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September 25, 2020 • read

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Signs a woman’s sexual health needs a checkup

Your body is made up of lots of interdependent systems. When a system is malfunctioning, it leaves clues for you with every symptom you experience. The components of your reproductive system are no different. If you notice any abnormalities or changes to your vagina, there might be lessons to learn about your health. 

Self-monitoring and getting regular checkups are crucial parts of maintaining your vagina’s health. Whether you’re sexually active, postpartum, or menopausal, there are warning signs that something in your system needs attention. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be time to book yourself a checkup. 


Spotting is a common name for vaginal bleeding at unexpected times, like between your periods or when you’re pregnant. Seeing blood unexpectedly can be jarring but it’s not always an emergency. If your spotting is accompanied by pain and fever, or if you’ve already gone through menopause, see a doctor. 

Some causes for spotting include:

  • Fibroids, which are benign tumours that form along the uterus walls
  • Emotional distress
  • Diabetes
  • Polyps, which are small, abnormal tissue growths
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Birth control pills

Foul odour

It’s normal for your vagina to produce some type of odour. It’s also normal for that odour to change over time. If you’re noticing a foul or fishy smell though, it could be a sign of infection. See a doctor if unpleasant smells are coming from your genital area. Your doctor can advise on treatment and ways to prevent reinfection.

There are a few common infections that can cause vaginal odour:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV). A healthy vagina has naturally occurring bacteria. When the balance of that bacteria gets thrown off, it causes a fishy smell accompanied by a discharge. BV can happen to women of any age, and up to 30% of pregnant women in Canada. Vaginal douching, leaving tampons for more than six hours, and sex without condoms are common ways that women get BV.
  • Trichomoniasis. This vaginal infection is passed on during sex and comes from a parasite. Symptoms include foul smelling discharge, itchiness, and pain during urination. Trichomoniasis is curable with medication, but it can last for years if left untreated.
  • Tampons. Tampons should be changed every 4-6 hours. Leaving a tampon in too long can cause a foul odour, and lead to bacterial vaginosis.

None of these conditions are dangerous on their own, but they can increase your chances of contracting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you notice a persistent foul odour, be sure to check in with your doctor.

Pain during penetration

Pain during penetrative sex, also called dyspareunia, can be a frustrating problem. Up to 75% of women report having had pain during sex at least once.  If sex hurts, don’t ignore your discomfort. A doctor’s visit can help you get to the bottom of why it’s happening to you.  

Some possible reasons for painful sex include:

  • Hormonal changes. Your hormone levels change as you age, and during pregnancy and menstruation. Estrogen is a hormone that’s in charge of regulating your vaginal health. It keeps your vagina moist, and maintains the elasticity and thickness of the vaginal wall. When your estrogen is low, your body doesn’t produce as much lubricant. The dryness can make penetration painful.  To remedy this, you can use an over-the-counter lubricant, or opt for hormone therapies — especially if you’re menopausal.
  • Vaginismus. This is when your vagina’s muscles spasm involuntarily during or after penetration, causing pain. 
  • Ovarian cysts. Cysts are sacs of fluid that can develop anywhere on your body, ovaries included. Cysts aren’t cancerous, and it’s possible to have them and not notice them at all. Sometimes when an ovarian cyst bursts, it can cause pain and bleeding during sex.
  • Fibroids. These are another type of growth that aren’t cancerous. Fibroids form on the uterus, and 25% of women under 30 in Canada have them. They can put pressure on your pelvis which makes sex painful.

Vaginal itching

Persistent vaginal itching could be a sign of something inside your body that needs medical attention, such as an infection. Itching can also be caused by contact with external irritants, like a scented body wash or using a new detergent. Your doctor can weigh in on likely causes based on your lifestyle and life stage. 

Common causes of vaginal itching include:

  • Yeast infections 
  • Menopause
  • Irritants, like scented products
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Douching
  • STIs, like gonorrhea or genital herpes
  • Latex allergies
  • Tight clothing
  • Vaginal lubricants
  • Spermicide
  • Tampons
  • Pubic lice

Vaginal changes are important cues that can tell you about the state of your health. If you’re concerned about strange smells or sensations, don’t hesitate to speak to a doctor. The more your doctor knows about what’s going on with your body, the better advice they can give you over time. 

If you’re due for a checkup or have questions about vaginal symptoms, get in touch with one of our doctors. They’re available whenever you are, and can provide you with support from the comfort of home.  

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