I recently saw a commercial that stopped me in my tracks! This doesn’t happen often, or ever, really. I heard the woman on my television say, “Flex Disc even empties itself out while you pee.” Excuse me?! Sure, I’ve heard of menstrual discs before. Even contemplated trying them. But a menstrual disc that empties itself out while I go to the bathroom? That was a novel concept to me! I had to learn more. And then of course share that knowledge with you all. [Photo Credit: Amazon/Hello Giggles]

What is the flex disc?

Flex Disc is a single-use menstrual disc meant to be worn for up to 12 hours. Flex Disc is made from a body-safe material, although the website doesn’t specify what that is. This disc is inserted into the vaginal canal and sits at the base of the cervix in the vaginal fornix. The disc collects your period blood here and leaves your vaginal canal open. 

The website mentions several times and even encourages Flex users to enjoy mess-free period sex while the disk is inserted. I love that! Since the disc sits at the opening of the cervix, the vaginal canal is wide open for business. Flex Disc users have also reported they’ve experienced less cramping since switching to the disc, and the disc produces 60% less waste than other disposable menstrual products. 

How does the flex disc work?

To insert, you pinch the disc between your fingers so it is as long and thin as possible. You insert the disc into the vagina, and when you can no longer keep pinching, release the pinch and push it into place using either a thumb or pointer finger. They also suggest doing some Kegels or squats once it’s in place to make sure the disc is situated. 

You can keep the disc in for up to 12 hours, and at the end of the day, or whenever you’re ready to change it, you insert a pointer finger to take it out. With clean hands, grab onto the edge of the disc, and pull it out of the vagina, keeping it as flat as possible to avoid spilling blood. You empty the blood into the toilet, then throw the disc away. Don’t reuse the disc once you take it out! If you have a particularly heavy period, Flex suggests emptying the disc out throughout the day, then inserting a new one. And here comes the good part! The disc can empty itself while you use the bathroom. 

How does it empty itself?

Essentially, the natural muscle tension of our body helps hold the disc in place as we’re living our life throughout the day. When you sit on the toilet, the muscles relax a bit. If you “bear down” slightly, the disc can somewhat pop out of place, emptying a bit of blood while you empty your bladder. With clean hands, use your thumb or pointer finger to situate the disc back into place just as you did when you first inserted it, then carry on with your day. 

This company stands out

The fact can the disc can naturally empty itself BLEW MY MIND! Our bodies are so cool. If disposable period products aren’t your jam, Flex does have a menstrual cup available as well. I’ve seen other menstrual discs on the market, but the period and sex-positivity that Flex has really stood out to me. They mention period sex several times on their website and use inclusive language to make it clear that this product is for anyone who has a vagina and menstruates. Check them out at flexfits.com

It’s the holiday season, baby!!! Typically the winter holidays mean lots of stress, lots of shopping, and lots of family time. Three things that don’t scream sexy sex time, right? Although this time of year is full of things that could cramp your sexual style, such as staying in your childhood bedroom a wall away from your parents while home for the holidays, I’ve got some holiday season sex tips for you!

Reduce the stress this holiday season

A large reason it is hard to get some sexiness going through the holidays is the stress! If your partner is the one hosting, cooking, buying all the presents, wrapping all the presents, and inviting everyone to your home, they do not have the time or energy to think about having sex with you! Share in some of those responsibilities! Finish up the shopping and wrap everything for them. Ask them what they need help with. Not only is this super thoughtful and lovely, but it frees up their schedule a bit.

Get out of the ordinary 

If you’re going home for the holidays and are staying with family members and don’t feel like you can fully get your freak on, consider staying in a hotel. If you don’t have the means to do this or you just don’t want to, this presents an opportunity to get creative. Try and have completely silent sex. Fun! Have sex in the car after running errands together. Schedule a sexy interaction during a small window of time when everyone else will be out of the house. Discreetly sext each other throughout the day in front of everyone. No one will know!! The disruption from the ordinary is fun, and the feeling of getting away with something sexy that no one knows about is fun too!

Make holiday season sex playful

Get playful! Dress up as a sexy Santa, Mrs. Claus, or another holiday-themed thing. An elf, perhaps? Do naked holiday cookie frosting. Spread the frosting on each other’s bodies. Lick it off! Gift each other certificates promising fun sexy stuff like a massage or romantic date. Even if you feel silly, tapping into your sense of play makes sex fun! 

Flirt it up and stay safe

If you’re single and ready to mingle this holiday season, flirt it up!! Flirt with everyone and expect nothing in return. Freely flirting helps you tap into your own sexy side, just for you. It’s fun to share that with others. Plus if you’re practicing freely flirting, then you’ll get really good at it and can use some of my holiday tips anyway. Just make sure you are safe. Ask your partner about their STD status, (preferably not in the heat of a sexy moment), use condoms or dental dams, and make sure you have consent!

Find time for intimacy, even if it’s not sex

If all else fails, embrace the coziness of the holidays and enjoy some wine in front of the fire together. Set the mood. The great thing about sex and intimacy is that there are no rules. Talk with your partner or partners about what excites them and what they like. Embrace the extra time off work outside of responsibilities to really take your time with each other and enjoy each other’s energy. 

