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Being that we are, y'know, human, women's bodies are not pristine. When we have sex, all of our bodies' small idiosyncrasies, quirks, and so-called "flaws" are on display. This is to be expected -- our bodies' natural functions are an inevitable part of life. Real-life sex often involves a lot of these functions in many different ways. These functions involve all manner of smells, sights, sounds, goops, juices, and fluids. Living in fear of these realities won't do you any good; it helps to not only to coexist with them, but to embrace them as part of your awesome self.
Why do I have negative feelings about this stuff in the first place? Well, cultural/societal shame plays a huge role. Since we were young girls, we've often been brought up to feel embarrassed about our bodies' functions, from menstruation (whether we do or don't menstruate) to vaginal smell to our genital "cleanliness." We're taught that basically all of our sexual functions should be hidden to the best of our ability, and that when we actually have sex, we should be as clean, neat, pretty, and perfect as possible.
Additionally, we live in a porn-saturated world; these ideas are heavily reinforced in most mainstream pornography. Such porn presents an ultra-tidy version of women's sexuality without lumps, bumps, or anything else that's not immaculately streamlined.
Porn can sometimes be a good thing; no matter our gender, it can help us explore what turns us on, and it can give us ideas for our own sexual experimentation. If you're able to separate such a fantastical version of sex from reality, it's not as much of a problem. The problems arise when we don't separate unrealistic fantasy from real sex with our real-life partners. Many people (particularly many young, straight men who watch a lot of porn) do not recognize this disparity. This puts tremendous pressure on young, straight women to perform as porn stars do, and to look how they look. When I refer to the way they look, I'm referring to both their bodies and the way their bodily functions are presented.
Since you have neither an editor nor a professional lighting expert, the sex you're having isn't going to look a whole lot like most porn you see. Since this is the case, you may as well work toward getting comfortable with your body's functions. In this section, I'll break down some of the concerns you may have in that department.
What if I start my period during sex? What if I want to have sex while I'm on my period, but I feel too gross? I'm worried about what my partner might say. Menstruation does not have to kill anyone's sex life. Unfortunately, women are conditioned to be ashamed of their bodies even in the "best" of times, let alone during menstruation. This shame has been engrained in us since before we even started puberty; since it is so deep-seated, many female-bodied folks end up feeling as though period sex is off the table. We're afraid that menstrual blood will immediately repulse our sexual partners, and they will be so horrified that they will never speak to us again.
Of course, this is simply untrue. Period sex can be great! While you're not required to have period sex if it makes you uncomfortable for any reason, you totally can if it doesn't. If it doesn't bother you and if your partner isn't squeamish about blood, go for it. Orgasms can help with menstrual cramps and backaches, and a lot of female-bodied people experience a spike in their sex drives while menstruating. There's nothing about period sex that's dirty, shameful, or somehow forbidden; if you want to have sex when you're on your period and your partner is cool with it, have at it.
I will note here, though, that if you're not using a backup method and you're engaging in types of sex that can cause pregnancy, it's definitely a good idea to use a condom even when you're on your period. Contrary to what you may have heard, pregnancy is still possible during menstruation. Less likely? For sure. But still possible? Yup. Also, you can contract or pass on HIV through menstrual blood even more easily than you can through other vaginal fluids; if you're not monogamous and/or are at all unsure of your own status or your partner's, condoms are a must.
What if I "queef" during or after sex? Sometimes our bodies make weird, unexpected sounds when we're having sex. Even though it's totally normal, a lot of people fret about it. For those of you who might not know, a "queef" is when the vagina expels air. So, though it's not related in any way to your digestive tract, the sound is akin to a fart. If you're having vaginal intercourse (especially fast-paced intercourse when you're relaxed and aroused), air is sometimes pushed into the vaginal canal. When the penis (or sex toy, or fingers) is withdrawn, this can sometimes result in a queef...or two, or three, or ten. Obviously, this is nothing to be embarrassed about. It happens, it's not within your control, and it's really not a big deal at all.
In such instances, though, don't be afraid to diffuse any embarrassment you may feel with a laugh. Sounds like this will happen with sex, whether it's queefing, or two bodies rubbing together and making fart sounds, or someone making a fart sound because they are, in fact, farting. There's definitely something to be said for sharing a laugh over an untimely bodily sound. Sex doesn't have to be serious all the time -- you're allowed to laugh and joke about things if you want. In fact, laughing can often make sex even more enjoyable.
What's that smell? Is it me?! Y'know what, it might just be; but that's okay! Again, bodies are not pristine and sterile. Attempting to keep them so, especially when we're having sex, is simply not feasible. You might be worried that an odor, whether it's from sweat, your genitals, or anywhere else, might turn a partner off. I've got to say that this is pretty unlikely; in most situations, your partner is so excited to be there having sex with you that it would take a lot more than body odor to deter them. Additionally, different bodily scents are part of physical intimacy -- ideally, they should add to the experience, not detract from it.
Immaculate personal hygiene is not necessarily a prerequisite for sex; everybody has different preferences, and that's okay. Don't feel like you need to scrub yourself down in order to be presentable before a sexual encounter. However, if it makes you feel more comfortable, showering and applying deodorant beforehand can help assuage your nerves.
Women have also been conditioned to fret about vaginal scents. The simple fact that douches are still widely available indicates this pretty clearly. Here's the thing, though; vaginas, like penises or testicles or anuses, have an aroma. They just do. For a lot of people who dig sex with people who have vulvas, this is wildly attractive; you don't have to neutralize the scent in order to be "decent" for sexual activity. In fact, douching (cleansing or scrubbing the inside of your vagina) is not good for your body -- it can lead to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and other types of imbalances. Such infections, BV in particular, can actually make the your vaginal scent more pungent. If you don't feel so fresh, you can rinse the external parts of your vulva with warm water alone or combined with gentle, unscented soap. But by and large, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ; if you just let it be, it knows what to do. By attempting to scrub it "clean," you will often be doing more harm than good.
But what about discharge? Vaginas are self-cleaning organs. Usually, different types of discharge just mean that the vagina is doing its job, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. There's no need to feel shy or embarrassed about discharges. If you have more questions about different kinds of discharge and what they all mean, you can check this out for an in-depth breakdown of different vaginal secretions.
All in all, try to relax and let go of your fears in this department. Women often experience a whole lot of shame regarding odor, discharge, and the like. Any sexual partner worth one iota of your time will not make you feel guilty or ashamed about your body's functions. Dealing with your partner's bodily functions is a very real, unavoidable part of sex. If your partner can't deal with it, that's their issue; maybe they should consider sleeping with robots, not people.
This is a section of a larger piece, The Sex Goddess Blues: Building Sexual Confidence, Busting Perfectionism. To read the whole piece or another section, click here! Illustrations: copyright 2014, Isabella Rotman.