While guys embrace their bodily functions — the good, the bad, and the totally foul — women tend to be squeamish about theirs. Which is why it's hard to work up the courage to ask your doctor awkward health questions, especially while sitting there in a tissue-thin gown. (Note to self: Do not wear a thong next time!) To make matters worse, you can't always count on a physician to broach sensitive subjects first — they aren't immune to blushing. Well, except perhaps for the unflappable Mehmet Oz, M.D., whose nationally syndicated TV show premiered this fall. We posed some pretty cringe-worthy problems to America's prestigious and popular medical pro, and he tackled them all with ease.
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Icky vaginal discharge
For women in their reproductive years, vaginal discharge is better than normal — it's terrific! I've always thought of the vagina as a self-cleaning oven. Discharge helps clear out dead cells, keeps the vaginal walls lubricated, and even fights infection. Take a look at what's on the toilet paper — the color should be clear, white, or slightly yellow, and it may have a faint musty smell. (Vaginal odor serves as a major attraction factor for your partner, so think of it as your own personal brand of perfume.) While the amount of discharge can increase during ovulation (and obviously during sexual stimulation), if you notice any unusual or sudden changes in color (green is not good), texture, or odor, something fishy is probably going on, in more ways than one. Answer this quiz: How well do you know your vagina?
The most common cause of a sharp odor is bacterial vaginosis, the result of an overgrowth of the healthy bacteria that colonize the vagina. Certain sexually transmitted diseases (such as gonorrhea and chlamydia) and infections (like yeast) can also change the amount, smell, and texture of vaginal discharge. Don't try to "clean yourself up" with douches or scented products, which will only worsen the problem. Instead, get checked out by your primary doctor or gynecologist. Then try to restore the balance of healthy bacteria: Take a probiotic supplement (or eat foods like yogurt that contain probiotics), avoid shorts or underwear made of moisture-trapping fibers like nylon, and change out of sweaty clothes when your workout is done.
Here's a little factoid that will stroke your boyfriend's ego: Compared with the penis sizes of other species, most human males are pretty well-endowed. For procreation purposes, a man's penis needs to be only about three inches long, yet the average length is more than five inches. But the vagina can handle a range of penis sizes, so unless you are with a very well-hung mate, chances are, your pain isn't the result of his girth.
The first thing you should do is make sure you're well-lubricated enough. (If nature isn't supplying it, a store-bought, water-based lube such as K-Y Jelly is an easy fix.) Also, experiment with different positions. The length of the vagina is elastic; it elongates and contracts depending on whether you're standing up, lying back, squatting, and so on. So some of the acrobatic moves you've been doing may just not be a good fit for you and your partner.
You also might want to reconsider the birth-control method you're using. A new theory suggests that oral contraceptives may be a top contributor to sexual pain. The opening to the vagina is very rich in androgen receptors, which means that testosterone (in addition to estrogen) is necessary to keep the area healthy. And many birth-control pills contain progestins, which can cause a drop in your body's level of "free" testosterone (i.e., testosterone that's available for your body to use). A decreased amount of testosterone can have positive effects, like preventing cystic acne, but if levels are too low, it can lead to vaginal dryness, decreased libido, and painful sex. If the pain continues, see your doctor to rule out any other problems.
With their love of bathroom humor, most guys are pretty comfortable talking about poop, but this is definitely the number-one most embarrassing subject for women to discuss. Uncontrollable bowel movements affect 5.5 million Americans and are more common in women than in men. One reason is childbirth, which can damage the muscles or nerves needed for bowel control. Another surprising cause is a deficiency in serotonin. Ninety-five percent of your body's supply of this "feel-good" hormone is in your gut, and women seem to have greater fluctuations in their serotonin levels than men do. If you experience a strong and pressing need to go to the bathroom, notice stool spotting on your underwear, or have diarrhea for longer than a few days, see your doctor. It could be that you're not digesting your food properly (can you say "lactose intolerant"?) or you're under a lot of stress.
Certain medications can cause problems, too. In the most serious cases, it could be the result of nerve damage around the rectum, which can signal a problem such as diabetes.
Peeing in your panties
You probably associate incontinence with the senior citizens in those Depend ads, but it's actually much more closely linked to giving birth. Pushing out a baby stretches your pelvic floor, and that changes the angle between the urethra and the bladder. It's not uncommon to find that a few drips of urine is suddenly a side effect of laughing, jogging, having sex, or even squatting down to pick something up. (Two other possible culprits: playing high-impact sports and being overweight.)
The best way to stop this from happening is to strengthen those pelvic-floor muscles to hold in your urine. Kegel exercises are the gold standard, but one in five women do them incorrectly! Ask your doctor or gynecologist for advice, or try this approach:
1. Sit on the toilet and start to urinate, then try to stop the flow of urine midstream by tightening your pelvic-floor muscles for a count of five and then relax for a count of 10. Do this five times in a row.
