Urinary tract infections are incredibly common, and many people will have at least one UTI at some point in their life. When a friend asked me why some people get UTIs more frequently than others and I was unable to answer, I realized I didn’t know as much about these pesky infections as I thought. 

How do urinary tract infections work?

Urinary tract infections affect your urinary system, AKA your urethra and bladder. The urethra is the little opening where your pee comes out, and internally, it’s a tube that carries pee from your bladder. There are two types of UTIs: cystitis (infection in the bladder) and urethritis (infection of the urethra). The symptoms and treatment for both types are the same, so if you get a UTI, you probably won’t know the difference, and that’s okay. Both types are treated the same.

Although UTIs are incredibly common and fairly easy to treat, the infection can spread to your kidneys if left untreated. It’s important to know the symptoms and treat your UTI right away so the infection won’t spread. 

What are the common symptoms of UTIs?

The most common symptom of a UTI is feeling like you constantly need to pee, even if you just went. The infection can also cause cramping and pain in your lower abdomen, pain when you pee, cloudy urine, blood in your urine (which is more common in younger patients), smelly urine, or feeling tired, shaky, or weak (which is more common in older patients). If you have a UTI, you might not have all of these symptoms, but these are the most common ones to look out for.

Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria getting into your urethra or bladder. This bacteria can come from sexual fluids, fecal matter, or bacteria from the anus. People with vulvas get UTIs 30 times more often than someone with a penis because the placement of their urethra opening is in close proximity to the anus. And within that group of people with vulvas, unfortunately, some people get UTIs more frequently due to the placement of their urethra opening. Some people can get as many as two infections in six months or three in a year. If you are one of those people, consult your doctor about options for continual treatment and prevention methods.

How can you prevent UTIs?

To prevent UTIs, you should always pee after having sex or masturbating to flush out any bodily fluids that may have gotten near or in your urethra. If you are putting anything in your anus during sex, either put a new condom on it or thoroughly wash it before penetration of the vagina occurs. Keep that bacteria out of there! If you use spermicide or a diaphragm for birth control and get frequent UTIs, talk to your doctor because that might be the culprit.

You should also wipe front to back when going to the bathroom to avoid bringing any bacteria from the anus forward. Avoid holding your pee for too long, and drink plenty of water to continually flush out your body throughout the day. Change out of wet or damp swimsuits and workout clothes ASAP to prevent infection. Additionally, wash your private parts when you shower to keep things clean. And just wash with water—douching or using feminine hygiene products can cause UTIs.

If you think you have a UTI your doctor will test your urine to see if you do. If you have one, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics and should feel better within a few days. Make sure you take your antibiotics until they are gone even if you feel better immediately to make sure the infection is completely gone. If you get UTIs frequently, some people say drinking unsweetened cranberry juice or taking cranberry pills can help. This is because cranberries may help keep bacteria from attaching to the walls of your urinary tract, which would lead to infection.

Although UTIs are painful and inconvenient, they are incredibly common and treatable. If you get a UTI you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed. Do make sure you go to the doctor to treat it right away so it doesn’t develop into a more serious infection. Follow the tips mentioned above to help prevent them and you should be good to go!

Seventy-five percent of people with vaginas experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, while nearly 30% of people will experience bacterial vaginosis. Yeast infections and bacterial infections are extremely common, and in fact, you’ve probably experienced one before. Although they are so common, they are not commonly talked about due to stigma or discomfort, so you might not even know the difference between the two. Luckily, I have no discomfort in talking about anything related to sexual health or vaginas, so I can tell you all about these two infections experienced by nearly everyone with a vagina!

Yeast and bacterial infections are both types of vaginitis. Vaginitis is when the vulva (the outer folds of the vagina), and/or vagina (the actual canal inside the body), are inflamed and irritated. This is caused by a number of different things such as wearing a wet swimsuit for too long, using scented laundry detergent, or having sex. 

What are yeast infections?

