Many of us think of gynecology as a practice within the female domain only – something that as women, we’re required to participate in with a clinical detachment, ensuring only that our reproductive systems are functioning appropriately, that there’s nothing unusual going on in our pelvic organs, vagina, and vulva, and to get treatment if there are issues.
But the truth is, today’s gynecologists may take a more holistic, in-depth approach. They may go beyond pelvic exams and pap smears to get to the root of sexual health and reproductive concerns – issues that concern not only women but their male (or female) partners as well.
So let’s explore several reasons why everyone can benefit from a women-centered gynecologist.
To feel comfortable discussing sexual health
Despite advances, some of us are still reluctant to discuss sexuality or sexual health, even with our doctors. To help break down that stigma and encourage open dialogue, it’s helpful to start early.
“The American College of OBGYN recommends young women start visiting a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15 – not to have a pap smear or a mammogram, but to begin a trusted relationship,” says Dr. Maria Sophocles. “You’re going to meet someone so that you can ask questions about anatomy, about self-touch, about contraception, about so many things that you may not need or use yet but can feel comfortable with.”
And once this comfort level is established inside the office, it’s easier for women to feel comfortable discussing it with their partners as well – or even bringing them to their appointments to discuss concerns together.
To remove the sense of shame surrounding sexual health and self-pleasure
Part of the reluctance to discuss sexual health stems from a sense of shame around sexuality that many of us learned growing up – much of it gender-based shame towards women’s bodies and women’s sexuality as a whole. A good, women-centered clinician can counsel both women and men towards unlearning this sense of shame towards female genitalia and sexuality in general.
This applies to self-pleasure as well – women-centered clinicians encourage their patients to learn about and explore their bodies without feeling bad about it. This brings us to our next reason that everyone can benefit from a gynecologist…
To bridge the sexual communication gap between partners
When we’re comfortable exploring our bodies, we become more comfortable exploring with others. When we learn – via our clinician’s encouragement – what makes us feel good (or not so good) we can share this with our partners and improve our sexual relationships.
Furthermore, men who accompany their partners to appointments can gain insight and learn more about how to give and receive mutual pleasure as well. Have a conversation about the location of pleasure zones and techniques to help with arousal including safe use of sex toys, and non-sexual tactile techniques.
To learn how women’s bodies change over time
It’s a fact: our bodies change significantly as we age. Unfortunately, Hollywood and the porn industry have set unrealistic expectations for women’s bodies – that we should all look a certain way and remain ageless forever. To understand how our bodies change, we first need to dispel the societal myth of the ideal female body and understand the changes that occur.
Beginning in our 40s, hormonal fluctuations in estrogen can cause physical changes – due to a decrease in the amount of collagen we produce – and men should understand that this is a completely normal and natural part of aging.
The main changes involve loss of elasticity in skin, hair, and joints, which results in:
- Hair thinning
- Under-eye bags
- Sagging breasts
In addition, declining estrogen levels result in changes to the vulvar and vaginal skin, including decreased blood flow and moisture production, which hampers our ability to become aroused – something that many men are unaware of. This may result in women experiencing pain during sex and not wanting to engage in it, and men not understanding why.
To understand the changes that occur midlife and how to help your partner through them
Many of the changes described above that occur during perimenopause and menopause can be frustrating and impact relationships. Here are some tips that Dr. Sophocles suggests for our partners on how to work through these changes together.
- Be patient. Change isn’t easy. As women, we may be feeling less desirable, concerned about these new things happening to our bodies, or worried that something is wrong with us. We’ll work through it eventually, but it’s important to understand that this takes time.
- Educate yourself about the transitions in your partner’s life and the changes that occur. We’ve given your partners a good starting point, but they could also benefit from additional research. A quick Google search should lead you to important, reputable sources of information such as Mayo Clinic, North American Menopause Society (NAMS), and the American College of ObGyn.
- Don’t think of sex as just penile penetration. If sex is too painful, you can be intimate in other ways – starting with conversations, back rubs, and cuddling, and eventually progressing to more intimate contact.
- Know that women may take longer than men to become aroused. Women on average take 4-5 times longer than men to become aroused. Practicing pre-sex intimacy and using lubricants and moisturizers can help with this.
- Understand that the female body changes with certain medical conditions and age. The vaginal mucosa thins, the number of blood vessels decreases, collagen degrades – all these things make it a little harder to have an orgasm or get aroused. Your partners shouldn’t take it personally, but rather understand that these are natural changes that occur.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with understanding and greater awareness of women’s sexual and reproductive health, our changing bodies, and how consulting a women-centered gynecologist could be helpful.