It’s no secret that people who get periods can experience a range of symptoms leading up to and during their menstrual cycle. Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, affects the majority of women who get their period. Symptoms of PMS include headaches, bloating, breast tenderness, fatigue, and mood swings, just to name a few. Culturally we seem to have a pretty good understanding of PMS and what that looks like, although people often mock women or discredit their mood because of PMS, which is another issue worth discussing another time. But I digress… Some women, however, experience even more severe symptoms during the week or two leading up to their period. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, is a mood disorder that accompanies the more typical pre-period symptoms in a more serious way. 

According to Mayo Clinic, mood disorders are present when your “emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with your circumstances and interferes with your ability to function.” People with PMDD experience common PMS symptoms, but oftentimes the emotional symptoms are so intense they are debilitating and affect those around them. 

What are the symptoms of PMDD?

Symptoms of PMDD include regular physical pre-period symptoms such as breast tenderness, bloating, cramps, fatigue, headache, and mood swings. Emotional symptoms include extreme sadness or hopelessness, extreme anxiety or tension, extreme moodiness, and extreme irritability or anger. Other possible symptoms include difficulty concentrating, extreme fatigue, binge eating or extreme change in appetite, change in sleep patterns, feeling out of control or panic attacks, and heightened physical symptoms mentioned above. 

To be diagnosed with PMDD you must have at least five of these symptoms, only during the week or two leading up to your period, and for a few days after your period starts. If you experience these symptoms randomly throughout the month not leading up to your period, it’s possible you have a different mood disorder or something else might be going on. The symptoms of PMDD only are present leading up to your period. Symptoms of PMDD begin about one or two weeks before your period starts and quickly disappear about two or three days after your period begins. It’s also important to note that most, if not all, of the symptoms are classified as being “extreme.” 

Misdiagnosing premenstrual dysphoric disorder

About five percent of women who are of reproductive age are diagnosed with PMDD, but that’s not to say more women don’t actually have it. Unfortunately, women’s pain is not taken seriously all the time, and women who seek medical help to figure out what is going on are often told they are just overreacting and being too hormonal, so their symptoms get blamed on PMS, when in fact it’s much more serious. Some women are also misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder when seeking help for premenstrual dysphoric disorder. There aren’t any tests for PMDD, so if you experience these extreme symptoms, you should keep track of when you experience them to help your doctor accurately diagnose you.

Tracking fluctuating hormones

People with premenstrual dysphoric disorder experience these symptoms because of their fluctuating hormones during menstruation, but the cause for this sensitivity to the changing hormones is unclear. As of 2017, the National Institutes of Health did a study that discovered women with PMDD actually have an altered gene complex for the part of the body that processes hormones and stress. This is a huge discovery and not only helps validate the women experiencing PMDD each month, but also opens the door for more research. Some studies have also suggested a link between people with PMDD and low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that helps control mood, sleep, and pain.

Treatments to help PMDD

When you experience PMS symptoms, taking some pain medicine and getting some extra rest can usually help a little. Treating PMDD is a little more complex. Antidepressants that are serotonin reuptake inhibitors are used to treat symptoms of PMDD. Birth control pills containing certain hormones can also be used to treat PMDD and hopefully regulate some of the changing hormones. Natural remedies such as exercise, meditation, and other stress management techniques can also help, although sometimes these practices aren’t strong enough to treat PMDD without medication as well. 

Some people have also found that taking calcium, vitamin B-6, magnesium, and L-tryptophan can also help treat PMDD, and some have found that chaste berry can also help control some of the symptoms. Doing other things that generally help manage anxiety like cutting down on caffeine can also help. These “natural” remedies aren’t approved by the FDA, while the medicine to treat PMDD is, so check with your doctor before exploring the natural route. 

Taking PMDD seriously

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a big deal, and we should start talking about it. Until I wrote this article I didn’t know much about the difference between typical PMS and this disorder. PMDD is a serious medical issue, and women’s pain should be taken seriously. If you think you might have premenstrual dysphoric disorder, start tracking your symptoms and see if they align with your cycle. You can also talk with your doctor about your symptoms and possible treatment if you suspect you have it.

