Hey gals! (and of course some gents if you want to become more educated around these topics, and if that’s you: good job! We need more men to be open about feminine hygiene and sexual health!) This blog post is a little different to the other blog posts I’ve seen floating around the blogging world- people talk about periods, birth control and sometimes sexual health but it all seems very hush-hush, which, if you know me I’m usually anything but! In this post I want to get down to the nitty gritty, the things that we’re all a little sceptical talking about. With the help of your questions and advice I’ve picked up throughout my teenage years (and first year of the twenties), hopefully it will help answer any questions you might have or just provide a bit of comfort around a stereotypically scary and taboo subject.
|Yes those are condoms, tampons, pads and birth control pills- things that are COMPLETELY normal but hushed about so much!|
I sat here a little while thinking of how best to delve into the world of periods, sex and everything in between and I decided that I would start with things women (and people in general) might feel more comfortable talking about at first, then easing into the more in-depth stuff later on. So, think of this section as a bit of general advice from woman to woman.
BEING A WOMAN
I know people always say it but seriously- being a woman is NOT easy. Of course it’s not a walk in the park for men either but I’m sure you all know where I’m coming from. In this section I wanted to talk about boobs, hair removal down there and just other general bits of advice (I was going to say ‘words of wisdom’ but I wouldn’t call myself a master of these things) that might help you now and in the future.
So, first up, boobs, more specifically, underwear. When I was young (probably around 10/11 I started wearing the non-wired bras- hands up if you remember that teenage section in M&S haha) my mum used to take me for a bra fitting every year, usually around summer time before I went back to school. My body shape, size and height didn’t change all that much for a few years but when I started growing and properly going through mid-late teenage puberty I got fitted once or twice a year, just to make sure everything still fit nicely. I remember always having mixed opinions about going for a bra fit- super happy because I was going to get treated so some pretty new undies, but also nervous to go as I hated getting fitted. Nowadays I’m pretty relaxed about it, so long as I go with my sister or someone. If you ever feel self-conscious or like you don’t know what to do, I would recommend going with your mum, sister or a friend you feel like could help you through the process and have fun picking out pretty underwear together! If you don’t want to go with someone then big department stores like Marks and Spencers and Debenhams (Debenhams is my fave- they’re usually very comforting and helpful) usually have ladies around that are very experienced and have come across women of all shapes, sizes and bra-experience levels. The reason I’m saying this is that ever since I started wearing underwire bras, I’ve been reminded of how important it is to get the right fit- a bra that is too big means your boobs aren’t supported and can lead to back pain and saggy boobs in the future, a bra that is too small can lead to damage of the breast tissue and blockage of the lymph nodes (due to pressure from the too-tight bra). Over the years women assume they stay the same sort of bra size but that’s not necessarily true- wait loss and gain, hormones, pregnancy and so many other factors can mean that your bra size changes so it’s always super important to get fitted at least every once in a while. From doing a bit of research, bra specialists recommend you should get measured every 6-12 months which in my opinion, is a little unrealistic for the modern age woman. Like I said, I’m no expert but I think a fitting every 18-24 months is enough, especially as over time you come to know what feels right and what fits right. This includes band tightness, where the vertical wire sits under your armpit (it should be just behind where your breast starts- perhaps a centimetre or two towards your armpit), and how comfortable the straps are. It’s also important to note that you most likely won’t be the same size in every store you shop in- I personally range from a 34C-36D- so it’s completely normal if for the perfect fit you have to go up a size. Just try on the same style bra in a number of sizes to see which one fits the best- and you can always ask the bra-fitting (there’s probably a way more professional term) ladies for help!
Another bit on boobs I just wanted to mention is how important it is to check your breasts at least every month for any changes- whether that be size, colour, texture or any unusual lumps and bumps. My lovely friend Sofia (also known as Sunday Kind of Girl) mentioned to me Coppafeel which is a breast cancer charity that helps raise awareness of breast cancer and spotting signs early to women of all ages (in case you didn’t notice, I’ve linked the website above- just click on the word Coppafeel!). If you ever notice anything weird or abnormal, get it checked out straight away by your GP and be persistent if you feel that something isn’t right. My lovely mum died of breast cancer and although she got it pretty bad, she may have had a little longer to live if the doctors didn’t keep sending her away saying the abnormal marks on her breast were just a rash- no one is specifically to blame but it just shows if your gut is telling you something is wrong, be persistent and see a specialist if needs be. Coppafeel offers a service where it will remind you by text to check your boobs once a month, just to make sure all is okay, and you can sign up for that here.