2. Start by doing 10 sets a day (for a total of 50 contractions a day), then work up to 20 sets a day (for a total of 100 contractions). The more you can incorporate Kegels into your daily routine, the better your chances are of seeing results.
P.S. Strengthening those muscles can also enhance your orgasms and lead to better sex. (So start squeezing.)
Farting like a frat boy
Despite what some guys want to believe, women do fart. In fact, we all pass gas a dozen or more times a day. The nonsmelly kind comes from air that's swallowed when you eat or drink (especially when you consume food too quickly, chew gum, or sip through a straw), but the more noxious types of fumes are created during the digestion process by bacteria in the colon. If you're passing gas a lot more than 12 times a day, you may simply be eating too much fiber (which promotes gas formation in the digestive tract) or drinking too many carbonated beverages. It could also be the result of food intolerance (such as lactose or gluten intolerance) or the side effect of a medication like an antibiotic or laxative.
To cut the amount of gas you produce, try eating smaller amounts of fiber temporarily. (Once the gas subsides, you can slowly add fiber-rich foods back into your diet.) Over-the-counter products like Beano or lactase supplements (for those who can't have dairy) can also help. If you're still tooting your own horn, so to speak, try drinking peppermint tea. It contains compounds that prevent spasms of the digestive tract, which promote the formation of gas.
Hair... there and everywhere
Some women are so focused on hair removal that they're shocked when confronted by the reality that — yes — our bodies do sprout hair, even in places you may not like. However, while a few sparse hairs are perfectly normal and certainly no cause for alarm, if you're growing a Groucho Marx-esque patch on your upper lip or chin, between your breasts, or on your abdomen or inner thighs, it could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is characterized by high blood levels of androgens (male hormones), and it's the most common hormonal disorder in women during their reproductive years. Beyond abnormal hair growth, symptoms can include acne, obesity, and prolonged menstrual periods, and it can lead to infertility and eventually to serious complications such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. (When diagnosed and treated early, these complications can be avoided.) If you notice any combination of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about it. She may do a blood test to check your hormone levels as well as perform a pelvic exam and ultrasound to see if there are any abnormalities in your ovaries.
The breath of death
If you brush, floss, and swish, and your boyfriend still hints that you need a mint, you may suffer from halitosis. Most of the time, it isn't the result of poor dental hygiene. Instead, stinky breath can come from other surprising sources:
Food: Some of the things we eat, such as garlic, contain noxious oils that, when digested, are taken into the bloodstream and released once they reach the lungs.
Smoking: Using tobacco products can lead to dry mouth and periodontal disease, both of which are common causes of halitosis.
Infection: Postnasal drip from sinus and upperrespiratory infections can lead to foul-smelling mucus collection in the mouth.
Dieting: Fasting or extreme dieting (such as anorexia nervosa) can cause chemicals to break down in your digestive system, giving your breath a bad odor.
In addition to brushing your teeth and flossing, you can help fight the stench by brushing your tongue or using a tongue scraper, since dead cells and food particles can make your tongue a breeding ground for bacteria. Drinking lots of water throughout the day and chewing sugar-free gum can help increase saliva formation and prevent dry mouth. Or gnaw on some fresh parsley; the leaves are rich in chlorophyll, which acts as a powerful neutralizer of bad breath. This is one reason why restaurants often put it on plates as garnish.
Sweating like a hog
Soaking through a T-shirt when you're burning up the treadmill is one thing. But if you're saturating your clothes just sitting in an air-conditioned office, you may have hyperhidrosis. (Actually, about 3 percent of Americans suffer from this condition.) Think of your sweat glands as tiny turkey basters: The muscle inside squeezes the bulb and pushes out the sweat. But if the nerves that control those muscles become hyperstimulated, they'll start to spasm, releasing sweat even when your body doesn't need to be cooled down.
The most effective fix for hyperhidrosis is surgically snipping the nerves that are causing the sweating with a safe and minimally invasive procedure called thorascopic sympathectomy. Or your doctor may recommend using a prescription antiperspirant or getting Botox injections. But as a first line of defense, try these simpler, less costly drying techniques:
1. Wear clothes that are made from natural fabrics such as cotton or wool, which breathe more effectively, helping to keep your body cool.
2. Switch to a clinical-strength antiperspirant that contains aluminum hydroxide.
3. Try to reduce your stress level, which can trigger nerve spasms in your sweat glands.
If you have sweaty feet, clothe them in natural materials (like cotton socks and leather shoes), change your socks twice a day, rotate the shoes you wear from day to day, and make sure you dry your feet well after bathing.
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