Menstrual health is so important and deserves to be talked about. Your pain surrounding your period is valid and you’re not “crazy” for feeling emotional or not like yourself leading up to your period. It is a serious medical issue! If you suspect you have PMDD or even severe PMS, talk to your doctor. These symptoms can come on two weeks before your period even begins. Living two weeks of your month feel depressed or out of control is a long time to live that way. 

Talk with your doctor about ways to manage it. Your pain is valid. You’re not “too emotional.” You’re not overreacting. Sure, we can experience pain and discomfort leading up to and during our period, (our uterine lining is shedding after all), but it does not need to be debilitating. It should not be debilitating. Track your symptoms, talk to your doctor, and find out if there is a diagnosis that can help you treat your symptoms.

If you know me and have spent more than an hour of your life around me, you know I love talking about sex. If we’re good friends that share parts of our lives with each other, I probably have asked you “How’s your sex life?” or “What’s your relationship with sex and your sexuality right now?” as casually as I’ve asked you how your job is going. That’s because practicing sex positivity is super important to me!

I don’t necessarily mean I love talking about sex in a graphic, “give me every detail of your sex life and I’ll give you mine,” kind of way, but also, if you feel inclined to share, I’ll probably listen. I am incredibly passionate about sex education and normalizing talking about sex so we can take away the cultural shame and stigma surrounding it. I am sex-positive, baby!

What is sex positivity?

Since people’s relationship to sex is so diverse and personal, it’s hard to pin down one, all-encompassing definition for sex-positivity. In general, though, sex positivity is having a positive, open attitude around sex. People who are sex-positive view consensual sex as a healthy part of life that can be openly discussed without shame or awkwardness. It’s also important to point out that you don’t have to have sex to be sex-positive. You can have a positive, open attitude around sex without it being a part of your life.

Stigmas around sex

We live in a sex-negative culture, meaning we receive all sorts of negative messaging surrounding sex that creates shame and stigma. How often have you heard a woman or even teenage girl referred to as a slut for being sexually active? Sex negativity! The idea that “normal” sex only exists within heterosexual marriage and all other sex is taboo or wrong? Sex negativity! Masturbation is dirty and sad? Sex negativity!!! Despite being bombarded with oversexualized women in magazines and on television, and despite seeing graphic sex scenes in movies, we still have a bunch of shame around sex as a culture. Sex positivity is all about breaking up that shame and learning that sex is a natural part of life that can be discussed openly without judgment.

When was the term created?

The term sex-positive has actually been around since the 1920s when Austrian psychoanalyst William Reich coined the term. If this word and idea have been around since the 1920s, then why is there still so much shame around sexuality in our culture?! One large contributing factor is not having comprehensive sexual education in all schools. Some schools teach abstinence-only sexual education or even require a parent’s signature to allow children to receive sex ed, so some kids are either told don’t have sex until they’re married, while some children don’t get any information at all. 

Sex positivity in education

Comprehensive sex education teaches things like consent, as well as LGBTQ+ sex, information about STDs, sexual desire, and the biology behind sex. Having sex education be open and inclusive in the information it is giving will create healthier attitudes towards sex in children and teenagers when they are first learning about it. Studies have also shown that students who receive comprehensive sex education have their first sexual experience at a later age, have fewer instances of STDs, and have a lower rate of teen pregnancy. 

Now that you know what it means to be sex-positive, what are some ways you can practice this? For me, being sex-positive means knowing that sex and sexuality is an essential part of life. Sexuality should be celebrated. I feel free to explore my body and my sexuality without judgment or limitations. I accept other people’s sexual preferences and want to learn more about how people feel good, even if they are not my own preferences. I do not tolerate slut-shaming or the concept of “losing your virginity,” because these ideas perpetuate restrictions and shame put on people, especially young women when it comes to sexual expression. I also know that not everyone wants to have sex, and that is also part of being sex-positive! 

A really important part of sex positivity to me is wanting to learn more about sex and sexual expression. I also strive to never “yuck” somebody’s “yum,” meaning just because someone is into something you wouldn’t find pleasurable, don’t shame them for it! It’s good for them, but not for you, and that’s okay. 