A yeast infection, also known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, occurs when the natural yeast in your vagina grows out of control. Vaginas have yeast in them, and this yeast usually exists without any problems. Your vaginal yeast can grow out of control if the natural balance of your vagina gets thrown off. This can happen due to changes in hormones during a menstrual cycle or pregnancy, from taking antibiotics, a weak immune system, or through a “natural reaction to another person’s genital chemistry.” Yeast infections aren’t contagious, and they aren’t STDs, however, you could disrupt your body’s natural yeast by coming in contact with someone whose genital yeast you don’t jive with. For example, you could get a yeast infection after having sex with a new partner because their genital yeast irritates you. Crazy, right? Additionally, if you notice certain products like bath bombs or laundry detergent irritate your vulva, get rid of them, as these can cause the infection as well.

What are the symptoms of yeast infections?

The most common symptoms of yeast infections are redness, itchiness, and discomfort of the vulva and vagina. You might experience some thick, white, “cottage cheese” like discharge, although not everyone with a yeast infection has a change in discharge. Although the discharge might look different, a change in the smell of discharge with a yeast infection isn’t noticeable. You might also notice a white coating in the folds of your vulva or vagina. If you have a lot of irritation or if you scratch at your itchy crotch, it might also sting a little bit when you pee. Although these symptoms might seem alarming, yeast infections are easily treatable.

Yeast infections are treated with anti-fungal medicine in the form of a cream or pill. You can get over-the-counter yeast infection medicine like Monistat, or your doctor can prescribe you some. Usually, this cream can be put on the vulva and is inserted into the vagina as well. Although yeast infections aren’t STDs or contagious, you should wait to have sex or put anything in your vagina until you are done with your treatment to avoid further irritation. 

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Now, onto bacterial vaginosis! Similar to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis or BV, is caused by an imbalance in your vagina. BV is caused when the healthy bacteria in your vagina get out of balance and grow too much. Anything that throws off the natural pH of your vagina can incite this imbalance and lead to BV. A lot of things can throw off your vaginal pH, including scented pads or tampons, scented toilet paper, having new or multiple sexual partners, or douching. Truthfully, a lot of the things that can cause a yeast infection can also cause BV.

How is it different from a yeast infection?

Eighty-four percent of people with BV don’t experience symptoms or their symptoms are so mild they don’t even notice. If you do experience symptoms, however, they include irritation similar to the yeast infection, and a fishy-smelling discharge that can be thin, milky white, or grayish in color. The fishy smell is often strongest after sex or while you pee. As with a yeast infection, BV isn’t an STD and is easily treatable, although having BV can increase your risk of getting an STD.

BV is treated with antibiotics. Similar to yeast infection treatment, these antibiotics are either in gel or cream form that you put in the vagina or in a pill form. Again, wait to have sex or put things in your vagina until you finish your antibiotics and your symptoms clear up. If you have frequent bouts of BV, taking probiotics can help balance out your body’s natural bacteria.

Although uncomfortable and annoying, both of these forms of vaginitis are fairly common, and you’ll probably experience one or both at least once in your life (if you have a vagina of course). Because these infections are so common, there’s no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed if you experience either. The yeast and bacteria in your vagina can be thrown off by many little things, so it is important to pay attention to your body, your vulva, and your vagina. It’s easy to discount a little itchiness or discomfort as “normal,” but it could be your body telling you that you have a yeast or bacterial infection. Pay attention to your symptoms and see a doctor if you think you have an infection. After a few days of taking medicine, you should feel better!

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.

If you’ve ever had a period, you know all of the annoyances that can come along with it. Cramps, irritability, and ruined underwear are just some of the issues you might deal with when managing your period. Drastic changes to your skin during your menstrual cycle might also be something you struggle with. Most people who get their period experience hormonal acne, or period skin, right before or during their period week, but your skin is constantly changing throughout your menstrual cycle.

Why do hormones affect my skin?

Right before or during your period you might notice your skin is more dry, oily, sensitive, and broken out than usual. These changes in your skin are due to your changing hormones during your menstrual cycle. During your cycle, your levels of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, and it just so happens that these two hormones greatly affect your skin. 

