For The Ladies

Meghan Lane is a coordinator of the Health and Sexuality Peer Education Program. Ask her questions at [email protected]

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Q: Do you know of any potential problems/negative effects of having sex during the last days of your period or when it is close to or even the ending date? Also, are there any preventives accessible at the Tang Center?

A: A woman's having sex while she's on her period (a.k.a. during menstruation) obviously has many of the same mechanics of sex during other times of a woman's menstrual cycle, but also presents some unique challenges.

In my experience, when people talk about problems or negative consequences in relation to sex, they're usually referring to either transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or pregnancy. Let's tackle these separately. Depending on the amount of a woman's flow, her menstrual blood can serve as a type of lubricant, so small tears resulting from friction may be less likely. Consequently, bacteria or viruses that enter the body through these small tears would be more difficult to transmit.

On the down side, menstrual blood itself has a higher concentration of blood-borne viruses (like HIV) than vaginal secretions do, so having unprotected sex with a menstruating woman whose sexual history is dubious may not be the best of ideas. If you enjoy performing oral sex on women and don't want to stop just because she's bleeding, concentrating your efforts on the clitoris is a good way to avoid getting her blood in her mouth. Concerning pregnancy, unprotected penile-vaginal intercourse can result in pregnancy. I won't lie and say that it isn't less likely for a woman to get pregnant while she's bleeding, but there is a definite possibility of pregnancy occurring.

How it happens isn't exactly known, but here's the scenario that I've been taught: When a woman menstruates, it means that she has ovulated and the egg released was not fertilized. That egg has already degraded by the time a woman bleeds, so it cannot be fertilized. It is possible, however, for a woman to ovulate during her menstrual flow. If she has unprotected vaginal sex with a man, his sperm can fertilize that second egg, and there can be enough of the uterus inner lining to allow implantation.

The logistics can be a bit confusing, but the bottom line is that it's possible for a woman to get pregnant during her period. (This does not apply to women who use hormonal methods of birth control - these women do not ovulate at all, but they still bleed due to hormones introduced into the body.) The prophylactic measure that is most readily available to Cal students (for pregnancy prevention) is the "morning after" pill. I wrote about this a few weeks ago; call an advice nurse at Tang for more info (643-7197). They're available 24 hours a day.

Normally, when a woman has had unprotected sex during the first five to seven days of her period, clinicians do not prescribe the "morning after" pill because the likelihood of conception is low. If a woman wants to take it for peace of mind, however, they will issue her a prescription.

Something that might seem like a good idea, but is not, is douching. (See the question below) Douching may actually push semen up into a woman's reproductive tract and make fertilization more likely. One positive thing about a woman's having sex during her period is that orgasm (if the woman does have an orgasm during sexual activity) can help relieve the cramping that is sometimes associated with a woman's period.

Q:What's the story with douching? Why do people douche, and what does it do?

A:Basically, douching is squirting water, or a solution of water and something else, into one's vagina for the purpose of cleaning it out. Almost everything that I've ever heard about douching has been negative, but douches must still be around for a reason, right?

Douches are marketed as tools to help restore the freshness of a woman's nether regions, giving women the impression that there is something dirty about their genitals. What the companies that sell them don't tell women is that the vagina is self-cleansing.

If a woman experiences a discharge of unusual amount, odor or consistency, it may be a sign from her body that something is wrong. Yeast and bacterial infections, as well as STDs, sometimes manifest themselves in an abnormal vaginal discharge, so douching to relieve the symptoms only masks the problem. Douching before a pelvic exam is also not a good idea because it washes out vaginal flora that clinicians examine for abnormalities, giving them an inaccurate picture of a woman's sexual health. One common reason that women douche is to flush out leftover menstrual flow. Again, the vagina cleans itself, so douching for this purpose is not necessary on a regular basis.

Whether a woman wants to do this before sexual activity or for some other purpose is a personal choice. Douching to prevent pregnancy after unprotected penile-vaginal intercourse is not effective, because the jets of water involved in douching can push semen up into a woman's uterus. I haven't heard anything about douching being an effective way to increase the chances of conception, though.

There's lots more to say about douching - some women use vinegar and water or garlic and water douches to clear up yeast infections, for example - but I'm out of words. For more information, use an online search engine to look up "douche," but watch out for porn links and French Web sites (douche in French is "shower"). Happy hunting!


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