If you’re interested in becoming more sex-positive, but don’t know where to start, look online. There are so many amazing sex educators online who help normalize talking about sexuality. Three of my favorite educators are Esther Perel, Shan Boodram, and Hannah Witton. Start with some education, and eventually, you’ll feel open to discussing sexuality as well. Let’s leave sex-negativity BEHIND in 2021. Sex positivity only going forward!

The first time I heard about menopause was when I was in grade school. My family was visiting my great aunt who is always theatrical and fun, and I remember seeing her have a hot flash. She got up and walked around fanning herself vigorously and all of the adult women in my family giggled together. Since my aunt is already so theatrical, I thought she was just being silly. I didn’t understand what a hot flash was or how intense it could be.

Menopause is something I suppose I have always known I would experience one day, but other than knowing my baby-making hormones will slow down, I’ll stop getting my period, and I’ll have horrible hot flashes, this period of time seems almost like a caricature or something scary and unknown. So other than feeling uncomfortable and having intense hot flashes, what really happens to our bodies during menopause, and what are all of the side effects?

What is menopause?

First thing’s first: menopause is when your period stops permanently and your estrogen and progesterone levels go down. You are officially in menopause when you haven’t had your period for one year. The time leading up to the last menstrual cycle that we typically think of having hot flashes and other side effects are actually called perimenopause or the menopausal transition. This transition into menopause can happen anywhere from four to seven years before your last period, and after you’re in menopause, many symptoms can last for up to 14 years!!! That’s crazy to me! That means that even after your body has gone through these hormonal changes and you’re officially not producing reproductive hormones, you can still experience these pesky symptoms for up to over a decade. How did no one ever tell me this?!

People typically enter into perimenopause between ages 45 and 55, although it could be a little earlier or a little later. This transition begins when your body naturally starts producing less estrogen and progesterone, which are your reproductive hormones. During this transition, you’ll still get a period and can still become pregnant, although your periods might be irregular due to the hormonal shifts. Other side effects during this transition period include hot flashes, migraines, anxiety or depression, vaginal dryness which can lead to pain during sex, memory loss, and trouble sleeping. 

All about hot flashes

Hot flashes are due to these dropping hormone levels and can come and go at any time. Many women will experience really bad hot flashes at night, waking them up from their sleep. These can be treated with hormones, so you can see your doctor and get help managing those. The fluctuating hormones can also cause mood changes and anxiety or depression. Similarly, you can see your doctor about this and find a treatment plan.

Because your reproductive hormones are significantly decreasing, your vagina no longer produces natural lubrication. This can lead to pain during penetrative sex for many women, and can even lead to a lower desire for sex because of how uncomfortable it is. This can be treated by using a water-based lubricant during sex, and can even be treated with vaginal moisturizers, which are put into the vagina and can be used daily or every other day to treat dryness—not just for sex-related purposes. You can also use estrogen cream or talk with your doctor about taking hormones as well. Your sex life doesn’t have to end just because you’re hormones are shifting!

Some women experience memory loss during perimenopause or feel foggy-headed and confused. Getting enough sleep, staying active, and staying social can help with this, but if memory loss is a big problem for you, talk with your doctor. These symptoms slowly start happening as you approach your last period, and like I said they can start four to seven years before that even happens. Once you do have your last period and are officially in menopause after a year of no periods, these symptoms persist. Just like any other hormonal-related thing, some people are affected more than others. Some women experience minor menopause symptoms and are generally unaffected, while other women experience hot flashes so intense they have to eat dinner outside on a cold November day to cool off (a true story my mom told me).

Talking more about menopause

Regarding menopause, I’m most struck by how no one has ever really talked to me about perimenopause and menopause, and what exactly these symptoms look like. I had no idea these symptoms lasted so long and could carry on way past your last period. From the time I was a kid, I remember hearing all about when I would get my first period and what that would be like, but no one talked with me about this transition as well. I spend a lot of time reading and writing about women’s sexual health, yet I somehow still knew very little on this topic. 

I’m honestly quite overwhelmed thinking about all of these symptoms and anticipating this time in my own life, and I think talking about menopause openly with young women could help make this time seem less scary. Women already have to work to manage their periods and period symptoms as well as their fertility during their whole reproductive life, and then after that time winds down, we then have to manage a whole new set of symptoms. We should talk more openly about our reproductive hormones and what all menopause entails. This not only will empower women as they enter menopause themselves, but will also offer support for those women who are already experiencing it.