Now that you’ve got all these hot holiday season sex tips, go forward and have some fun!

If you take hormonal birth control, you probably spent hours researching the possible side effects that come with starting the pill. You’ve probably heard horror stories of women having adverse side effects, and you probably asked your doctor a bunch of questions before you started taking the pill to be sure it was the right birth control for you. I’ve been taking the hormonal birth control pill for years, and despite knowing all of the possible side effects before starting, I realized I only recall hearing a few side effects for when you stop taking the pill. A lot of people start taking the pill when they’re teenagers or young adults, so it’s hard to imagine a time in the future where you’ll be stopping birth control, but the side effects of coming off the pill are important to know about as well.

Most people stop taking the pill when they want to become pregnant, but some people come off the pill sooner to try a different type of birth control if their body didn’t react well to the pill. Just like how not all people on the pill experience all of the side effects of starting hormonal birth control, not everyone going off the pill will experience all of the side effects coming off the hormonal birth control. If you’re considering coming off the pill, however, here are some of the side effects you might experience.

1. Withdrawal bleed after stopping birth control

If you take the pill with three weeks of active pills and one week of placebo pills, you’ve already experienced a withdrawal bleed. This acts as your period during your cycle, but since hormonal birth control shuts down ovulation, you’re really experiencing a withdrawal bleed from the steady flow of hormones. When you are stopping birth control, you will have a week-long withdrawal bleed just like you would if you were taking your pills how you normally do.

2. You could get pregnant right away

Doctors say it takes people anywhere from zero to six months to have ovulation return and their cycle to regulate itself without the pill. Every person’s body is different and it is possible to get pregnant right away when you quit the pill. The hormones in the pill will leave your system within a few days of stopping the pill, but it might take your body a little longer to begin regulating your cycle with your natural hormones again. Your body could also begin its natural cycle right away, leading to pregnancy if you have unprotected sex.

Because it’s impossible to know specifically when you’ll begin ovulating again, use condoms or another form of birth control right away if you are not wanting to get pregnant. For some people though, it may take between three to six months to begin ovulating again, so if you are quitting the pill to get pregnant, doctors recommend giving yourself a few months to have your body adjust so you can get pregnant when you are ready.

3. Cramps and discharge from ovulating

Once you quit the pill you’ll begin ovulating again so you might experience cramps on one side of your body during your cycle. These cramps are from your body ovulating and getting ready to release an egg. Now that you’re ovulating again, you’ll also notice a change in your vaginal discharge. Discharge during ovulation is stringy and clear. Since the pill shuts down ovulation, you likely haven’t seen this particular discharge in a while, but don’t worry, it’s normal and a sign that you are ovulating again.

4. Breakouts, cramps, mood swings, and a heavier period

If you experienced bad breakouts, cramps, and mood swings leading up to your period before you started the pill, you might have those symptoms again. If you experience these symptoms when coming off the pill and you didn’t have these pre-pill, your body should adjust after about three months and these symptoms should level out, becoming less harsh after a few months. Additionally, your period will likely be heavier after you quit the pill. The pill uses hormones to regulate your cycle, so once you come off the pill, your period might return to how heavy it was pre-pill. People’s cycles change over time though, so your period will likely level out to a “normal” flow after a few months as well.

5. Increased libido from stopping birth control

Some people report experiencing an increased libido after coming off the pill. During your cycle, you will feel the most frisky when you are ovulating. This is your body’s way of saying, “We’re the most fertile we’ll be all month, let’s make a baby!” Since ovulation is shut down when you’re on the pill, you of course can still feel frisky, but some people report having an increased sex drive once they are ovulating again. For some people, however, there is not a noticeable difference. Conversely, some people report feeling less sexy after coming off birth control because they no longer feel a sense of ease being protected from unwanted pregnancy.

6. Change in weight and breast size

Some people notice their breasts shrink a little when they stop taking the pill. This has to do with the hormones from the pill leaving your body and your natural hormones regulating your cycle again. If you didn’t notice a change in breast size when you started the pill, however, you likely won’t notice a change when you stop the pill.

Some people also report losing a bit of weight when they quit the pill. This isn’t super common either, but when it does happen it is due to a loss of water weight. The progesterone-only pill can cause people to retain water, which can cause a bit of weight gain. If you’re on a progesterone-only pill, you’ll lose this water weight when you come off the pill.

7. Hair loss

Admittedly, this is the only side effect I had never heard of, and this is the only one that scared me when I first read about it. This side effect isn’t very common, and when it is present it’s not as scary as it sounds! If you have polycystic ovary syndrome or some other condition that caused hair loss before starting the pill, you might experience hair loss again when coming off it.

If you don’t have a condition that affected hair loss prior to the pill, you likely won’t experience a noticeable amount of hair loss, if any. If you do experience hair loss, though, this should stop within six months of quitting the pill. This is due to a temporary condition called telogen effluvium, which causes your hair to shed. In most cases where hair loss is present after quitting the pill, however, it is usually due to stress, diet, or some other factor and not the pill, so don’t worry too much about this side effect if you’re considering quitting the pill.

