Ever wonder if what you experience between the sheets is "normal"? You're not alone. We've asked the experts for their take on some common sex concerns we've heard from women. Here's what they had to say.
1. "Sometimes, when I'm having sex with my husband, I start off aroused and then lose interest. I want him to feel good and to 'finish,' but I feel awkward and would rather stop. Why does this happen? Is it normal?"
Don't worry—you don't have some undiagnosed sexual dysfunction just because you lose interest, occasionally, during sex, says Amy Levine, a New York City–based sex coach and certified sexuality educator. "The key for you is to figure out what is working the other times," says Levine. "Perhaps your husband makes certain moves when you don't lose interest that you find pleasurable. Knowing your body and communicating your wants, needs and desires are paramount when it comes to connected and satisfying sex." But what to do in the moment when you lose interest? "Let him know how you want—or don't want—to be touched," says Levine. "If and when this does happen in the future, don't be hard on yourself. You can stop having sex, and tell him you want to satisfy him in other ways. After all, switching things up may be the pleasure prescription to keep you engaged."(sex advice)
2. "Sometimes I feel emotional after sex and actually cry. It's embarrassing, but is it normal?"
Absolutely normal! "Sexual behavior can trigger a range of intense emotions, from euphoria to sadness to anger," notes Kimberly Resnick Anderson, LISW, AASECT-certified Diplomate of Sex Therapy, and the director of the Summa Center for Sexual Health in Akron, Ohio. "Every woman experiences a sexual encounter through her own lens and attaches personal meaning and context to it." For instance, she explains, you may be asking yourself questions like: Is our love as strong as it once was? Will I ever have a baby? Am I truly satisfied with my sexual life, my marriage? "All of these 'wonderings' can trigger intense affective experiences," Anderson says. "In addition, the physiological experience of orgasm releases neurochemicals, such as oxytocin, dopamine and norepinephrine, in the female brain that can activate a host of unexpected, powerful emotions." However, if sex or the thought of sex makes you feel emotional or the type of emotions you face after sex are severe and debilitating, speak to your doctor or a certified sex therapist.
3. "I feel like I have a very strong vaginal scent. There's been no change in discharge over the years, but I worry that the smell isn't normal. Should I be concerned?"
"Probably not, especially if nothing has changed," says Anderson. "Many women are self-conscious about their vaginal scent and are probably much more focused on it than their partners are." In fact, she adds, many women who believe they have a strong or offensive odor are surprised to hear that their husband or boyfriend is either unaware of a scent or finds it appealing or erotic. "Societal messages and cultural norms have done a disservice to women by inducing shame and embarrassment about natural scents," she continues. "Evolutionary research shows that scent is a key factor in erotic response and that 'blocking' natural odors actually interferes with evolutionary efficiency and long-term sexual satisfaction." Still, if you or your partner notice an obvious change in vaginal odor or discharge, consult your physician to rule out infection, adds Anderson.
4. "Sometimes after sex, I experience bleeding—not much, just a little. Is this normal?"
It's best to talk to your doctor about any post-sex bleeding, even light spotting. "Bleeding after sex—or postcoital bleeding, as it's called in the medical world—can often be a sign of something abnormal, most commonly an infection or cervical polyp, but sometimes something more concerning, like cervical cancer," says Lisa Stern, RN, MSN, a nurse practitioner who works with Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles and blogs at gynfizz.com. But sometimes such bleeding turns out to be nothing—even natural. "Occasionally, women, especially teenage women or pregnant women, notice light bleeding after sex, which is due to normal developmental changes of the cervix." Still, any bleeding should signal a visit to your doctor to rule out any underlying problems.
5. "Is it normal to experience cramping after intercourse—even when you're not expecting your period?"
Yes. "Cramping after intercourse can be normal, especially if the cervix—the bottom portion of the uterus—has been jarred at all during sex, through contact with a penis, fingers or a sex toy," notes Stern. "A cramping sensation can also, sometimes, be the result of discomfort in the bladder or urinary tract." To reduce cramping during and after sex, try emptying your bladder before and after sex. Still, says Stern, if you experience persistent cramping after intercourse, it's best to see your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions like endometriosis, fibroids or a urinary tract infection.
6. "It's so embarrassing, but sometimes I pass gas during sex. I can't help it! Why does this happen, and does it happen to other women?"
It's normal and natural, says Stern. "This happens to a lot of people," she says. "The female reproductive organs—the uterus, ovaries and vagina—are located in very close proximity to the colon, the largest portion of the gastrointestinal tract. During intercourse, any movement of these organs can also provoke movement of the colon, which is then able to release trapped gas." And sometimes an orgasm can even trigger gas, thanks to relaxed muscles right before climax. Embarrassing? Yes, but it's great to know that we're all in the same boat here.
7. "One of my vaginal lips is bigger than the other. I'm worried that my husband thinks I have an ugly vagina! How do I know if mine is normal-looking?"
Every woman's vagina is unique, and many are asymmetrical, says Stern. "There aren't any 'normal' or 'abnormal' vaginas," she explains. Still, if you do notice that your vagina has changed—for example, if there's a lump on or a change in color of one or both of your vaginal lips—see your health care provider for an evaluation." But if one side has been bigger since puberty? It's just your own normal variation, she says. Embrace it!