Estrogen is basically responsible for all things radiant and lovely in your skin. Estrogen affects your skin’s hydration, collagen production, skin thickness, skin’s ability to heal, and the effectiveness of your skin as a barrier. Progesterone, which is the other dominant hormone during your menstrual cycle, is responsible for triggering breakouts. Progesterone closes up the skin’s pores and causes a build-up of sebum to be trapped under your skin. Sebum is an oily substance produced by your sebaceous glands, which start making oil during puberty.

What type of period skin changes should I expect?

During the first week or so of your menstrual cycle, estrogen levels are fairly low. Because of estrogen’s effect on retaining moisture in the skin, your skin might feel a little dry or dull during this period. Other than that though, your skin shouldn’t be too irritated and should be looking and feeling pretty good. The next phase of your cycle, the follicular phase, occurs between days 10 and 16 in your cycle. During the follicular phase, estrogen and testosterone levels rise. Your skin will look its best during this phase because of the increased hormone levels. Your estrogen increases during this time because your body is preparing for ovulation. The next phase is ovulation, which occurs halfway through your menstrual cycle, which for most people is around day 14 of the cycle. During ovulation, your estrogen and testosterone levels begin to drop, and your skin will continue to look and feel healthy for a few days as your progesterone levels increase. The final phase of your cycle is the luteal phase, which is right before and during your period. During this phase, your progesterone levels are up, which, as we learned earlier, traps oil in your pores. Your skin will be at its oiliest and most broken out during this phase. 

Some people also report having increased skin sensitivity right before and during a period. This sensitivity is due to prostaglandins, which are chemicals that are released as your uterine lining sheds. Prostaglandins cause inflammation throughout the body in general, which we can feel the effects of on our skin during this time. 

What period skin care tips should I follow?

So what are some things you can do to manage your ever-changing skin during your monthly cycle? Experts recommend always washing your face and not sleeping with makeup on. Wash your face twice a day and be sure to moisturize, especially during the beginning period of your cycle when your skin is clear but dry. As your skin gets more oily, avoid oil-based moisturizers, wear your hair back off your face more, change your pillowcase more frequently, and avoid touching your face. Experts also say to use a gentle cleanser on your skin during the times when it is most irritated. Exfoliating or using harsh face washes will only inflame your face more, so save those for the beginning of your cycle.

Maintaining a balanced diet can also help your skin stay clear. Every article I’ve read as research recommended limiting sugar and caffeine to help keep your skin clear, which can be so hard during your period when you are craving both of those things. Flo.com has a great article with specific skincare tips for each phase of your cycle.

Are there other options for treatment?

If your skin really suffers during your period, talk to your doctor. Hormonal birth control is often prescribed to treat hormonal acne, but there are other options as well. Hormonal birth control contains varying levels of estrogen and progesterone and shuts down ovulation, so the pills can help regulate your hormone levels and manage your acne.

Now that you know exactly what’s going on with your skin each month, you should be better prepared to combat breakouts and treat your skin well. Good luck!

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. 

Living with frequent migraines can cause many intense symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity, nausea, and even seeing an aura of light around your eyes. If you experience an aura during migraines, you’ll often see flashing lights, zigzags of light, or even blurry lights in your peripheral vision. If you are someone who is prone to migraines, another risk factor can be hormonal birth control pills. Migraines and hormones are more closely related than most of us may realize. 

How are migraines and hormones related?

Hormonal birth control pills use combinations of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to help prevent pregnancy. Changing levels of estrogen that occur naturally in our bodies can often trigger migraines. Have you ever experienced a headache in the days leading up to your period? That’s because your estrogen levels drop during this time, triggering headaches or migraines. Because headaches and migraines can be triggered this way, some doctors prescribe birth control pills to patients to treat headaches. For others, this is just an extra perk of taking the combination pill for other reasons. In some cases though, it can increase the risk of stroke and other serious health complications to take the combination (estrogen and progesterone) pill.