If you’re considering coming off the pill, the biggest things to keep in mind are that you can get pregnant right away and that the levels of side effects you experience will vary depending on you and your body. You might not experience all of the side effects, and the ones you do experience will likely have varying levels compared to someone else you know. When you come off the pill, your body adjusts from being regulated with synthetic estrogen and progesterone to being regulated with those hormones naturally in your own body. This does require a bit of time to adjust, so know that for the first few months at least, your cycle and body will likely not feel back to “normal.” If after six months you are still experiencing severe side effects or your period hasn’t returned to normal, see your doctor.

Stress. You’ve certainly heard of it. You are honestly probably stressed about something right now. In this day and age, it seems that everyone we know is stressed and moving at a fast pace, fluttering between deadlines and projects, working themselves to the bone. People can feel stressed from their personal lives as well. It seems like “stressed” is most people’s default state of being, and let me tell you, this is having a bad effect on your health. But by completing the stress response cycle, you can better deal with it in a healthy way.

What are the effects of chronic stress?

Stress is “a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.” When stress isn’t totally dealt with, it can cause long-term effects on your physical and mental health. In the book “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life,” author Emily Nagoski talks in-depth about the stress response cycle and how stress can affect your sex life and reproductive health. Nagoski writes that if left unmanaged, chronic stress can suppress your menstrual cycle, decrease fertility, increase the chances of miscarriage, and even increase pain during sex. That’s a big deal, people! Outside of this aspect of your life, chronic stress can exacerbate depression and anxiety, cause digestive problems, increase headaches, cause trouble sleeping, and impair your memory and ability to concentrate. 

What is the stress response cycle?

Stress is part of a cycle, and in order to feel and deal with stress in a healthy way, we must complete the stress response cycle. Nagoski also has an entire book dedicated to this topic called “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.” She writes that our bodies are wired to react to stress in a way that will protect us from attacks, like how back in the day we needed to fight predators or run away from a lion. When your body perceives a threat or stressor, it will cue your hypothalamus to sound the internal alarm. The hypothalamus is in your brain and tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline increases your heart rate and boosts your energy, while the cortisol increases glucose in your bloodstream to enhance your body’s ability to repair tissues. The cortisol will also quiet things in your body that you won’t need in a survival-type situation, such as your digestive system. 

When all of this is happening in your body, this cues the classic fight, flight, or freeze response to determine how to protect yourself from the stressor. It is important to note, however, that your nervous system chooses this response for you. In Nagoski’s example of being chased by a lion, your body quickly determines which response gives you the best chance of surviving: fighting the lion, running away from the lion, or freezing and playing dead (like a possum). This intense, intricate process goes on in your body whenever you feel threatened, and yes, even a small stressor like a work deadline triggers this cycle. 

How can I complete the cycle?

When you’re feeling stressed and all of these survival hormones are dancing around in your body, you need to do something with this energy to complete the stress response cycle so it won’t negatively affect your health. Keeping all of this energy and hormone-induced survival-level alertness in your body is not good. Nagoski recommends completing the cycle by exercising, meditating, or doing a “primal scream.” The first time I did a primal scream, I was in my car so no one could hear me, and I burst into tears immediately after because I was so surprised by myself. It was a little too primal for me. I prefer exercise or meditation to complete my cycle. You can also do a leisurely activity you know will help you relax, such as reading or gardening, or even talking about your stressors with a friend or therapist.

So many people experience different stressors multiple times a day and never complete the cycle, which can have adverse effects on their reproductive, mental, and physical health. You likely have tell-tale signs your body throws out when you’re feeling too stressed, so pay attention to those signs and make sure you make time to complete the cycle. You’ll be more productive and healthier because of it.

You’ve probably seen commercials for the HPV vaccine. Hopefully, you’ve gotten the series of three shots to help prevent certain types of human papillomavirus that could lead to cancer. But if you do get HPV, you may have the common LEEP procedure completed with your doctor to remove unhealthy cervical cells.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and if you are sexually active, you will most likely get HPV at some point in your life. GASP! That sounds bad, right? It’s not bad in most cases. HPV is so common because it’s spread through skin-to-skin contact, and most of the time it doesn’t show symptoms. Most strains of HPV are no big deal and go away on their own, but some strains are harmful because they can turn into cancer.

Think of it like the common cold. Most people will get many colds throughout their lifetime. That’s not shameful or “dirty” or scary. No big deal. It will go away on its own, but in some cases, that cold could turn into something more serious like pneumonia or a sinus infection. That’s when you need to seek medical attention.

Types 16 and 18 of the human papillomavirus can lead to cervical cancer. If you have a vagina and are age 21 or over, or sexually active, you should be getting regular Pap smears to test for unhealthy cells on your cervix. If your doctor detects abnormal cervical cells, they will likely do an HPV test to see if that is the cause. Although HPV can cause unhealthy cells, HPV tests and Pap smears usually aren’t done together unless there is an abnormality. 

How does HPV relate to cancer?

