Did you know women can get erections?
7 things I learnt about my body from online sex educators
If you’re lucky, you would have had sex educators in school teaching you about the mechanics of what’s going on in your hormonal pubescent body. You’re handed the basic tools to understand your body, but much is left to the imagination. And seeing how, umm… ‘creative’ our films and TV shows get, it’s safe to say Indians have a wild imagination.
Most sex educators in school are just teachers reading out of a textbook, trying to get through a class without a bunch of teenagers erupting into laughter every five minutes. As appreciative as I am of their efforts, those sessions didn’t adequately prepare me for the real world.
I think the biggest fear that a traditional society like ours has when it comes to comprehensive sex education in schools is that it’s going to “teach kids how to have sex, be promiscuous, dirty-minded and lose our culture” – something a friend’s mum actually said to me.
Before the internet came into our lives and onto the palm of our hands, sex-ed was sneakily reading a stolen copy of Mills and Boon. Then porn became the sex educators of a whole generation, and somewhere in the mix, our understanding of health, sexual and reproductive wellness became far removed from our realities.
But the digital boom has also given us access to professionals like never before. A growing number of sex educators, gynaecologists, therapists and sex-positive activists are using their platforms to debunk myths, and share realistic advice on tackling sex, intimacy and reproductive wellness.
Sex educators online are also more inclusive and far-reaching in their approach to what is deemed ‘necessary information’. They also speak about the intersections of gender, sexuality and identity.
Ever since I started following these sex educators online, I’ve recognised the gap in my knowledge of my own body. Here’s what I’ve learnt.
Stress can temporarily prevent your period
When it comes to our periods, the uterus isn’t the only one running the show. Sitting as co-pilot in this monthly cycle is our brain and hormones, which control pretty much everything going on in our system.
In the tumultuous past year, we got comfortable working from home but our stress levels only went through the roof. And more people started noticing their funky, even painful, period cycle.
According to reproductive health scientist Uteropedia, “Stress activates the hormonal pathway called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, aka the stress response coordinator. The hypothalamus produces corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce an adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH).”
Our adrenal glands start producing more cortisol because of the ACTH. The more we stress, the higher the level of cortisol and it impacts our sex hormones which regulate the menstrual cycle, causing a worsening of PMS symptoms, increase in period pain, the length of your cycle, and sometimes even cause amenorrhea – where you don’t get your period at all.
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Vaginal ‘farts’ are a thing
That first time, it can feel so embarrassing because you have no idea what’s happening. Right when you’re getting hot and steamy, a loud prrfftt and you break into awkward giggles.
I can understand why the sex educators never taught us about this in school. Sex-ed classes were awkward enough, and talk to a group of pre-teens about vaginal farts when the word ‘fart’ itself makes them erupt in laughter would have been an unenviable task.
During intercourse, with long thrusts, air can get pushed up into the vagina. “Your vagina is like a deflated balloon. Fingers, penises, and even toys can push air inside your vagina,” says Dr Tanaya AKA Dr Cuterus.
And of course, what goes up must come down, or out, in this case. Your body expels this air that has nowhere to go, the same way it came in.
It’s embarrassing because we associate the noise with flatulence, its odour and overall digestion – basically the opposite of sexy. Remember that it’s normal and can happen to anyone with a vagina.
Penetrative sex should never be painful
Pain during penetrative sex is one among many coitus conundrums that women deal with. A popular misconception is that penetration, by its nature, comes with some pressure and pain.
Sex educators like Karishma Swarup say that if penetrative sex hurts, something is wrong. “Sex is supposed to provide pleasure, not pain!”
She says that if this is the case, then you may be doing something wrong. For example, you may not be aroused enough or need more lube. Discomfort could also indicate an infection or sexual dysfunction. These can be treated with ease and your pain alleviated with the help of a professional.
If you’re overcoming vaginismus or are apprehensive of penetrative sex after a particularly painful experience, then take your time, take it slow. Swarup adds, “If you don’t enjoy penetrative sex, that’s okay. People can orgasm from clitoral stimulation and can explore lots of other pleasure zones in the body.”
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Female genitals can have erections
I was a grown-ass adult woman at age 26 when I learnt that the clitoris is not a part of the vagina but the vulva – and that the vulva is a separate part of your genitals overall and not just another name for it. Don’t judge me, I know I’m not the only one.
The clitoris itself is a mystery to many. To the touch, it’s that tiny nub, the bump of flesh at the top of the inner labia, before the urethral and vaginal opening. Comprising 8,000 nerve endings, this is your go-to for the easiest road to jannat.
Pallavi Barnwal says that we should think of it as the female equivalent of the male penis. “They both have the same biological origin stemming from the same tissue and capable of erections,” she adds. With the same erectile tissue, when aroused, the clitoris can become firm and engorged.
It may be a small nub on the outside, but Barnwal explains that internally, it can extend up to five inches for some people, extending inside the abdomen.
You need to start performing self breast examinations from the age of 20
Ericka Hart is a sex educator, model and professor who has been doing breast self-exams since she was 13. She’s also a breast cancer survivor. Experts say that you should start performing self-exams starting at age 20 and get a routine check by a professional every two-three years. But a lot of people don’t have access to or the resources to seek professional help unless it’s an emergency.
This is why self-exams are important. But it can be a bit challenging to figure out what to do when you’re completely uninformed – I’ve been there. You can find instruction guides on the internet, but I do struggle with being able to differentiate between what is a possible lump and just a lumpy boob (completely normal). That is why I prefer a visual guide that I can follow along, like the ones Hart shares.
As Hart explains, the more you do the exam, the more familiar you will get with your natural form and be able to tell when something is wrong. She has done many helpful “It’s best to do a self-exam in the shower as you really want to focus on the surface of the breasts, not so much deep tissue which is oftentimes lumpy. And don’t forget your armpit.”
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You need to change condoms with each site
As a dermatologist and venereologist, Dr Niveditha Manokaran’s practice has been rooted in breaking taboos around sexual and reproductive health and uses her platform for the same.
One major tip I learnt from her platform that, in retrospect, seems pretty obvious but never occurred to me is the need to change condoms between different sexual acts. By this, she means that whether you’re going from oral to vaginal, or anal to oral, whichever sequence you’re following, you shouldn’t be using the same condom throughout. Now I know what you’re thinking, I did too – but if it’s with the same person throughout, how does it matter?
“By using the same condoms, you tend to spread and transmit organisms between the sites and, in that way, spread infections,” she says.
‘Good touch-bad touch’ needs to evolve
Sex education begins at home, and Swati Jagdish is an amazing person to follow for advice and tips on how to talk to our children about their bodies, sex and sexuality.
Her entire feed is filled with helpful videos and guides, but the one that really stood out was her perspective on the good touch-bad touch exercise we teach our children. She says that parents need to expand on this notion because it’s not just touching that makes the child feel unsafe. It can be a look, inappropriate jokes, an invasion of personal space, showing body parts, sexual audio and videos.
So instead of teaching good touch-bad touch, Jagdish instead encourages parents to teach their children safe and unsafe behaviours and to tune into their body’s signals for the same.
“So, what are we telling these children? Be OK with everything and anything until a touch happens? What if the touch happens on a non-sexual or private body part? Like the neck, the face and still the child feels bad? We have to come back to what the child feels like when it happens rather than where on their body it is happening.”