Don’t take your vagina for granted – it makes all the difference between screaming in pain and pleasure in bed. Leading consultant, gynecologist, and obstetrician, Dr. Suresh Nair, gives some insight.

Sex is more enjoyable once a woman has become “wet” by secretion of vaginal discharge prompted by stimulation of the clitoris, G-spot or through penile penetration. But some women experience vaginal dryness or excessive wetness which can get in the way of good sex. These symptoms can be brought about by myriad problems like infections, diseases, lack of hormones and poor hygiene.

All women secrete vaginal discharge during ovulation and sexual arousal. A lack of hormones in menopausal women results in the thinning of vaginal walls, which are like tissue paper. Little tears can then occur during intercourse and cause pain. To prevent this, women can go for hormone peccaries and creams that rejuvenate the vaginal walls and restore their pre-menopause lusciousness when there was normal production of secretions.

Transparent or cloudy-white discharge that is non-irritable and does not give off an unpleasant odor is considered normal. But abnormal vaginal discharge accompanied by a fishy odor can be a symptom of internal pelvic “womb” infection known as bacterial vaginiosis, which is caused by the germ gardnerella vaginalis and/or the parasite trichomona. It is brought about by a change in the vaginal pH from acidic to alkaline.

Ouch, That Hurts

Vaginal infections are common problems that many sexually active women encounter. The vagina has good germs that are necessary for maintaining an acidic environment and help to keep out infections. But lifestyle issues like excessive stress, birth control pills, and health conditions like diabetes and HIV can reduce the vagina to an alkaline state. Fungal infections tend to be prevalent in pregnant women and those on the pill. They are a common occurrence during the hot season or in tropical climates like Southeast Asia. Infections can cause extreme itchiness, curd-like discharge, foul smell and even some degree of soreness that makes sexual intercourse feel like torture. When the vulva becomes sore and reddened, it can set off a secondary bacterial infection like UTI (urinary tract infection), making a trip to the Ladies a painful experience.

Genital warts can hamper the enjoyment of sex too. They are small white growths in the vagina, vulva or cervix that result from HPV (human papilloma virus) infection, which is associated with sexual activeness. Herpes, another viral infection, can produce painful ulcers which, in great amount, cause intense pain that makes it difficult to move around, let alone take pleasure in sex. Other sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea cause abnormal and copious discharge that can travel into the womb and fallopian tubes, breeding abscesses. Pain and fever is commonly associated with such conditions. A strong dose of antibiotics can usually cure these infections but, an operation to drain the pus may be necessary if the abscess is extensive. Cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva are, of course, detrimental to your sex life. They require extensive surgery and radiotherapy, which affect the nerve and blood supply to the area, resulting in desensitization and dryness. After the treatments, the problem can be alleviated by using lubricating products like KY Jelly, Replens, Astroglide or Preseed.

Ahh, That’s Much Better

To help ensure a safe and pleasurable sex life, women should take some necessary precautions to prevent infections. These include safe sex practices such as insisting their partners put on condoms and as well as refraining from casual encounters with multiple partners. Also, sexual practices like going from anal to vaginal intercourse without changing the condom is a sure way to introduce bacteria and produce infections.

Practicing good hygiene is another preventive measure. If a tampon, birth control device (like contraceptive sponges) or a foreign object is left inside the vagina, it can cause abnormal discharge, soreness, infections and sexual discomfort. To help keep it clean, always wipe towards the anus, so as not to bring germs into the vagina. Be careful to not douche excessively, as doing so can destroy the good germs while also causing soreness, allergic vaginal lining reaction and even small cuts like eczema.

A woman can develop an allergic reaction from wearing tampons, sprays and powders with strong deodorants, which could make the vaginal lining sore, swollen and susceptible to other germs. So, it is important to change tampons regularly, especially after urination. Some women can also be allergic to spermicide from condoms. Last but not least, clothing choice also plays a part in maintaining good hygiene. Avoid wearing nylon underwear, which may lock in heat and use cotton ones instead. Even wearing tight-fitting jeans and pantyhose can lead to fungal infections.

Fit Like A Glove

Some couples complain that sex is just not as good anymore after childbirth. This happens because the pelvic floor muscles get overstretched during delivery and the vaginal opening becomes loosened. In addition, as men get older, their penis may not be as large or as erect as before. Women can tighten their vagina by doing exercises involving the contraction of the pelvic muscles. First, insert a finger in the vagina to feel the specific muscles being contracted and then, insert vaginal weights known as cones and contract those muscles at intervals.

When the vagina is lax, operations like pelvic floor reconstruction (PFT) and posterior perineorraphy can be performed. It may not produce exactly the same results as before childbirth but it can certainly increase sexual pleasure for couples.

It is not always necessary to tighten the vagina in order for women to enjoy sexual intercourse. Women can still achieve orgasm through stimulation in other ways. Sometimes, operations do more harm than good if there’s excessive scarring, over tightening and disruption of the nerves when too much vaginal “skin” has been cut off. These days, women can beautify their vulva at the same time they undergo the tightening procedures. Plastic surgery is performed on the vulva to ‘buff up’ the outer lips and ‘trim down’ the inner lips to improve the overall appearance which, in turn, boosts self-image and confidence.