You might be wondering, what even is my cervix? Where is it? Your cervix is a small area of tissue that connects your vagina to your uterus. Your vagina is the internal part of your genitalia and your uterus is also known as your womb. The cervix is kind of like a little cap at the top of the vagina. This is what prevents tampons or other things from getting lost in your body forever. The cervix is an important part of your body, so that’s why checking for healthy cells is so essential. 

If you have unhealthy cells on your cervix and have a positive HPV test, you’ll likely undergo something called LEEP. You and your doctor will of course discuss the best course of action to treat your unhealthy cells, but LEEP is a very common procedure to remove unhealthy cervical cells.

LEEP, or Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure, is done by your gynecologist in their office and removes unhealthy cells from your cervix. LEEP uses a wire heated by electrical current to scrape away the unhealthy cells. Sounds high-tech, right?! You don’t need to do anything to prepare for the LEEP procedure, although it is usually done when you’re not on your period, so if you have LEEP done, schedule it so it doesn’t happen while you’re menstruating. LEEP might hurt a little, so you could also take some Tylenol or Advil prior to the procedure. 

What can I expect from the LEEP procedure?

When you arrive at your doctor’s office, you’ll go into an exam room and undress from the waist down, similar to your Pap smear visit to the gynecologist. You’ll wear a gown and put your legs in stirrups so your doctor can see into your cervix. Your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to hold the vaginal walls open to have a clear view of your cervix. A speculum is made of metal or plastic and it honestly looks like a little beak that props open your vagina. Speculums are also used during Pap smears, so if you’ve had a Pap before, it’s the same thing. Once the vagina is open and the cervix is in view, your doctor might spray your cervix with a vinegar solution. This isn’t done with every LEEP procedure, but this solution turns the unhealthy tissue white, making it easier for your doctor to locate and remove it. After the solution is put into your cervix, you will be numbed. Your doctor will inject a numbing medicine into your cervix, then begin with the LEEP wire.

While holding very still, your doctor will put the wire through the speculum and into your cervix. Some doctors will also use a magnifying tool in your cervix to help see the unhealthy tissue clearer. The wire will take off the unhealthy tissue, your doctor will collect it, and send it to a lab for more testing. Because the wire uses electrical currents, it seals your blood vessels as it removes the unhealthy tissue, so you won’t bleed a lot during the procedure. The whole procedure takes about ten minutes and isn’t too painful. Since numbing medicine is used, most people only experience slight discomfort during the procedure. 

What happens after the LEEP procedure?

It takes about three or four weeks for your cervix to heal after the procedure, so don’t have vaginal sex, use tampons, or douche during this time. You should never douche ever, so don’t even worry about that one! Additionally, you’ll probably have some cramping for a day or so after the procedure, and you will probably bleed a little and have some watery discharge. The discharge can last for the whole healing process, and it might smell a little. This is normal! It’s also recommended to take it easy in general during the three to four weeks following the procedure. Don’t do any super intense physical activity. You need to allow your body some rest so it can heal. 

Are there any possible risks?

LEEP is a safe procedure, however, some serious complications could happen, although they are rare. Some people have pelvic infections, heavy bleeding, intense cramps or belly pain, fever, discharge that smells very bad, or bleeding that’s heavier than ever the heaviest day of your period. Additionally, LEEP may increase the risk of preterm birth in pregnancy. If you are currently pregnant and find abnormal cells, your doctor will wait until the pregnancy is over to do the procedure. 

If these possible side effects seem too severe or risky, talk to your doctor about other methods to remove unhealthy cells. LEEP isn’t the only method, although it is very common. Because HPV is so common and these unhealthy cells can turn into cancer, it is imperative that you get regular Pap smears! Encourage other people with vaginas in your life to go as well. Our vaginal and sexual health is super important, and although it might be uncomfortable or intimidating to think about, you need to stay on top of it.

People feel weird talking about sex. There’s a lot of worry about whether or not we are “normal” when it comes to sex: Do I want it enough? Do I want it too much? Am I having sex the “right” way? If you’ve been here around long enough, you know I’m all for talking openly about sex and spontaneous or responsive desire without shame. Discussing sex creates a more sex-positive culture, which leads to better sex lives for people because we are informed and confident. Because people feel so self-conscious talking about sex, there are a lot of misconceptions about how you “should” be when it comes to sex, and if you don’t fit into this box of how you “should” be, you might feel ashamed.

What is spontaneous desire?

We grow up being taught that we should experience spontaneous arousal. Spontaneous desire is when you feel aroused and interested in having sex spontaneously or out of the blue. Perhaps you are watching tv and all of a sudden you’re horny, or you wake up in the morning and feel super aroused. Most people probably feel a good amount of spontaneous arousal when they are first being intimate with a new partner, but how spontaneously you experience desire will change throughout your life. 

What about responsive desire?

Responsive desire is when you feel desire and arousal in response to pleasure. Perhaps you are watching tv and your partner snuggles up next to you and starts kissing your neck or massaging your shoulders. You think “wow that feels nice,” and you start to feel desire in response to what they are doing. 

Is responsive desire better than spontaneous?

Neither form of desire is better or more normal than the other. Culturally we are told that men typically experience spontaneous desire and that women don’t experience desire at all, which is untrue. All types of people can experience either type of desire at different points in their life and throughout different relationships. 

