Hi friends! September is Sexual Health Awareness Month.
There are so many different topics we could talk about when it comes to sexual health that we won’t have time to talk about all of them in a single blog post, but we will talk about a few important ones!
First, orgasms can be great for your overall pelvic health!
But sometimes sex can hurt. If it does, reach out to your provider and see a pelvic floor physical therapist. Pain or difficulty having intercourse (especially with penetration) can be a sign that your pelvic floor muscles aren’t working properly (even if you’re postpartum). With the proper treatment, you can often return to having pain-free sex!
We have an online course to help you return to sex postpartum. Check it out here. You can also find helpful tips in our new book Sex After Baby: How to Resume Intimacy with Confidence and Ease.
For today, let’s focus on looking “down there.”
Have you ever actually looked at your pelvic floor? If you haven’t don’t worry—you are not alone. Many people don’t know what’s down there and have never looked. For the purpose of time, we'll focus on female anatomy. Stay tuned for future blogs about male anatomy!
A vulva is essentially everything down there that is external (not in your body). This includes the opening to the vagina, the labia, the clitoris, your urethra, and more. You may recognize the textbook picture of a vulva, but when you look down, it doesn’t look quite the same. That’s okay! Vulvas and vaginas are like snowflakes—no two are the same.
Checking your pelvic floor can give you better awareness down there and help you learn what’s normal for you. When you know what’s “normal” you are better equipped to discuss things with your doctor when they seem different.
So how exactly do you check yourself? All you need is a mirror and some privacy!
Watch Jeanice’s video to learn about the anatomy of these structures:
Clitoris—the clitoris contains thousands of nerve endings that create arousal when stimulated. The clitoris is designed to make you feel good! In fact, many women need stimulation of the clitoris in order to achieve an orgasm.
Urethral meatus—this is where pee comes out. The pelvic floor muscles contract to close it and relax to open it and let urine pass through.
Vaginal introitus (vaginal entrance)—the vagina is essentially the tube that leads to the cervix and uterus (where babies grow)
Perineal body—this is the area of skin between the vaginal opening and the anus -anus—this is the opening where poop comes out. Like with the urethral meatus, the pelvic floor muscles contract to close the opening and hold poop in, and they must relax to open and let poop out.
Pelvic floor muscles—You can’t actually see the pelvic floor muscles, but they lay underneath the skin and tissues you see in the mirror. You can watch your pelvic floor muscles contract by finding the perineal body and performing a pelvic floor contraction/Kegel exercise. The perineal body should draw up and in towards your abdomen—if it doesn’t you likely have pelvic floor dysfunction and should go see a pelvic floor physical therapist!
Labia—these are the lips/skin folds around the opening of your vulva. You have two sets—the labia majora (the outer edge, these lips have hair) and the labia minora (inside the labia majora and without hair).
As you are looking, check for scars, bumps, moles, rashes, lesions, or growths. Regularly checking yourself (about once per month) can help you identify potential abnormalities in the future. A great way to make sure you don’t forget is to check yourself at the same time you do a self-breast exam each month. If you see any changes in these from month to month, talk to your provider about them. Changes could be signs of underlying problems.
Another thing to pay attention to is the discharge (or fluid) that is in/around your vagina. The type and amount can vary depending on where you are in your monthly cycle and your level of arousal. Having some discharge can be normal, but if the discharge is green, grey, foamy, clumpy, or has a strong unpleasant smell you should see your healthcare provider. These could be signs of an infection.
Lastly, with your mirror you can check for pelvic organ prolapse. Check out Jeanice's video to find out how.
Ready to learn even more about what’s down there and your pelvic floor? Here are some steps you can take:
Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a pelvic therapist.
Find a pelvic therapist on your own at myPFM.com. We have links to 4 free searchable databases under Find a PT.
Learn more about the pelvic floor muscles with our book: My Pelvic Floor Muscles The Basics: Learn where the pelvic floor muscles are, what they do, and how they work
Sign up for our email newsletter!
Visit our Instagram page for more on pelvic health.
Check out our Amazon store for items to help when sex is painful.
Watch a quick Instagram video to learn about your pelvic floor.
Watch our Female sexual pain playlist on YouTube.
Watch our Youtube Video about the Pelvic Floor Basics
For Healthcare providers, check out our courses on male and female sexual function to help your clients return to better sex!
What experiences or tips do you have that can help others? We’d love to hear them. Please join the conversation in the comments section below.
By Emily Reul, PT, DPT