesia said.