If you get migraines regularly and particularly get migraines accompanied by an aura, ask your doctor about your birth control options. Typically, doctors don’t recommend people taking the pill with estrogen in it if they also get auras with their migraines, or if they have a family history of migraine or blood clots. If you have this history, the estrogen in the pill could increase your risk of stroke, deep vein thrombosis, also known as blood clots, or cardiovascular disease. 

Alternate birth control options

So what do you do if you are someone who wants to take birth control and also has a history of migraine auras? First, speak with your doctor about it. It’s important to be transparent with your doctor about your health history when getting new medication anyway, but especially mention if you have a history of migraines. In addition to the combination pill, there is also a pill with just progesterone that could work for someone with migraines. There are also non-hormonal birth control options like condoms or the copper IUD. If you’re someone with no history of migraines, but you start having migraines after starting hormonal birth control, go chat with your doctor about it immediately. It’s important to mention all of these symptoms and things you notice in your body so you can be as healthy as possible.

Talking to your doctor about migraines and hormones

I first learned that migraine auras plus birth control pills can be dangerous over the summer when a co-worker of mine told me she needed to go see her doctor because she was starting to get bad migraines and was on the combination pill. Despite being on the pill myself for many years, I had never heard of this! My doctor never told me about the dangers of migraines and the pill. This just shows the importance of talking about women’s health out loud and without shame! Ask your doctor questions, even if they seem silly. Talk to your friends about what birth control they are taking if you are considering it. Talk to them about other health issues. It’s normal to talk openly about all this stuff because it not only keeps us more informed, but it also keeps us healthier and prevents serious complications in the future.

A very promising vaccine trial to treat HIV took place earlier this year. A report published in February by IAVI and Scripps Research reported a very successful initial trial for an HIV vaccine. This is a huge discovery not only for HIV research and treatment but for vaccine research in general. 

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that takes over cells in the body of an infected person and weakens the immune system, making it impossible for the virus to get cleared out of the infected person. HIV can be spread through certain bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid or pre-cum, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. People can become infected with HIV by sharing a needle or having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with HIV. AIDS is the final stage of HIV. A person is diagnosed with AIDS if or when their immune system is no longer working the way it should. HIV turns into AIDS if the virus is untreated and weakens the immune system over time. Thanks to modern medicine, someone with HIV can live a full and healthy life and never progress to AIDS. This promising vaccine trial is another great step in the right direction for HIV treatment

How does the HIV vaccine work?

The vaccine is designed to target B cells, which then will trigger the body to produce “broadly neutralizing antibodies.” The vaccine is designed to be an “immune primer” and produces several different types of bnAbs. Using bnAbs has been a method for HIV treatment for many years, and this vaccine is targeting these antibodies as part of a multi-step vaccine treatment plan. The theory is that these antibodies will attach to HIVs surface proteins, disabling them once they enter the human body.

HIV has been a notoriously difficult virus to develop a vaccine for because of how quickly it mutates. This initial trial was 97% successful, which seems extremely promising.  This trial used 48 participants, giving some a placebo and some the actual vaccine. The trial had success in producing the bnAbs the scientist created it to produce. Many scientists involved are excited about this vaccine working for HIV, but also using a similar method to develop vaccines for other viruses that are quickly mutating as well.

The stigma of HIV/AIDS

During the 1980s when the HIV and AIDS epidemic hit, there was so much prejudice and misinformation going around. People with the virus did not get the treatment they needed, and because the virus was so new, very little was known about it. Since the epidemic, so much research has been done to make living with HIV totally possible and nontransmittable to others. Many medications have been developed over the years to treat HIV, and this vaccine showing promise in the early stages is exciting as well. With each new development, the stigma of living with HIV will shrink, and those who do have the virus will be able to live a totally healthy life and keep the virus under control. 