One of my favorite sex educators, Emily Nagoski, has written extensively on responsive and spontaneous desire, and writes about it in her book “Come As You Are.” Nagoski points out that despite the cultural idea that spontaneous desire is correct and any other type of desire means you have a low sex drive that needs fixing, there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims. She has done research interviewing men and women about their sexual desire, and both men and women experience both spontaneous and responsive desire, and both types of desire are healthy.

In an article for the New York Times and another for Medium, Nagoski writes about a drug called Flibanserin, created in 2015, which is also known as the “female Viagra.” The drug is intended to create a spontaneous desire for those who take it. As she mentions in her articles, the drug was created to treat low desire in women, as if lack of spontaneous desire is a disease — which it isn’t. The clinical trials of the drug were fairly unsuccessful and had several side effects.

How to communicate your pleasure needs

As Nagoski reminds us, focusing on spontaneous desire distracts from what is really important when it comes to sex: pleasure. We get too caught up in how much we do or don’t want sex when really the focus should be on the quality of sex being had. 

It’s important to know what type of desire you experience so you can communicate that with a partner. If one partner experiences spontaneous desire and the other is responsive, the spontaneous desire partner might feel like their partner isn’t as interested in sex since they might not initiate as much. In reality, their partner is interested in sex, they just don’t feel desire until they experience some pleasure first. Communication is a great tool for a healthy sex life regardless because you can tell your partner what you want and they can communicate their needs as well. 

It’s also important to remember that neither form of desire is more correct. Responsive desire doesn’t mean you have a low sex drive or that your sex drive needs fixing. Pay attention to your body and what does or doesn’t make you feel aroused, then communicate that with your partner or partners for a more pleasurable experience for everyone involved.

This article discusses eating disorders and body image, including statistics. As of 2021, at least 30 million people in the United States will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. This can range from anorexia or bulimia, to restrictive eating, to disordered eating habits. Eating disorders can affect anyone of any age and any gender. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Obviously, this is a huge and tragic problem, and maintaining a positive body image can help.

What is body image?

Although people affected by eating disorders have their own triggers or reasons the disorder develops, body image plays a large role in these disorders developing. Body image is the way a person feels about their body and the way it looks. It’s essentially the way you see yourself in this world, and how you feel about it. Your body image and sense of self might be totally different than how others actually see you, and most of the time, we are our own worst critics, so we likely judge ourselves more harshly than other people do.

Some bad body image habits could include excessively weighing yourself or obsessing over your weight or body mass index, looking at your body in an extremely critical way and comparing your body to how it “used to look,” or comparing your body to someone else’s body and putting yourself down because of how you look. Excessive dieting or exercise can also be an unhealthy and dangerous way to cope with poor body image. “Punishing” yourself for eating dessert or something unhealthy by working out extra hard the next day is also unhealthy behavior. 

Comparisons in social media and advertising

With social media, it has become far too easy for people to compare themselves solely based on looks. Even before social media became so popular, the media contributed to unhealthy body image for many people. Movie stars look perfect on-screen, while models look completely flawless in magazines. Luckily it has since become widely known and talked about that magazines often photoshop their models excessively. And it’s also important to remember that movie stars are literally paid to exercise and look a certain way for roles. It is literally part of their job. In the past several years, a few brands have done awesome work to contribute to positive body image for their consumers by featuring people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities in their ad campaigns. 

Aerie is one of my favorite brands that does this. Aerie is owned by American Eagle and sells bras, underwear, swimsuits, and loungewear. Aerie has models of all sizes on their website and in ads in their stores, and they don’t retouch any of the models in their photos. They have models with freckles, birthmarks, piercings, body hair, differently-abled models, and feature models varying in age, size, and race. A lot of Aerie stores also have post-it notes available to place positive affirmations on the dressing room mirror, contributing to feeling good while buying a bra and underwear. Not only do I really enjoy the clothing they sell, I like the experience of scrolling through Aerie’s website and seeing models that look like actual people I know. It’s like seeing your friends modeling awesome clothing for you.

Remember that Instagram isn’t real life

Although positive strides have been made to contribute to positive body image through ad campaigns, social media is, unfortunately, the perfect vehicle for comparing yourself to others. Instagram is literally made up of photos, and because of the nature of social media, people post their best bits and happiest moments. Although we all know intellectually that no one’s life is actually as perfect and curated as it seems online, it still hurts seeing other people look “perfect” if you don’t feel that great about yourself. Additionally, being an Instagram model is now a viable career. No shade to any of these models, but they will highly edit their photos so they look sculpted, smooth, and voluptuous. They are hired to sell products, so similarly to photos in a magazine, these photos are curated to perfection. The only difference here is that we scroll past these models while also scrolling past our friends, so it’s easy to forget that they are hired to model and edit themselves and that they actually don’t look like that.

Your body does not need fixing

Bashing your body is so normalized in our culture, especially for women. So many products are marketed towards us, promising to make our bodies look better as if they need fixing in the first place. Spanx, diet pills, neck exercisers (what the heck?), hair vitamins, products to make our eyelashes grow faster, waist trainers … truly I could go on and on. We are bombarded with products and “fitspiration” to make us think our bodies need all this fixing. That is untrue!! If you are taking care of your body and you are healthy, then there is nothing to “fix,” no matter your size. 

