9 Questions Women May Be Afraid to Ask Their Doctors, Answered

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Your doctor is your partner in your health. That means they are usually more than willing to answer questions you may have. But sometimes it isn’t easy to speak up. You might be shy, embarrassed, or afraid of a potential diagnosis. Read on for nine common questions that you may be nervous to bring up with your doctor, along with helpful answers.

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Should I be worried about my vaginal odor?

Vaginas have a natural smell, but odors don’t necessarily mean there is something wrong. Fishy smells may indicate infection, and a bread-like smell may point to a yeast infection, but other odors don’t always signal a problem. For example, a musty smell might just be a sign that you were sweating, and a chemical or bleach smell, especially after sex, could be caused by certain types of condoms or lubricants. If you notice a change in odors or a strong odor, don’t be afraid to consult your doctor.

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How often should I get a pelvic exam?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women 21 years old and older have a yearly pelvic exam. However, not everyone agrees. A US Preventative Services Task Force determined that there was not enough evidence to assess benefits or harms on an annual exam in nonpregnant women without symptoms for screenings for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is best to talk to your doctor about your situation and decide together a schedule for exams.

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If I have pain during sex, is there something wrong?

Some women experience pain during intercourse because of benign reasons, such as lack of lubrication. Other times, the pain might signal that there is something more serious going on, such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis, according to ACOG. If you are experiencing pain during intercourse, it is best to consult your doctor, who can determine if there is an underlying cause and, if not, offer suggestions to help relieve the pain.

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Why is my period so heavy?

Periods are different for each person. They normally last up to eight days, according to ACOG, but if yours lasts longer than that or you think it is heavier than what is normal for you, you should consult your doctor. For example, you may have polycystic ovary syndrome, which is one condition that can cause periods to be heavier. You should also talk to your doctor if you have bleeding or spotting in between your periods or if you have severe pain or cramping during your period.

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Does vaginal discharge mean something is wrong?

As with vaginal odors, some vaginal discharges are normal and can signal that your vagina is healthy. A normal discharge can change in frequency and thickness during your monthly cycle. However, if you notice an increased amount of discharge, experience itching or burning along with the discharge, notice a foul smell, or have a white, clumpy discharge, you should talk to your doctor. These types of discharge can be the sign of an infection.

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Is there a difference between an STD and an STI?

STD stands for sexually transmitted disease, and STI stands for sexually transmitted infections. They are often used interchangeably. Many people use the term STD, but it is often more technically accurate to use STI. This is because "infection" doesn’t necessarily mean you have symptoms, whereas "disease" does. Many people with STIs don't have any symptoms.

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Is it OK to have sex while I am pregnant?

Most women can safely enjoy sex during their pregnancy. During pregnancy, you develop a cervical mucus plug which protects the baby from anything that enters the vagina. Some women who have a history of miscarriage or preterm labor might have a higher risk with intercourse and orgasm, according to a study published in the Canadian Medial Association Journal. Your doctor can help you determine whether you should abstain from intercourse during your pregnancy.

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How do I know when menopause starts?

Menopause is confirmed when you have not had your period for 12 consecutive months, according to the North American Menopause Society. The average age is around 51. Perimenopause, which is the period leading up to menopause is when you typically experience symptoms such as irregular periods, mood swings, hot flashes, and night sweats. This often begins when you are in your 40s and lasts for years before menopause is complete.

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I've never had an orgasm. Is that normal?

Orgasm problems are the second most reported sexual problem, according to an article in Annual Review of Sex Research. Between 4 and 7 percent of women have women’s orgasmic disorder. This means you do not have an orgasm despite high sexual arousal. Some women also find it difficult to have an orgasm during intercourse without direct clitoris stimulation. Sex therapy, masturbation, or cognitive behavioral therapy can help some women orgasm.

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Remember…

Hopefully these answers to common women's health questions have helped put your mind at ease, or maybe they were just a starting point. Remember: Talking to your doctor can help you get answers that are personalized to your health situation. Often, if you are experiencing uncomfortable new symptoms, you need professional treatment in order to get better. Don’t be embarrassed; it’s your doctor's job to get you the care you need.