During a sexual encounter with a new or old partner, you probably learn what they like during sex. A tip I like to use is talking about what each other likes before things start to get sexy to help build a little sexual tension and set each other up for ultimate pleasure once the sex starts. Discussing what someone likes during sex is probably pretty common amongst many partners (I hope!), but knowing what your partner likes after sex is just as important through the practice of sexual aftercare. 

What is sexual aftercare?

Sexual aftercare is a concept made popular by the BDSM and kink community. These types of sexual encounters can involve pain through slapping and biting, or can even involve some more intense toys that combine pain and pleasure. Part of arranging a BDSM “scene” or sexual encounter, is discussing in depth what everyone is and isn’t okay with during sex and also discussing what is needed after sex to help come down from the intense play session and feel safe and comforted. This openness in discussing needs before and after sex should be practiced by everyone, no matter how “vanilla” your sex might be!

What can be included in aftercare?

Aftercare can look like whatever makes you feel best after sex. During sex, feel-good hormones are released, and these hormones are released during orgasm as well. Sometimes people can feel a bit of an emotional comedown after sex once all of these hormones are released, leading to a low mood. Having an aftercare routine that makes you feel comforted and safe can help alleviate some of this. My number one sexual aftercare tip is peeing after sex!!! Especially if you have a vagina. Pee right after sex to avoid a urinary tract infection. Peeing after sex if you have a penis is good for you too, but not as pertinent. 

Maybe after sex, you like to cuddle and talk. Maybe you want to sensually wipe each other down with warm towels. Maybe you are too overheated and need a few minutes to cool off and not touch one another. Maybe you need food. Maybe you need water. Maybe you are energized and want to do an activity together or go for a walk. Stay in bed. Fall asleep. Make a meal. Truly there is no wrong way to do sexual aftercare. Personally, my ideal aftercare routine is 

  1. Pee 
  2. Snuggle in bed 
  3. Ask my partner questions to learn more intimate things about them, whether they are a casual partner or someone I love 
  4. Drink water

Aftercare with any type of partner

Aftercare can be practiced with a casual partner who you only sleep with once or someone you sleep with for the rest of your life. Communicating what you need to feel good after sex, and holding space for someone else to do so will deepen your intimacy no matter the type of encounter. 

I recommend discussing sexual aftercare before you have sex with someone if possible, so that way you know what they need to feel safe ahead of the sexual encounter. If you get caught up in the heat of the moment and can’t discuss first, asking them right after sex is great too! I would also bet that your partner(s) has never been asked about what they need after sex before, which will probably make you a memorable, safe lover. 

Ahh, periods. The monthly bleeding we all know and love. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but plenty of people are familiar with this experience: once a month, if you have a vagina, you’ll release an egg from your fallopian tubes, and if that egg isn’t fertilized, you’ll have your period. This is a regular, routine part of a lot of people’s lives. Sometimes, however, you might experience some light bleeding between your period known as spotting. What’s that all about?

What Exactly is Spotting?

Spotting, also known as breakthrough bleeding or intermenstrual bleeding, is bleeding that occurs outside of your period. Spotting is usually lighter in flow and color than your regular period, even on your lightest days. Spotting is basically your body’s way of getting your attention to tell you something’s up. Spotting can be relatively harmless, but it can also signal some serious stuff is off with your body. If you experience any abnormal bleeding outside of your cycle, contact your doctor. If you call your gynecologist, you can simply ask to speak to a nurse and describe the situation. They can consult you from there and determine if the spotting is serious enough to come in for a check-up. 

What causes Spotting?

Spotting can be caused by a number of issues from hormone changes to stress to sexually transmitted infections. Spotting can be caused by ovulation or changes in your hormone levels. Some people spot a bit during ovulation due to your hormones adjusting. This usually isn’t dangerous, it’s just a reaction to your hormone levels shifting throughout your cycle. 