Next, onto the subject of hair removal down there. This may be too much info (but I’m fine being open if it helps people!), but I didn’t think about proper hair removal until I got a boyfriend in 2016. By ‘proper’ I mean doing more than just removing hair along my bikini line. For me, I prefer shaving. Although you have to do it way more often than you would have to if you waxed, I just can’t bear the pain and would rather be pain free in the comfort of my own home! I use conditioner and a Venus blade to reduce friction as much as possible between the blade and the skin, and if I ever get irritation, I let my vagina breathe as much as possible, soothe with some moisturising cream and don’t shave until it goes away and has gone fro a few days. Of course there are many different ways to remove hair down there- shaving, hair removal cream, waxing and laser treatment are the ones that come to mind for me. Hair removal cream can be great, but it smells kinda funny and many doctors advise not to put it near the entrance on your vagina as it can be damaging and mess up the pH of your vagina, leading to infection if left untreated. It’s also worth to note that hair removal cream dissolves the hair just below the surface of the skin (similar to shaving which cuts the hair at the surface of the skin), meaning the hair comes back only a day or so after it would if you shaved. As for waxing and laser hair removal, I don’t have any experience in these, but I’ve been told that DO NOT wax your own vagina at home- apparently it’s agonising and it’s way better to go to a professional. With laser hair removal, I’m pretty sure the hair never grows back so if you ever did want a full bush again, you couldn’t. I think it’s also super important to note that in no way should you ever feel pressured to remove your pubic hair if you don’t want to- most of the time I like it to be tidy (not completely hairless, but not a full bush- a happy medium!), but sometimes I’ll just let it do it’s thing. It makes you no less of a woman whether you decide to remove your hair or not, and always do what makes YOU happy!
Periods are something 50% of the World’s population goes through for a period (no pun intended) of time in their lifetime yet questions about periods are definitely the most common ones I got from you guys so it’s definitely a topic that needs to be discussed more! In this lil’ section I’ll talk hopefully about everything you would ever need to know about periods- how to manage them, how to feel a bit better while going through them and little things to look out for just in case.
Firstly I’m going to talk about the different ways you can deal with the blood. For me, sanitary pads have always been my method of choice- I like to know exactly what my flow is like and what everything is looking like, all with the knowledge there’s no chance of me getting toxic shock syndrome (don’t panic! I’ll explain more in a bit). If you are a newbie with pads, they’re the turqouise, pink and lilac squares in the picture above. To use them you just open them up and then have sticky ‘wings’ either side of pad which attach to the underneath of your underwear (if you open one up you’ll see what I mean!). Pads come in loads of different varieties (hence the different colours) for all types of flow so you can find which one is best for you- personally I keep a stash of light, medium and heavy flow ones just so I know I’m prepped no matter what Mother Nature throws at me.
Another way to deal with periods is by using tampons. Tampons come wrapped, and inside the wrapping there is a plastic applicator. To insert the tampon, read all about it here. One thing to be wary of when using tampons is that you don’t leave them in too long. Leaving in a tampon for too long can be a problem as it may increase your risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is caused by a compilation of certain bacterial infections, and as tampons absorb blood, it’s believed that the blood accumulated in the tampon can be a sort of ‘breeding ground’ for bacteria. Although very uncommon, it’s super important to make sure you try not to leave your tampon in for more than 8 hors and use the lowest absorbency tampon you can for your needs, just to make sure a breeding ground isn’t created. You can learn more about TSS here, here and here (the last one is for peace of mind- I promise you, you don’t need to freak out). The important thing is not to get freaked out by using tampons- as long as you are sensible and don’t leave it in for a long period of time they are perfectly safe to use, and if you’re worried at all go and see your GP.
There are of course other ways of dealing with periods such as using the menstrual cup, but as I have zero experience with this method I’ll link some helpful youtube videos by girls just like us who help talk you through what they are and how to use them: Ingrid’s video, Becky’s video, Jen’s video.
HOW TO MAKE THINGS EASIER
A lot of questions I got asked when I mentioned I was doing this blogpost is if I could share some tips and tricks on how to make things a little bit breezier (lovely wording by my friend!). For me, I always use the same ticks that I know work for me and that I’ve picked up from talking to friends and watching YouTube videos about how to deal with periods.
