You asked, and Dr. Julie Hakim, Co-Founder and Medical Director of FemTech Focus answered! At our first ever Podcast Listening Party, we learned a bunch about vaginas and even did some vagina myth-busting. We asked our attendees what they want to know about vaginas. Dr. Julie shares the answers. Enjoy.
We love to continue having these conversations to normalize learning about our bodies. It allows us to have a deeper understanding of ourselves, our bodies and make the best possible experience for FemTech founders and women who will benefit from innovation in FemTech.
Q: Who taught you about vaginas and sex when growing up?
Dr. Hakim: A book. My mom bought me a book that had science puberty facts in a cartoon format. Essentially, it was a cartoon that taught me about sex. Also, I learned through watching television.The Golden Girls taught me a lot although they answered some of my questions, they raised a bunch of other questions for me too. It wasn’t a comfortable conversation in my family; the conversation was basically avoided. I’ve never had a conversation with my mom about sex or anything else. But, she helped me put in a tampon for the first time but didn’t explain anything to me. I’m hoping that with more of these conversations, we can help both young people and parents open the door to making conversations about bodies a normal and less uncomfortable set of learning moments.
Q: What was something you learnt that you later found out to be hilariously incorrect?
A: I used to think that all pubic hair was dark.t wasn’t until I was in medical school that I realized that pubic hair could vary in color depending on your own natural hair color.
Q: What is the right term to use, vulva or vagina?
Dr. Hakim: Both are correct depending on what part you are referring to. The vulva is the outside portion of the perineum (the bottom part of your pelvis) that includes the two sets of labia (the labia minora and labia majora), the clitoral body, the urethra (which is the opening where urine comes out from), the vagina and the rectum. All of that comprises the vulva. Whereas, the vagina is just the tube in the middle portion (of the vulva) where babies exit and intercourse can happen or menstrual fluid egresses.
Q: I’m curious about the mental shutdown connection to feeling any emotion “down there” after a traumatic childhood experience even if the hormones are tested to be normal?
Dr. Hakim: This is a great question and speaks to the intricacies and complexities of the brain-body connection, of perineal sensation, and of the female sexual response cycle. There is no linearity between hormone levels being normal and an expected experience of sensation or response. The mind is very deliberately and importantly a key actor and gatekeeper to emotion, sensation, and arousal. And what this question describes is a very challenging, and certainly not unique situation among women. With a traumatic experience, the connection between the brain to perineal sensation and sexual response cycle can get interrupted – regardless whether the hormones are there or not. A lot of gynecology involves discussing and understanding the background of a patient’s bodily sensations or having difficulty experiencing. It’s not about giving somebody a pill.t’s not just about fixing the hormones. It’s about offering solutions that encompass a wider breadth of what impacts women’s wellness, sexual, and gynecological health.
Q: I was told my hymen would break when I have sex for the first time and it did bleed so it did it actually “break”? This is why I’ve avoided tampons and never used one for fear of toxic shock.
Dr. Hakim: It’s a hard question to answer because, though rare, this person could have had a hymen abnormality that could “break” and bleed. However, the remember that the incidence of hymen abnormalities is really low. The hymen can stretch but that doesn’t mean it “pops” or “ruptures” open but it can be stretched too forcefully which could possibly lead to bleeding. Similar to an elastic band, if you stretch it too fast without proper lubrication, yes it could “tear.” There could also be micro-tears inside the vagina that happen from the act of intercourse itself, an allergy to a specific type of condom being used, or the cervix’s stimulation can sometimes cause a bit of bleeding or discharge to occur. So, there are many reasons why a woman might bleed after intercourse but that doesn’t mean she “broke” her hymen. Addressing the second half of the question, toxic shock syndrome is pretty rare. Tampons are made with material that are much less likely to cause that type of reaction. However, the best thing to do to avoid toxic shock is to not leave your tampons in for long periods of time. With that being said, you do not need to avoid tampons for fear for your hymen “breaking” with using them.
Q: What myths do you want to debunk about the vagina?
- Discharge is normal.
- Smells are normal.
- Don’t “intervene” in your vagina as much as possible – douching, steaming, astringents, or other DIY “treatments” should not go up there.
- Don’t put things in your vagina. (Besides tampons, menstrual cups, penises, dildos, fingers, and sex toys.)
- The hymen is not a barrier that is “ruptured.”
- You can use a tampon if you’re not sexually active, are an adolescent, haven’t had children yet (or don’t want to), and it won’t disrupt your hymen.
Q: How can we empower women to speak up about their concerns with vaginal health is there a way to navigate this? If women had sexual problems would they feel comfortable discussing it in a group as a community or do they prefer 1:1?
Dr. Hakim: The more we speak about these kinds of issues openly, and upfront, the more women will feel more comfortable with the topics, with their bodies, and with asking questions in a and not feel judged or embarrassed. We’re doing exactly that at FemTech Focus, by empowering women to speak up and share the issues their experiencing. Chances are others are experiencing it and questing it too! Many women have fears about their hymen or questions about their health. The more we keep talking about it, the more the discomfort becomes comfortable. Then, we all learn from each other and together grow into a stronger, healthier, more fabulous community of empowered women!