As the times are changing so is the outlook of society between women and sex. Gone are the times when sex for women only meant reproduction, talks of pleasure, sexual health, safety, consent, etc. are gaining momentum, and for good.
While sex is a major part of our lives, the discussion about sexual health takes a backseat, because of the shame and taboos surrounding it in our society. And more so in the case of women, not that men’s sexual is discussed publically, but that women’s health, sexual or otherwise, remains largely hidden or ignored.
In his article, we’re going to touch upon different aspects of the complicated yet fascinating relationship between women, sex and sexual health.
What’s down there?
The very first step in understanding women’s sexual health better is to understand the various components of reproductive system, ones that are inside the body and ones that are outside.
On the outside
To start off, only organ that most of seem to be aware of is vagina, but there’s more than what meets the eye:
· Labia majora – Labia majora literally translates to “Big lips”, this is the outermost covering, and most commonly seen part of the reproductive system. It covers labia minora, and contains sweat and oil glands. Around puberty hair grows on it, which in turn helps in maintaining temperature and prevents unwanted microbes from entering the vagina.
· Labia minora – translating into “small lips”, labia minora lies beneath labia majora, but the size of it more often than not is bigger than that of labia majora. It surrounds the urethra as well as vaginal opening.
· Bartholin glands – these are pea sized glands situated on either side of vaginal opening, they help in lubricating vagina in case of sexual arousal.
· Clitoris – Although not primary to reproduction, clitoris is where a great number nerve endings, approximately 8000, to mark the figure, making it more sensitive than penis. Hence clitoris is the point of pleasure.
These constitute to make vulva, the outer part of reproductive system.
Inside the body
· Vagina – Vagina is a tube that joins vaginal opening and cervix. Also known as birth canal, it stretches at different occasions be it penetrative sex or childbirth. It if facilitated with self-cleaning liquids, which is generally called discharge.
· Cervix – Cervix is the lower part of the womb, it connects uterus and vagina. It also functions as an opening that lets sperms in and menstruation blood out.
· Uterus– Uterus is a sac like organ that becomes home to the baby during pregnancy. Uterus can stretch up to 500 time its own size to accommodate a foetus. And in case of non-fertilization it’s the lining of uterus that sheds off 0ver the course of a few days.
· Fallopian tubes– These are tubes connected to upper side of the uterus, and serves as a canal that transports egg from ovaries to the uterus. The process of fertilization of egg takes place in this tube.
· Ovaries– Ovaries are small glands on side of uterus; these house eggs and also produce eggs.
Penis is a pleasure sensitive organ, and pleasure is central for ejaculation. Meanwhile it’s not necessary for women to orgasm in order to get pregnant; hence most of the time a woman’s pleasure is side-lined. While a woman’s pleasure may not be central to reproduction it plays a huge role in her well-being.
These are a few benefits of regular orgasm:
· Orgasms increase circulation of blood around body, more so in the pelvic region
· Increased blood circulation also helps in clearing of skin
· Happy hormone!!! Orgasm triggers the production of oxytocin, also known as happy hormone. This hormone helps in reducing anxiety and stress.
· Increased oxytocin and decreased cortisol also means better sleep.
Female sexual dysfunction
If female pleasure and sexual health is discussed less, problems related to them are discussed even lesser. Female sexual dysfunction marks a phenomenon in which women face regular problems with arousal, orgasming, response, etc. which then leads to problems between partners.
To keep functioning properly our body keeps producing various hormones throughout our lives, some people deal with hormone imbalance all their lives. Our sexual lives too are controlled by hormones and imbalance in any one of them can lead to problems.
Many women face sexual dysfunction at some point of their lives, and for some the struggle continues for far longer than others. Sex and sexual health is a fine balance of various components like emotions, lifestyle, relationships etc.
Symptoms vary according to the type of dysfunction that you are going through.
· Lower desire- you may feel less desirous about yourself or your partner
· Arousal disorder- lack of arousal or difficulty in getting aroused easily can be the symptom of arousal disorder
· Orgasmic disorder-not having orgasm often or facing difficulty in having orgasm or never experiencing orgasm can point towards orgasmic disorder
· Pain during sex- pain during sex can be due to many reasons an chief one being lack of lubrication
There can be several causes of sexual dysfunction and they can broadly be divided into three categories:
· Physical – physical reasons round up any physical condition that may hider sexual activity. It can be a long injury, any pre-existing health condition like a kidney problem. Medicines that also reduce sexual desire come under the physical reason due to which your sexual desire may be fluctuating.
· Hormonal- menstruation brings with itself an excess of hormones and one the menopause happens the flow of these hormones may decrease significantly. A few of these hormones like progestogen and oestrogen regulate genital sensation, lubrication, muscle elasticity, etc.
· Psychological- another factor that can affect sexual desire is the psychological one that cannot be seen or traced via an ultrasound, but need discussion with your doctor and partner.
Factors like stress between you and your partner, or stress of managing day to day life come under psychological reasons
What to do??
One of the best actions to take in case of sexual dysfunction is to talk to a doctor and get the matter resolved. Contact a gynaecologist or sexologist at earliest.