Speaking of shifting hormones, you might also experience some breakthrough bleeding due to hormonal birth control. If you take the pill, use Nuvaring, the patch, or the implant, or even a hormonal IUD (these all work using varying amounts of estrogen and progestin), you might experience spotting when first starting or stopping any of these birth control methods. Additionally, if you take the birth control pill and usually have a period week if you ever skip your period week and start your next pack of pills a week early, you might also experience some spotting. This is because of those changing hormone levels. 

Your “period” on the pill isn’t actually a period because you’re not ovulating, it’s actually a withdrawal bleed from the steady dose of hormones your body gets from the pill. Your body is at a certain point in its cycle with the pill before your “period” week, so if you start your next pack a week earlier than you usually do, it’s possible you could spot a little. This is also usually harmless, but call your doctor just to confirm. You can also experience breakthrough bleeding as you’re entering menopause. There are a lot of hormonal shifts going on during this time, so spotting can be a common indicator that menopause is approaching.

Extreme stress can cause breakthrough bleeding as well. Whether this stress is mental stress such as anxiety or depression, or stress on your body through exercise, weight loss, or weight gain, this can affect your hormones. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and when this hormone is wacky, it can affect your estrogen and progesterone levels.

Spotting can also occur very early on in pregnancy. Light spotting isn’t a cause for concern, but if you experience heavy bleeding, that could be a sign something is wrong. If you’re pregnant and experience spotting, even if it is light, I’d advise consulting your doctor just to be safe. 

A whole range of infections can also trigger spotting. Sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections, polycystic ovary syndrome, and pelvic inflammatory disease are just a few infections that can cause spotting. Because the range of causes is so wide, it’s super important to check with your doctor asap so you can treat the infection before it gets too serious.

Seeing Red After Sex

Some people also experience spotting after sex. It’s common for someone with a vagina to bleed after first-time penis-in-vagina sex, and a lot of people think this is because of the hymen breaking. The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds the vaginal opening, and the truth is most people break their hymen in childhood riding a bike, or a horse, or doing a toe touch, and some people don’t have a hymen to begin with, so sex has nothing to do with it, but I digress… Bleeding after first-time sex is largely due to the tensing of muscles or lack of lubrication. 

It’s also common for people with vaginas to bleed after sex, even if they regularly have it. This happens when the cervix gets irritated due to particularly rough intercourse of tensing of your muscles. Call your doctor to investigate what might cause this. In general though, a great way to cut down on bleeding after sex is to use lube and make sure you have enough foreplay. The vagina needs time to relax and prepare itself for intercourse. Also, bleeding after sex or painful sex is not normal, so please call your doctor if you experience this because you deserve pain-free, pleasure-filled sex. 

As with any sort of health issue, it’s often hard to tell exactly what the cause of a symptom is. If you experience any sort of spotting, call your doctor. It is likely due to hormones or birth control, or something else that is harmless, but just to be safe, call and check-in. 

“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.

Soy has become increasingly popular over the past few years with more people cutting dairy and meat out of their diets. Soy is full of nutrients and an excellent source of protein, and it serves as a great meat alternative for anyone wanting to cut down on meat consumption. With the increased popularity of soy, there has been some concern over how soy affects estrogen levels in the body, and what that means for overall health.

What is Soy?

Soy comes from soybeans, which have very high concentrations of isoflavones, or plant estrogen. This plant estrogen is similar to estrogen in the human body, but it’s a bit weaker. Because it is similar to human estrogen, the estrogen receptors in our bodies can bind to these isoflavones, which in theory could mess with estrogen levels in people. The main concern with these isoflavones and human estrogen is an increased risk of breast cancer or thyroid issues.

Despite these concerns, there is no definitive answer to whether or not soy negatively affects your health. Infants and women are at higher risk of being affected by this because of how estrogen affects their bodies. 

Research and Effects

A lot of studies have been done on animals, and in these studies, soy does negatively affect estrogen levels. Although this might seem like an indication of how it affects humans, it doesn’t really help much. Animals and humans metabolize food so differently that scientists can’t really use the animal study results to predict human results. Studies on isoflavones in humans have also been done, and these studies have shown no clear evidence that it increases the risk of breast cancer or thyroid disease. Studies have even shown that soy can help decrease your risk for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some studies have suggested there’s a possible link between soy and increased risk of breast cancer in women who have a family history, but overall it’s unclear. Overall though, if you eat a “moderate” amount of soy, that is one or two servings per day, you should be okay.