Firstly is the dreaded pre-period stage. I get PMT/PMS around a week before my period is due which makes me feel very emotional, moody about things I really shouldn’t be spending time worrying about and crave the most random things (this sometimes means Will and I will go on an impromptu trip to out 24hr Tesco for strawberries or some random sweet thing- he’s very understanding bless him). With PMT/PMS there isn’t much advice I can give as you usually just need to go with the flow of how you feel- if you want to snuggle up and watch Disney, do that, if you want to go for a jog, do that! I think it’s important to listen to your body when it’s going through a stressful time and to just perhaps warn the people you love around you in case you accidentally bite their head off (I’ve learnt this from experience). The only other piece I can advise is even though you may be craving the entire World’s chocolate supply, it’s important to eat it in moderation. When I was at uni, I just ate whatever the heck I wanted when I was on my period which usually meant junk food, and it just lead me to feeling so tired, sluggish and even more bloated. So of course buy a few sweets if you want them, but remember to look after your body too by drinking loads of water and feeding your body things that make it feel good.
I also personally get horrendous period pains. For me and lots of other women I know, something that helps 90% of the time is heat heat heat. Bubble baths, hot water bottles and heated blankets all help so much and just help to relieve that horrible pain that makes me go OUCHHH. For me I don’t really like taking pain relief unless I have to but when I do, I take paracetamol to help reduce the pain (as ibuprofen is mainly for anti-inflammatory and the bloated-ness from having your period is usually due to a mixture of water retention and uterine swelling) and take it when I think I’m going to need it the most e.g. before I settle down for sleep or before I go somewhere where I’m going to do a lot of walking/moving.
Now for the actual period- Mother Nature has arrived bearing gifts and your uterus is ready to go (lol). To make things easier on my period, I always make sure I have a huge stack of whatever I’m going to be using. As a pad girl, I have a cute box in my bathroom filled of pads of all different absorbency levels so I can just grab what I need when I need it. Another thing I always do is wear slightly larger, 100% cotton undies. Having them slightly larger just means that they won’t be pressing against your bloated tummy at all and to me are just a wee bit more comfy. Having cotton undies means that your vagina can breathe as much as possible during this ‘blegh’ time and just means it doesn’t get too sweaty or smelly down there from the blood itself and the material of the pad and undies, which together will make you sweat more than you usually do.
And the other thing I just want to mention is self-love. This sounds cheesy but honestly looking after you and respecting yourself wether you feel like crap or not can really make a difference. I’m one of those people who gets annoyed at myself a lot but when I’m on my period and am just feeling grim, I take a bit of time to do something I really enjoy- even if that’s eating chocolate wrapped up in a duvet watching Moana. Be patient with yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not on top form during this time- soon you will be but right now be a little bit more gentle with yourself.
Firstly I think I’ll just write about the things that most young girls get most worried about. So, sex itself. Everyone talks about your virginity like it’s this thing you can suddenly ‘lose’ which in my opinion isn’t true as losing your virginity isn’t a process you go through, it’s just a term to say whether you’ve had sex or not. However this is still very vague as people have different definitions of sex- for some it’s penetration, for others it could be oral sex and so on. For me, I think it’s best to just not think about the whole virginity thing and just do what feels right and what you are completely comfortable with. Another worry that society puts on girls is that sex really hurts the first time you have it. The reason people say it can hurt is because during your first time having sex, your hymen breaks. The hymen is a thin bit of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina, however it can be broken before penetrative sex through activities such as horseback riding, bicycling and gymnastics. Some women don’t feel theirs break at all and just notice a bit of blood, some women’s can become thinner and then break with penetration and some women notice it breaking, but this is very rare. Penetration for the first time can be uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including lack of experience as you don’t know how to make it feel good yet, not just because of your hymen breaking so it’s really nothing to worry about. For me, it felt kind of weird and uncomfortable for the first couple of minutes but it wasn’t particularly painful in any way. There was a little bit of blood but not much (just a couple of spots) and the next day my vagina felt slightly uncomfortable but that is completely normal.