For more information on the initial vaccine trials, check out this article from europeanpharmaceuticalreview.com

I remember seeing a chart for monthly breast self-exams hanging in the shower in my parent’s bathroom when I was a kid. There were about four or five illustrations of a woman doing a breast self-exam with text explaining what she was doing. Since I couldn’t read when I first saw it, my little kid’s brain thought she was doing a fun dance. I would wave my arms up over my head like the woman in the pictures and dance around in the shower. Now that I’m an adult and have talked with my doctor about doing breast self-exams, I now know the importance of doing this check each month.

What is a breast self-exam?

Breast self-exams are an easy, inexpensive way for people with breasts to check for lumps or irregularities in their breast tissue each month. Self-exams should in no way replace having your primary care doctor or gynecologist check your breast tissue when you visit, and they shouldn’t replace mammograms either. Self-exams are meant to supplement the professional care you get to check your breast tissue. Mammograms typically aren’t necessary until you’re in your 40s anyway, so you want to make sure you’re aware of your breast health from a young age.

Why should I do a self-check?

Self-exams are so important because about forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by people who notice a lump in their breast. All people with breasts should start doing self-exams once they develop breast tissue or go through puberty. You should do a self-check breast exam once a month. My birth control pack actually has a little note written after my first week of pills that says “Monthly breast self-exam” to remind me to check. You could also put a reminder on your phone or in your calendar, or just do it each month when you get your period. 

When doing a self-exam, you’re looking for any changes in shape or color with your breasts or nipples, and also feeling for any bumps or lumps. In addition to checking for irregularities in your breast tissue, I think breast self-exams are awesome because it prompts you to pay attention to your body and get comfortable with it. 

There are a few steps for a breast self-exam, and it only takes a few minutes

Stand in front of a mirror and have your arms by your side or on your hips. Observe your boobs! What do you see? Do they look the same they always do? Do you notice any discoloration, dimples, or swelling? You should contact your doctor if you notice any dimpling or puckering, bulging, redness or soreness, or nipples that have changed position. Additionally, if your nipples are expelling any liquid or discharge, contact your doctor ASAP!

Next, while still in front of that mirror, lift your arms up. (This is the part on my mom’s chart in the shower I interpreted as a dance, but who can blame me?) With your arms lifted, look for all of the same things you were looking at before. 

You should also check your breast tissue while lying down. Your tissue spreads out all over when you’re lying down, positioning everything a little differently. Lay down and use the tips of your fingers to feel around. Put a pillow under your right shoulder, stretch your right arm up, and feel with your left hand. Use varying amounts of pressure as you feel around. Make sure to feel all the way into your armpit (you’ve got breast tissue in there, baby!), and under your boobs as well. The underboob area is sometimes hard to see in the mirror, so it’s important to feel for it. When you’re feeling around, it’s helpful to go in a pattern. You could start at your nipple and move in small circles going outward, or you could feel in lines across your breast. Just make sure to touch the whole breast. Repeat on the other side.

And finally, do a check standing or sitting up. A lot of people like to do a standing check in the shower (hence my mom’s chart in her shower) because your skin is slippery, making it easier for your fingers to glide over your breast. You’ll basically do the same movements you did to feel your boob when you were lying down. Pay attention to any lumps or bumps you feel.

What if I notice an issue?

If you do find a lump, dimpling, discharge, or change in your nipples, contact your doctor. A lot of women get small bumps or lumps in their breast tissue during their period because of hormonal changes, so if you notice a bump during that time, it might be due to hormones. If that lump persists and doesn’t go away by your next period, it could be something else. Just to be safe, if you notice any irregularities, call your doctor and tell them what’s up. They can guide you through your next steps. 

Staying on top of your health is super important, and your breast health is no exception. Build in your monthly check as part of your self-care or health routine. It doesn’t take long, and if you find a lump or irregularity, it could literally save your life to be on top of your breast health. Remember, self-exams are only meant to supplement exams by your doctor or mammograms. Get comfy with yourself and stay on top of your breast health.

Illustrations depicting a breast self-exam can be found at nationalbreastcancer.org and breastcancer.org.