When thinking about body image and the way women are socialized to talk and think about our bodies, I often think of a scene from Mean Girls. It’s that scene where Cady first goes to Regina’s house and all of the friends are looking in Regina’s mirror and they go around one by one and say something they don’t like about their bodies. When Cady just stands there saying nothing, all of the girls turn and look at her, waiting for her to complain about her body too. I know Mean Girls is a comedy and it’s supposed to be satirical, but that moment is so true! Women are told we shouldn’t love our bodies the way they are, and we, unfortunately, bond over disliking ourselves. Let’s change that.

Body image extends to mental health too

When we talk about “healthy” bodies, we often just talk about size and weight, and feeling mentally healthy about your body is left out. If you weigh a certain amount, but in order for you to weigh this amount you eat way less than what your body needs, causing you to develop unhealthy eating habits and obsess over your weight, that is not a healthy weight for you! We need to incorporate mental health and positive body image into the conversation of healthy bodies. Negative body image can not only lead to disordered eating, but it can also lead to anxiety or depression

Body image advice from friends

So what are some things you can do to work on developing a healthier body image and feel good in your body? I asked some of my friends for tips for feeling good in their bodies. Here’s what they said…

One friend said they refrain from diet and body talk around friends and politely redirect the conversation when it comes up.

Several friends said they focus less on actual “weight” and more on how they feel. If they are feeling anxious or sluggish, they’ll go for a walk. They’ll eat more vegetables because it makes them feel good. They pay attention to what they body needs and act accordingly.

So many friends said they remind themselves of all of the amazing things their bodies can do. Running, walking, digesting, existing. 

Several friends said they like to wear clothes that make them look good and feel good. One friend said they like to wear things that are bold and out of their comfort zone to prove to themselves they can pull anything off. 

Several friends said they unfollow accounts on social media that make them feel bad or over-edit their pictures and follow people that are body positive instead.

One friend said listen to Lizzo. (Great suggestion)

Another friend said they practice “body neutrality,” which is acknowledging a thought about their body without judging it as positive or negative, but simply recognizing that thought then letting it go, kind of like in meditation. 

Several friends also said they don’t weigh themselves and tell their doctor not to say their weight out loud when they have a check-up.

I personally recommend going for walks, eating vegetables, and spending more time naked: sleeping naked, looking at yourself naked in the mirror at least once a day, and checking yourself out because by golly you look so good!! I also suggest wearing your body hair however you like it.  I also love the idea of health at any size and think this is a great mindset for the body-positive movement. That means being as healthy as you can mentally and physically, no matter your size. This allows for so many people to look good and feel good in their bodies! 

Follow some body-positive social media accounts and remind yourself of all of the amazing things your body can do and does each and every day. Compliment yourself the way you would gas up a friend! 

If you’re struggling with body image or disordered eating, please ask for help. The National Eating Disorders Association Helpline is 1-800-931-2237 and is available to call Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m.-9 p.m., and Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. EST. You deserve to be healthy, care for your body, and love yourself no matter your size. 

“Ingredients: Rayon and/or Cotton Fiber. Polyester or Cotton String, Polysorbate 20.” Those are the ingredients in my tampon of choice, “Playtex Sport’ unscented tampons. My “U by Kotex” menstrual pads don’t list any ingredients anywhere on the box. Even though I use these products every month, and have used them for YEARS, and will use them for years to come, I’ve never considered what ingredients I’m putting inside of my body.

Organic Ingredients?

If you’ve ever listened to literally any podcast with women on it, you’ve probably heard an ad for Lola. Lola is a subscription-based period product company that uses 100% organic tampons. With Lola and other organic cotton period products becoming popular, there’s been a lot of talk about what ingredients are in menstrual products and whether or not they are safe for us.

Several years ago the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act of 2017 was created. This act proposed that manufacturers had to list all of the ingredients of period products on the box so consumers could be one hundred percent informed. I didn’t realize this wasn’t already enforced, and because the pads I use don’t list ingredients, it seems this act didn’t get passed, so it’s hard to know what you are putting in or close to your body each month.

Finding Research on these Ingredients

From all of the research that I’ve done, it seems people are very unclear about which chemicals in period products are actually bad for us. I found numerous conflicting reports about similar ingredients, so honestly, I’m still not sure which ingredients are truly “good” or “bad.” It is important to note, however, that most of the articles I found talking about how toxic tampon and pad ingredients are were written five or more years ago. This shows that more research needs to be done on this topic so we can have more conclusive and definitive answers. I think part of the reason extensive research on this topic hasn’t been done is that there is such a stigma surrounding menstruation and so much shame in talking about it. We need to talk about periods, and we need to get that research done! But I digress…

Toxic Shock Syndrome

If you use 100% organic period products, obviously you don’t need to worry about any chemicals in your body. Although organic cotton period products don’t have chemicals in them, it is still possible to get Toxic Shock Syndrome from leaving a tampon in for too long. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and leave your tampon in for more than eight hours. You’ll still be at risk for TSS, even if your products are organic. Menstrual cups are also recommended as alternatives for tampons and pads that are full of chemicals. Most menstrual cups are made of body-safe silicone or rubber, last for up to 12 hours, and don’t have the same chemicals in them that tampons do.