CONTRACEPTION & PROTECTION
Something that is being talked about more (yay!) in blogposts, the media and elsewhere is contraception. Birth control can be managed in different ways, and not all contraception is used purely to stop pregnancy. For example, many girls take ‘the pill’ in order to regulate periods, help with period pains and reduce period flow heaviness. There are so many types of contraception including the combined pill (combines Oestrogeon and Progesterone), the mini-pill (just Progesterone), an IUD (Intrauterine Device), the implant, female and male condoms and more so there is plenty to choose from if you don’t get on with one method or you would rather use two to be extra safe. For me, I chose to go on the combined pill after talking t my doctor, which is 99% effective if you take it at the same time each day. I decided to go on this pill because a) I had irregular periods and awful period pains and b) Will and I had became a serious couple and I wanted to make sure I was protected before we had sex. Although there are risks of the combined pill, I get a checkup every 6 months to check my blood pressure and make sure everything is okay and that the pill isn’t causing me any detriment to my health. When I did start having sex, and to this day, I use the pill as effectively as I can and we always use a condom, just to be extra safe and we can have peace of mind that we are doing everything we can to not cause an accidental pregnancy- it makes it more fun if you’re not worrying about it all the time! (even though I still have episodes where my period is a day late and I start to panic!) As my experience with contraception has been pretty straight forward I wanted to direct you guys to these pages just in case you want more information: The Little Plum, The Little Plum implant update, contraception methods and a website all about birth control.
Something that I think a lot of us religious folk struggle with is the mixture of sex and religion. I’ve had friends in the past ask me if I have sex if I’m a Christian, what my view on it is and if they’ll be punished if they have sex before they’re married, if they have sex with another gender or if they’ve done something sexually they regret and in my honest opinion, no you won’t. I can’t speak for all religions but as a Christian who loves God with all her heart, I know he loves us just as much and sees so much more to us than just our sexual experiences. In my opinion (and of course some might disagree), as long as we treat each other with our utmost respect, we don’t carelessly sleep around with everyone and we are intimate with the people we really love then I don’t see any issue with it. Even if we’ve done things in the past we regret, we can go to Him, say we’re sorry and why and He sees us as we are and if we are just as loving and respectful as we can be, He will see that and to me, there is nothing to be punished for. For me personally, Will and I weren’t ready for sex for a couple of months after we started officially dating. I knew him all the way through sixth form and we had a lot of respect for each other, we talked about it pretty openly for a new couple and we both originally said that we wanted to wait until after marriage. After a while we fell in love, became super close as both best friends and boyfriend and girlfriend and decided that we would only do it when we were both 100% ready, which turns out was after another month or so. I hope that makes a little bit of sense lovelies, I know it’s quite a touchy subject but it’s one that worries a lot of people so I thought I’d just share my view- always talk to someone you trust if you are worried about anything, they are there to love and support you.
I know this section isn’t reallyyy to do with sex but we need to look after ourselves and so I thought I’d just write this little section that you can refer to if you feel worried at all. So, normally it is completely normal for our vaginas to not smell like a field of daisies, and there is usually nothing to worry about if your discharge is clear or white, is thick, sticky or wet. Howeverthere are some things to look out for, just in case something seems to smell different or feel different. The NHS has a fab page all about it which I’ll link here– I use it if ever I’m worried about something. Another thing I wanted to let you guys know is that have you ever had a pair of dark undies have a white/pale brown mark in the crotch area after they’ve been washed? I found out from Grace F Victory that this is due to your discharge- as vaginas are quite acidic, our discharge is also quite acidic and can remove the dye from the pants-I honestly never knew this and always worried about it so thought I’d let you all know too!
I just wanted to finish mentioning something that’s been a big thing in one of my close friend’s life. She knew something was wrong and the doctor’s kept turning her away saying there was nothing too wrong with her. This in time has meant her ovaries and fallopian tubes don’t function properly anymore, and she has a hugely reduced chance of having kids. I just wanted to raise awareness that if something doesn’t feel right or something has changed either with your vagina or around your abdominal area, seek help from someone you trust and a GP and don’t rest until something works to remove what is wrong. It’s so much better to be safe and persistent than to end up with a life-changing detrimental condition because it hasn’t been treated. I don’t want to freak any of you out, I just want you all to stay safe, healthy and knowledgeable about your own body.
Thank you for sticking to the end- I know it’s a long read but I wanted to share everything I know to help as many of you as I can!
Have the best day, sending all my love to you all,