As far as how it affects your thyroid, that is also unclear. There have been no conclusive studies showing that soy increases the risk of thyroid disease, but it could possibly affect medicine taken to treat hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. People who have this can take prescription medicine to treat it, and people have thought that soy can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb this medicine. Again, there’s no clear evidence to support that soy significantly impacts the body’s ability to absorb the medicine, but it’s suggested that people that take meds for low thyroid wait at least four hours before eating soy just to be safe. 

Benefits of Soy

Although there is still research being done to determine if soy can negatively impact your health, the positive impacts are definitely clear. It has many nutrients in it including B vitamins, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and protein. It is an especially good source of protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies get solely from the food we eat. Coming from a plant, that is especially awesome. It is often used as a meat substitute and cutting down on the amount of meat you eat can improve your health. Cutting down on the meat you eat also positively impacts the environment, which is an added bonus. Because of the estrogen present from the isoflavones, some women have used soy to treat menopause symptoms like hot flashes, but again, it comes as no surprise that definitive research hasn’t proven if this scientifically works or not. If you try it and it works, more power to ya.

As a soy lover myself, it can be a little scary to hear that it can negatively impact my health, but it’s also frustrating to know that there is no definitive answer for if this is true or not. Based on all of the research that’s been collected so far, it seems overall that a bit of soy in your diet definitely does more good than bad. I’m going to keep loving tofu until science tells me otherwise.

If you have a vagina, you’re familiar with discharge. Discharge is a fluid produced by the vagina and cervix to help keep them clean. Discharge is 100% healthy and normal. It’s truly essential for vaginal health and a great indicator that your body is working well. There’s a lot of shame put on women for how “clean” their vaginas are and how they smell, and the discharge they produce. That’s a crock of bull! Your vagina should smell like a vagina, and you should definitely be producing discharge.

What is a healthy discharge?

Your discharge changes throughout your monthly cycle, indicating different things about your ovulation, as well as overall vaginal health. Because your discharge changes so much every month, it’s important to know what healthy discharge looks and smells like, and what discharge your body produces when you have an infection.

Normal, healthy discharge can be clear, whitish/cream-colored, or light yellow. Healthy discharge will have a slight smell to it, but this should be fairly mild and consistent throughout your cycle. Healthy discharge is also slightly sticky. Your discharge will become thin and more slippery when you are sexually aroused or ovulating. 

Issues to watch for

If your discharge is white, thicker than usual, or clumpy and has an abnormally strong smell, you likely have an infection. White “cottage cheese” like discharge with a bad smell and irritated vulva/vagina is a tell-tale sign of a yeast infection.

Yellow-green discharge that is thick or clumpy indicates you have a sexually transmitted infection. It’s normal for your discharge to be slightly yellowish, but if it’s dark yellow or green, you probably have an STI.

Discharge that’s pink or red is related to your period. Pink discharge right before or right after your period is normal. Red is obviously your period blood. Pink discharge after penetrative sex can also be common due to irritation of the cervix. Although this can happen every once in a while, you shouldn’t be bleeding regularly after penetrative sex, and penetrative sex shouldn’t hurt, not only because you deserve pleasure, but also because this could be a sign of a greater issue. Consult your doctor if you bleed regularly after sex or experience pain with sex.

What does discharge do?

Discharge is such an important part of vaginal health. It literally cleans your vagina and lets you know that your body is working well. Because it’s so essential for vaginal health, it’s really important to stay in tune with your body and pay attention to your discharge. Tracking your cervical mucus can even be used as a form of fertility awareness for birth control. If you notice the consistency, color, or smell of your discharge change drastically, or if it matches any of the descriptions I listed above, go see a doctor. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you have an infection or some other problem. 

Additionally, if you have any itchiness or irritation, redness around the vaginal opening, pain while you pee, or regular spotting after sex accompanying your changing discharge, go see your doctor!