From what I’ve found, it seems chlorine, dioxin, BPA, rayon, and “fragrance” are the most harmful chemicals overall. Although there are some misconceptions about chlorine and rayon used in tampons.

Chlorine 

This was used for bleaching tampons in the 1990s, but actual chlorine is no longer used. All brands use chlorine-free bleaching agents to clean their products, and according to the FDA, this is safe. When it comes to tampon production, “bleaching” is used to clean and purify the fibers of cotton or rayon used in the product. The tampon being “bleached” white isn’t the goal or reason for using chlorine in this part of the process.

Bleaching is done to reduce the levels of dioxins in these products. Dioxins are “chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants.” What does that mean? Dioxins are a grouping of dangerous chemicals present in our environment that can be very damaging if high levels of exposure persist. Through these chlorine-free bleaching methods, the levels of dioxins in tampons are severely lessened to a supposedly safe level, and the levels of dioxins in our environment pose a much greater threat than those in our tampons.

BPA 

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastic. You probably see refillable water bottles advertised as “BPA-free”— this is that same thing. BPA has been linked to disrupt hormones and cause other health issues. BPA would only be present in your applicators and not in the actual tampon itself, so look for BPA-free applicators, or use cardboard applicators or applicator-free tampons instead if this is a concern.

Rayon 

This showed up as a “bad” chemical in a lot of my research, but I also found just as many sources saying it’s okay. According to Tampax’s website and the FDA, the rayon used in menstrual products is completely safe. Rayon has been called unsafe because it’s a synthetic material, so people fear that it could increase the likelihood of toxic shock syndrome if any rayon fibers are left behind in the body. This is hasn’t been proven, and just as I said before, even organic tampons can still cause TSS.

Fragrance

You should never use ANY vagina products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient. Fragrances will not only disrupt your vaginal pH, which can lead to infections but products are not required to list what exactly goes into that “fragrance.” Always get unscented tampons, pads, or toilet paper, and stay away from vaginal hygiene products.

Oh and that polysorbate 20 that was one of the ingredients in my tampons? It’s apparently used in a lot of skincare/makeup/hygiene products to help with odor and is “supposedly” not harmful for your body.

Like I said before, it’s hard to know what levels of which chemicals are actually safe for our bodies because of the lack of scientific research done to regulate these products and all of the conflicting information out there. It seems that cotton and rayon tampons are okay, but if knowing completely what ingredients are in your menstrual products is important to you, using 100% organic cotton tampons or a menstrual cup would be the safest. These products don’t use chemicals found in other tampons, and they are fragrance-free.

As I mentioned before, the conflicting reports on ingredients I found while doing research just further show that menstrual hygiene and women’s health needs to be a priority so we can be fully informed on what we’re putting into our bodies.

I remember hearing about “That First Trip” to the gynecologist when I was younger. I wasn’t exactly sure what happened at the gynecologist, I just knew you had to take your pants off in front of some doctor, and this doctor had to stick things inside you to make sure you were healthy. I thought going to the gynecologist was guaranteed to be painful and uncomfortable, and my first trip to the gynecologist was something I was afraid of. When the time for my first visit came I was really nervous, but I was pleased to find all the mystique and scary rumors surrounding my visit were nothing like my actual positive experience.

What is a gynecologist?

A gynecologist is “a physician who specializes in treating diseases of the female reproductive organs and providing well-woman health care that focuses primarily on the reproductive organs.” Gynecologists provide patients with birth control, information about sexual health, menstruation, fertility, as well as treat conditions or vaginal health concerns, and provide Pap smears.

If someone hasn’t already made a visit to the gynecologist well into puberty, it is recommended that you start going for Pap smears either once you become sexually active or once you turn 21. A Pap smear is a test that gynecologists do to test for cervical cancer and overall cervical health. 

What to expect at the gynecologist

After checking in, you’ll be led into an examination room and the nurse will ask you if you have any questions for the doctor. This is a good time to voice any questions or concerns about your sexual health. Asking about contraception, STD tests, pain during sex, or any other sexual health concerns are all things you should feel comfortable asking your gynecologist. For example, I’ve asked my gynecologist how and why some antibiotics make birth control pills less effective.

People often feel uncomfortable talking about sex, but giving you information on your sexual health is what the gynecologist is there for. Even if it seems scary, it is totally normal and important to voice any questions or concerns you have while you are at the office and the doctor can take a look at anything they need to. You won’t be judged – it is literally the gynecologist’s job to help you! 

Asking lots of questions

You can also ask your gynecologist general questions about sexual health and birth control, even if they don’t apply to you. You can inquire about birth control methods you don’t use but have read about, or you could ask about managing emotional health along with sexual health in a relationship. I know that at Planned Parenthood, for example, they always ask questions about your emotional well-being within your sexual relationships, and I just love that.  

