Your guide to improved sexual health

Time of article published Sep 26, 2007

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Mayday! Pill trouble

Women who take birth control pills should avoid Saint John's Wort - or use backup contraception. In a study, seven to 12 Pill users experienced breakthrough bleeding - a sign of reduced Pill effectiveness - after taking the herbal supplement for two months. Saint John's Wort boosts a liver enzyme, speeding up the Pill's removal from the body's system, says pharmacology professor Dr Chris Gorski. The risk of Pill failure may differ according to the source and dose of the herb, but he says the combination has been linked to several pregnancies. Saint John's Wort may also alter the body's response to other drugs.

Great Saturday-night sex

Confucius says, "In all things, success depends upon previous preparation." With that in mind, try our sexy plan this weekend?

10am

Sleep in on average, adults get fewer than seven hours of sleep on week nights and just 7,4 hours on weekends. That's bad news for our sex lives. "Being over-tired can dampen libido, cause erection problems in men and make it harder for a woman to orgasm," says Dr Debby Herbenick, a sexuality researcher.

3pm

Get some exercise. Working out boosts blood flow to those oh-so-important parts - which can mean easier arousal and orgasm. In fact, one study found that a short cardio workout increased blood flow to the vagina by 169 percent.

6pm

Have wine at dinner, but keep it to one glass! A little alcohol lowers inhibitions and may increase desire for sex, but too much just makes you tired.

9pm

Eat dessert! There may not be many bona fide aphrodisiacs, but pumpkin pie comes close. One small study found that just the scent of the vegetable boosted men's levels of arousal.

10am

Turn off the TV. Research found that couples who had a TV in the bedroom had half as much sex as those who didn't. Tell him that, and then see if he still wants to catch every newscast!

Birth control bliss

Many methods protect against pregnancy, but which will free you to have the most fun?

IF YOU: Have a hard time staying aroused

TRY: A hormone-releasing IUD or the Pill

BECAUSE: Anything you have to stop for may ruin the moment. If your drive's affected by hormonal birth control, try a non-hormonal IUD.

IF YOU: Want a form that's easily reversible

TRY: Condoms or a diaphragm

BECAUSE: These stop working as soon as they're out of your body, explains Dr Dave David.

IF YOU: Are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs)

TRY: The Pill, an IUD or anything but a diaphragm

BECAUSE: UTIs occur when the motion of intercourse slides bacteria into the urethra; diaphragms cause irritation by pressing on the bladder.

IF YOU: Wouldn't be distraught if you fell pregnant

TRY: Monitoring your ovulation but use a diaphragm

BECAUSE: Take your temperature, examine cervical mucus and count days. If your cycle becomes irregular or you forget, you may get pregnant.

Woman on top

Being passive in bed means you may have a harder time becoming aroused - and according to one study, most women are, in fact, passive. "We've had years of socialisation teaching us to be less assertive," says head researcher Dr Diana Sanchez, who adds that passivity can also inhibit orgasm.

Time to relearn! Convey your desires by word or by deed. "Men benefit from doing that, and we should catch up," says Dr Sanchez.

Your ovarian cancer checklist

This simple list is the easy way to monitor for ovarian cancer. If you have any of the symptoms below for more than 12 days a month, see your gynaecologist.

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain.

  • Bloating or an enlarged belly.

  • Difficulty eating or a feeling of being full.

    If he begged, which star would you sleep with?

    38% Johnny Depp

    25% Patrick Dempset

    19% George Clooney

    10% Owen Wilson

    5% Mark Consuelos

    3% Denzel Washington

  • English researchers have found that women who experience morning sickness in their first trimester have a 70 percent reduced chance of miscarrying.

    When a cramp isn't only a cramp

    Don't worry - Even the bad ones are usually nothing major, but sometimes severe pain is a sign of something more serious.

    IF YOU EXPERIENCE: Cramps that worsen over several cycles, plus pelvic pain during intercourse, urination, or bowel movements.

    YOU MIGHT HAVE: Endometriosis Millions are affected by this condition, in which tissue that normally lines the uterus migrates to other parts of the abdomen. It behaves like normal tissue, thickening, breaking down and bleeding with each cycle.

    GET RELIEF: Several types of hormonal medications, like birth control pills, can help, but some women might need surgery.

    IF YOU EXPERIENCE: Unusually-painful cramps along with changes in your normal amount or pattern of bleeding, or pain during sex.

    YOU MIGHT HAVE: A fibroid or uterine polyp These noncancerous growths can develop in the uterine wall (fibroids) or lining (polyps). Polyps may come and go, but fibroids

    grow over time.

    GET RELIEF: Both can be removed with minimally-invasive surgery. For fibroids, ask if an ultrasound treatment is available.

    IF YOU HAVE: A sharp pain in your pelvis or abdomen, along with spotting after a late or abnormal period, or a positive pregnancy test.

    YOU MIGHT HAVE: An ectopic pregnancy About two percent of fertilised eggs implant somewhere outside the uterus. As an embryo develops, it can lead to Fallopian tube rupture, causing pain. It can be life-threatening if not treated early.

    GET RELIEF: In the earliest stages, a drug called methotrexate can treat the condition. Otherwise, emergency surgery is required.

    The do-anywhere sex enhance

    Working your pelvic-floor muscles can improve your sexual experience. These are the prime movers during orgasm, so strengthening them will lead to stronger sensation. You can do this at your desk, in your car or during that boring work dinner - and no one will be the wiser. Build up to completing this four-exercise Kegel series three times a day.

    QUICK-FLICK KEGEL While seated, squeeze only the pelvic-floor muscles. To isolate these, pretend you're holding back gas or urine. (Some women feel it more in their vagina, others in their anus, but it will feel like muscles lifting.) Contract and release quickly in a pulsing motion. Do five to 10 pulses.

    KEGEL HOLD While sitting, squeeze pelvic-floor muscles and hold for five to 10 seconds, then release. Do five to 10 reps.

    INNER-THIGH SQUEEZE Sit on a chair (at a table or desk to be discreet) and place a purse or a rolled-up jacket between knees. Squeeze knees together as you pulse pelvic-floor muscles. Do three to five reps.

    ADVANCED STANDING LIFT Do the quick-flick Kegel and Kegel hold moves again, this time while standing upright. Gravity makes it more challenging. As before, do five to 10 repetitions of each exercise.

    Period problems

    Is it essential to see a doctor if?

  • I often soak through a tampon in an hour? Yes. This kind of heavy bleeding is scary, as it can signal a clotting disorder and may lead to anaemia

  • I have two in a month? No. Healthy cycles range from 23 to 35 days; one shortie may merely be due to stress. Still, see your gynae if short cycles (less than 23 days) become the norm; it could indicate a thyroid issue or an increased risk of anaemia. Note: the first day of bleeding counts as day one.

  • My period only lasts two or three days? No. That's on the short end of average, most women bleed for two to seven days - but it's okay as long as it's reasonably regular. Be happy!

  • I occasionally pass blood clots? Probably not. If you've had small clots and heavy cycles on and off for years, they're probably no big deal. But if you're suddenly passing large clots, see your doctor. Your levels of oestrogen and progesterone, the hormones that normally work together to keep the uterine lining from becoming too thick, may be imbalanced.

  • I don't get my period after stopping the Pill? Not right away. It can take up to 12 weeks to normalise. If your period hasn't returned after two months, do a pregnancy test. After three months, call your gynaecologist.

    Get your iron! Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that women with lower iron intakes have increased infertility.

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