It’s 2021, people — it’s time to stop feeling ashamed of our bodies, and it’s time to stop this idea that vaginas are smelly or dirty because they aren’t! Sure, discharge isn’t the most glamorous thing in the world, but it’s healthy, normal, and a sign your body is working well. And you should never be ashamed of that.

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.

If you’ve ever worked in any service job, you’ve probably dealt with managing your emotions to keep the customer happy. If you work at a restaurant and you bring food to your table, and the customer says their sandwich came with a sauce on it they didn’t ask for, you need to stay positive and offer a solution to keep the customer also feeling positive so they’ll return to your restaurant. You have to manage your feelings while also managing the emotions of the people around you. This idea of managing emotions, feelings, and expressions is called emotional labor. With Mother’s Day in May, it feels especially right to discuss emotional labor, as women often exercise it most. 

What is emotional labor?

The concept of emotional labor was first fully explored by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her 1983 book The Managed Heart. When Hochschild was first discussing emotional labor, she mostly explored this concept in regard to work relationships. Other professions that require a great deal of emotional labor are teachers, nurses, flight attendants, or hotel management, just to name a few.

Since Hochschild’s initial writing on the topic, many other sociologists have delved deeper into studying emotional labor. This topic has now been expanded beyond just showing up in work situations. Emotional labor also is present in people’s everyday domestic lives, and unfortunately, women often bear the brunt of emotional labor in many relationships.

Examples of emotional labor for women

The first time I heard the term “emotional labor” and saw a lengthy explanation of it was a Harpers Bazaar article written by Gemma Hartley. In the article, Hartley describes how she asked her husband to hire a house cleaning service for her as a Mother’s Day gift. She wanted her husband to handle it all so she could relax and enjoy a clean home. She didn’t want to have to go through the trouble of looking up cleaning services, comparing prices, and reading reviews—she wanted her husband to do that for her as part of the gift.

Instead, her husband cleaned the bathrooms himself, which is a nice gesture, but Hartley describes that she ended up watching their children and cleaning up some clothing and a box her husband left out in their closet. Her husband says she should have just asked him to put the box away, and as the author expresses, the whole point is she doesn’t want to have to ask. She wanted to feel cared for by her partner in the same way she cares for him.

Bearing the full responsibility of managing a household and making sure everyone is cared for is a lot of work. Updating a calendar with everyone’s schedules, packing lunches for children to take to school, washing and folding laundry, asking your partner to clean up after themselves, asking them a second, third, and fourth time to clean the bathroom even though it’s their responsibility and they shouldn’t need to be reminded. These are all examples of emotional labor women often are responsible for in a home.

The actual, physical work isn’t the emotional labor— all of the little things you do for others that make their lives easier, and the process of asking your partner to also do their work and share in the responsibilities is the emotional labor.

How can we manage emotional labor?

Having conversations with your partner about them pitching in more, being considerate of their feelings, making sure they understand you asking them to help out and do their chores without being asked multiple times is not an attack on their character, is emotional labor. All the while you just do what needs to be done because if you don’t do it, no one will.

So why is it that women often bear a great responsibility for this? There’s the old stereotype that men will go out into the world and work a full-time job while women stay at home and raise the children and look after the house. Maybe some of this is due to old gender norms sticking around, but honestly, I’m not quite sure. But many modern relationships have both partners working full time, so shouldn’t the housework and in-home responsibilities be split equally?

Obviously, every relationship won’t have this exact dynamic, but if you google “emotional labor,” you’ll find article after article citing specific examples of women handling emotional labor in the home. Think about your own upbringing and who was in charge of domestic and emotional care in your home. Think about those responsibilities in your own life now and who takes care of them in your various relationships.

Do what works for you and your relationship

Everyone has to do some sort of emotional labor in their lives, but if you are thanklessly responsible for the majority of this labor in your home, you should feel able to change that.

If you’re feeling like you are bearing the brunt of all of this in-house labor and you’re having to constantly remind your partner to do their share of housework, run errands, etc., then it might be time for a conversation with them about equally distributing work. Yes, you’ll want to be considerate of their feelings when you talk with them, but you are not nagging! You’re simply asking for an equal share of responsibility. And if your partner loves you and cares about you, then they should want to actively share the responsibility.