Next, you’ll be asked to take your clothes off and wear a robe of some sort and wait until the doctor comes in. You’ll be left alone for a while, then the doctor will arrive. The doctor will likely ask if you have any questions or concerns you want to address, then they’ll start the exam. You’ll scoot your booty to the bottom of the examination table and place your feet in stirrups so your legs are spread nice and wide. The doctor will then place a speculum or a metal instrument into your vagina to hold the vaginal walls open so they can see your cervix. The gynecologist should have various sizes of speculums and will likely use the smallest one when it is your first visit. The doctor will then look at your cervix and take a small little brush to take a sample of your cells. The doctor may also put a finger or two into your vagina and feel around to make sure you have no unnecessary pain or pressure.

It’s not as scary as it seems

I know this all sounds really intense and vulnerable, but it truly is not as scary as it sounds. The most important thing is to try and keep your body relaxed. If you tense up your muscles while the doctor is doing their business, it might be more painful than if you stay relaxed. The actual Pap smear takes less than a minute, so you will only be uncomfortable for a short amount of time.

You can also ask your doctor to explain what they are doing for the exam before they do it. During my first visit, my gynecologist showed me the speculum before inserting it, told me he was using the smallest one and described how he was going to insert it before he did. This helped me feel prepared, relaxed, and overall more comfortable. This visit is about you and your health, so you should feel empowered to ask for what you need to be most comfortable.

How often to go to the gynecologist

While you’re at the visit, the gynecologist will likely also feel your breast tissue to make sure there are no abnormal lumps or anything like that. After that, you’ll have a final chance to ask any questions, then you’ll get dressed, schedule your next appointment, and be on your way.

Talk with your doctor about how often they think you need to get a Pap test, but for most people between the ages of 21 and 29, a test every three years is appropriate. For patients aged 30 to 64 a Pap test with an HPV test every 5 years is appropriate, and patients over 65 might not need Pap tests anymore. It is best to ask your doctor what they think is best for you and your body.

Although visiting the gynecologist isn’t always the most comfortable experience, I always feel good leaving my appointment knowing I’m in control of my sexual health. Knowing that my body is healthy and working correctly makes me feel good. 

If you’re anticipating your first visit to the gynecologist, take a deep breath, relax, and know that people get Pap smears done all the time. It’s important for your health, and after the first visit, you definitely won’t be as nervous.

You’ve likely heard about the menstrual cycle, also known as a period. Maybe you have a period, and even if you don’t, you definitely know someone who does. You probably know that once a month, the person having their period bleeds for about a week (sometimes more and sometimes less), shedding the uterine lining. Pads, tampons, or menstrual cups are used to collect blood and bloating or mood swings sometimes accompany this cycle. Although we know these stereotypical things about the menstrual cycle, how much do we know about ovulation?

Where does ovulation fit in the menstrual cycle?

Ovulation typically occurs about halfway through the menstrual cycle, releasing an egg through the fallopian tubes and waiting to meet up with sperm for fertilization. The typical menstrual cycle lasts between 28 and 32 days, so ovulation will occur between days 10 and 19, or about two weeks before your period. When someone is ovulating, that means they are most fertile because their egg has been released from the ovary and is essentially waiting to be fertilized. 

Although ovulation occurs within the female reproductive system, there are external signs that indicate when someone is ovulating. During this time water retention, changes in mood due to fluctuating hormones, and cramps can all occur. These are fairly typical and well-known signs. There are a few more, less obvious signs of ovulation as well.

How can you track ovulation?

During ovulation, the cervix, the area at the top of the vaginal canal connecting the vagina and the womb, becomes higher, softer, and more open. If you are someone wanting to track your ovulation, you can technically feel your cervix. A lot of people also note having a higher sex drive while ovulating, which makes sense because ovulation is the prime time to get pregnant if that is something you are trying to do. During ovulation, your cervical mucus or discharge might also change slightly. When ovulating, cervical mucus will be slightly stretchy and clear, which helps carry the sperm along to the egg. Tender breasts can also be a sign of ovulation because of the hormone fluctuations experienced at this time.

Besides these bodily changes, there have been studies proving a few other changes. Studies have shown that women who are ovulating are more likely to wear red or pink. Additionally, studies have shown that women’s voices often sound slightly higher when they are most fertile, and their natural scent is more appealing to potential sex partners. An increased sense of smell has also been cited as a sign of ovulation. Similar to your scent being more attractive to potential partners, you are more likely to pick up on their pheromones as well. Although all of these changes have been noted in various studies, they are often so subtle that you likely won’t pick up on them yourself.

How does birth control affect ovulating?

With all this talk of ovulation, it’s also important to note that some people don’t ovulate. If you are pregnant, on hormonal birth control pills, or if you are experiencing menopause, you won’t ovulate. Some women also don’t ovulate while breastfeeding, but some can. Additionally, other hormonal imbalances or medical conditions can prevent ovulation.

The human body is a truly complex landscape and taking a closer look at the menstrual cycle proves just how complex our bodies are. Although not everyone ovulates and not everyone shares every ovulation symptom, it is good to be educated and know what our bodies are up to.