8. "I'm worried about the fact that I frequently have pain during and after intercourse. It's not intense, but it's bothersome and I can't help but wonder if other women experience this too."
The good news? You're not alone. "Many women have pain during sex only in certain positions, with certain partners or at certain times of the menstrual cycle," says Stern. "This is often normal, though severe or persistent pain should be evaluated." Be on the lookout for these red flags: "If you do have pain during intercourse, especially if accompanied by other symptoms like vaginal discharge, severe menstrual cramps or discomfort with urination, you should see your health care provider to rule out a cervical infection, endometriosis or interstitial cystitis," she adds.
9."Will my vagina look different after I have a baby, and will it mean less-satisfying sex?"
No one goes through labor and delivery without vaginal changes, says Mary Rosser, MD, PhD, a faculty member of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women's Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. But it's not all doom and gloom, she says. "It is totally normal for your vagina to stretch during a vaginal delivery," Dr. Rosser says. "The vaginal tissues are extremely resilient due to their elastic nature. Many factors can affect the healing process including the size of your baby, how long you pushed and how well your tissue has healed after episiotomy or laceration repair." To help the process, do Kegel exercises regularly and give it time—at least 6-8 weeks, she says. "Your sexual relationship can be healthier and happier than ever before."
10. "I've never had an orgasm during intercourse—is that normal?"
You're not alone! According to research from The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, only 29 percent of women report having consistent orgasms during sex—that's a whopping 71 percent of women who either never have an orgasm during sex or only sometimes. "Many women require more direct clitoral stimulation during intercourse to achieve orgasm," says Hyla Cass, MD, a physician in private practice in Pacific Palisades, California, and the author of 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health. In other words, don't feel bad if you just can't climax from plain old intercourse—many women simply can't, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. But, if you're interested in a little sex homework, grab your husband and try this suggestion: "Some women will be able to have an orgasm with intercourse if they have had a clitoral orgasm just prior," says Dr. Cass.
11. "Is there such a thing as an ugly vagina?"
You may have heard about frightening Web sites out there that place female genitalia in two categories based on certain characteristics: beautiful or ugly. Nonsense, says Amy Levine, a New York-based sex coach, certified sexuality educator and founder of SexEdSolutions.com. "No two women's vulvas look alike—we're all unique," she says. "Labia often give women the most anxiety about their genitals. Labia can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, range in size, vary in texture from smooth to wrinkled as well as range in color from pink to brown." If you're having anxiety about your anatomy, Levine has this advice for you: "Grab a hand mirror and take a good look! Just like learning to love every other part of your body, it's important to embrace what you've been given. If not, you're self-consciousness will likely cause you to sabotage your sexual confidence and ultimately, your sex life. Be grateful that your vulva and vagina are capable of amazing pleasure and purpose." And, for those considering surgeries to improve the look of their genitalia, Dr. Rosser has this word of caution: "Understand that surgery itself can be more damaging in the end and lead to excessive scarring of the tissues and decreased sensation." She adds, "How you think and feel about yourself as a woman defines your sexuality. Be comfortable and secure with your own body! You are beautiful!"
12. "I had unprotected sex once in college. I'm haunted by this, even years later. I've never had symptoms of an STD, but should I get an HIV test?"
Should you freak out? No, says Dr. Rosser. Should you get a battery of STD tests? Yes. "Your cause for concern is valid as anyone that has unprotected sex, even one time, can get a sexually transmitted disease. For peace of mind, you should see your gynecologist for STD testing, including HIV, and make sure that you are up to date on your Pap smears." It's important to note, she says, that some STDs remain symptomless for many years. "Chlamydia, for example, is a sexually transmitted infection that can be silent while scarring your reproductive tract, which can lead to infertility," she says. "The human papillomavirus (HPV) is also extremely common and contagious; it can cause genital warts and abnormal Pap smears and increase your risk of cervical cancer." Bottomline: Stop fretting and get tested.
13. "Do oral herpes and oral sex mix (in other words, can I pass a cold sore to my partner's genitals)?"
Yes, says Dr. Rosser. "You can pass the cold sore to your partner's genitals. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) may be passed through kissing as well as oral, vaginal or anal sex. Until recently, it has been generally accepted that HSV-1 is associated with oral or cold sores while HSV-2 is associated with genital sores or blisters." But, she adds, it's now known that you can get either virus on your face or genitals. "HSV-1 and HSV-2 can infect oral, genital and anal sites. Genital HSV-1 is becoming more prevalent, especially among teens as they are having oral sex instead of intercourse. It's important to use a condom with genital as well as oral sex."
14. "I really feel uncomfortable with oral sex—both giving and receiving. Is this normal? How can I get more comfortable with it?"
Sexual preferences, and likes and dislikes run the gamut, says Dr. Cass. There's nothing wrong with being uncomfortable with a certain position, including oral sex. But instead of keeping your concerns to yourself, she encourages women to discuss them with their husbands. "Have a conversation with your partner about it," she says. You might find, with some self-exploration, that a disinterest and dislike of oral sex could stem from pre-conceived ideas about sex. "Many women grow up feeling that it's dirty down there," she says, "thus depriving themselves of the full array of sexual pleasures. Just know that it's normal for men and women to enjoy giving and receiving oral sex—so might you!"