Welcome to The V, our weeklong series devoted to all things sex and reproductive health. This is a safe space free from "taboos," because there's no reason anyone should feel awkward talking about their bodies. That said, we'll be clearing up any misinformation on the subject, starting with this huge misnomer: The "V" in this case doesn't refer to the vagina, but the vulva, which is the anatomically correct term for external female genitalia (including the opening of the vagina). Stay tuned all week for need-to-know guides on birth control, tips for taking your orgasm to the next level, real-life stories about endometriosis, and everything in between.
Original Illustration by Lauren Johnstone
Sex is a complicated subject in so many ways. To borrow a line from my favorite seasonal movie, The Holiday, "Sex makes everything complicated. Even when you don't have it, the not having it makes things complicated." This isn't fully relevant to the topic at hand, but damn, that's a good movie. Conflict, resolution, Jude Law—when December rolls around, give it a watch.
Anyway, aside from the social and emotional complications associated with sex, there's the physical aspect that often gets overlooked. Whether you're with a new partner or a longtime S.O., your post-coital inclination may be to either slip your clothes back on or fall asleep, but according to gynecologists, what you do during this time period is crucial for your reproductive health. To give you some guidance, we've outlined the most important steps to take after sex below.
SweetSpot Labs Jessica A. Shepherd, MD, says urinating after sex is important to help rid the urinary tract of bacteria and avoid UTIs. This also prevents bacteria from reaching the bladder, which could lead to a bladder infection. The general rule of thumb is to try to urinate within 15 minutes of having sex.
Gently wipe down the outside of your vagina with water or paraben-, perfume-, and fragrance-free soaps. Cleansers with the aforementioned additives may irritate the vagina, and perfumes "contribute to an overgrowth of odor-producing bacteria," according to Shepherd. Also, forgo douching altogether. According to Truly MD co-founder Sheeva Talebian, MD, of CCRM in New York, douching "can be abrasive, as this can cause micro-tears in vaginal blood vessels and increase infection risk."
Check for Signs of Pain or Bleeding
"Don't ignore abnormal bleeding or discharge after sex—it could be a sign of infection or a lesion of your reproductive tract," says Talebian. Similarly, pain after sex could be a result of infection, irritation from the lubrication or condom, or a more serious gynecological condition. Speak with your doctor if you notice these symptoms.
Drink Cranberry Juice
You've probably heard that drinking cranberry juice is a good remedy for a UTI, but it's also a smart preventative measure. "Unsweetened cranberry juice and cranberry pills may decrease the risk of getting a UTI," says Brian A. Levine, MD, MS, FACOG, director of CCRM NY. "The exact amount of juice or pills needed and how long you need to take them to prevent infection are being studied. The idea is that cranberry juice can change the pH of the urine and make it a less hostile environment for bacteria to grow."
Check the Condom
Levine says to always make sure there hasn't been a condom malfunction post-sex. "When using condoms for contraception and prevention of STDs, always make sure that the condom did not break, and that the condom was discarded. A piece or whole condom that is retained in the vagina after having sex defeats the purpose of using a condom and puts you at great risk for infections and pregnancy."
"If you had unprotected sex with a new partner, strongly consider STD testing and a chat, and check up with your gynecologist," urges Talebian.
If you're experiencing any pain or difficulty during sex or have questions about your sexual health, please speak with a doctor.
This post was originally published on August 2, 2017.