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SSIS advice column

Welcome back to the SSIS column, where we answer any and all of Brandeis students’ questions about sex, sexuality, identity and relationships. If you have a question you’d like answered in our next column, email ssis@brandeis.edu or leave a question in the Google Form link on the Student Sexuality Information Service Facebook page. Any and all questions are welcome: there are no bad, stupid or weird questions! 

(Note: These answers are good-faith attempts by SSIS to be helpful to the Brandeis community, and are by no means exhaustive or to be taken as universal. If these answers don’t resonate with you, either pay them no mind or reach out to us with suggestions for improvement!)

Is it normal for sex to hurt the first time? My boyfriend and I have been trying, but as soon as we start, it really hurts my vagina. What can I do to make things easier for us?

Hi! Thanks for your question. Pain during sex is a common challenge that people can face when having sex, especially for the first time. This pain can be caused by a variety of things such as nervousness, a need for more foreplay or the unique anatomy of one’s body.

Having sex for the first time can be a little scary and feeling nervous might cause your body, and your vagina, to tense up, making vaginal penetration more challenging. In this situation, it can be helpful to try to take deep breaths and relax your body. For vaginal penetration, the tightening of the pelvic floor muscles specifically can cause pain. There are a lot of techniques you can research on relaxing the pelvic floor muscles and you can practice these on your own in a non-sexual setting. Try to locate your pelvic floor muscles: a neat trick for this is to clench your muscles as if you wanted to stop peeing. Practice contracting and relaxing a few times. The next time you try penetration, be conscious of how your muscles are reacting and practice relaxing them as much as possible. It may not be easy at first, but being mindful of your body is a great skill to grow. It can also be helpful to brainstorm other ways to make your physical space as safe and comfortable for you as possible.

Another factor that can contribute to pain during sex is lack of lubrication or a need for more foreplay. Foreplay such as kissing and caressing, and other non-penetrative sexual activities such as oral sex, can help turn you on and help your vagina lubricate itself naturally. Additionally, using additional lube can help make penetration easier by reducing friction and dryness during penetration. At SSIS, we have three types of lubes: water-based, hybrid and silicone. We recommend water-based for a cushiony feel and silicone if you prefer a thinner, slippery lubricant. There is some trial and error to finding which lube provides the most comfort. SSIS offers small lube packets for $0.25 so you can try a bunch of different types without breaking the bank!

Everyone’s body is different, and some medical conditions can cause vaginal tightness, so it may be worth visiting a gynecologist to rule out any pain-inducing conditions. 

Whatever the case, there are products that can help with pain during sex, such as bumpers and dilator sets. Bumpers are soft silicone rings that can be used together or individually. The rings can be placed around the base of the penis to adjust the depth of penetration.  Another helpful tool for reducing pain with sex is a dilator set. Dilators are tools that can be used to gradually increase the comfortable stretching capacity of the vagina; they basically look like a set of dildos which gradually increase in length and girth. There are both vaginal and anal dilator sets which can be a great way to adjust to penetration at a comfortable pace! Some people choose to dilate with a partner and others use dilators individually. There are dilators that vibrate, and those that do not. You can control all of these factors to find what works best for you!

I have a light flow and am prone to vaginal infection, but I really want to try a menstrual cup to reduce waste. What do you recommend? 

Thanks for writing in! First of all, it’s great that you are trying to find solutions that work for your body. Menstrual cups can be a great way to reduce waste! A menstrual cup can be inserted into the vagina to collect blood and menses during a vulva-owner’s period. Menstrual cups come in different shapes and sizes, so there are lots of options when deciding what works best for your body and your flow. 

Menstrual cups, when used correctly, do not increase the risk of vaginal infection. They can even reduce the risk of yeast infections compared with pads or tampons. Pads and tampons are both made to absorb menses, which means that they alter the levels of moisture in the vagina. Because menstrual cups do not absorb menses (they simply collect), they should not significantly alter the vagina’s moisture or pH. However, if you already have a yeast infection, it is not recommended to use a menstrual cup or tampon, because the friction can further agitate the infection. Proper use of a menstrual cup can also help prevent infection. This means cleaning it regularly (wash with soap and water or in the dishwasher), sanitizing it (by boiling it for around 20 minutes or using a body-safe sterilizer) and storing it hygienically between uses.

There are many brands and types of menstrual cups available. In fact, SSIS sells three menstrual cups in our office: the DivaCup (model 1), the Keeper Cup and the Softcup. The DivaCup is a clear, flexible silicone cup; we sell the DivaCup model 1, which is intended for use by people with vulvas who have not given birth vaginally. The DivaCup lasts up to 10 years and costs $20 at SSIS. The Keeper Cup is similar to the DivaCup, but is made out of gum rubber which is more rigid. It is brown in color and opaque, which may be preferable to someone who doesn’t want to see their menstrual blood as much. The Keeper Cup also lasts up to 10 years and is sold for $20 at SSIS. The Softcup is a disposable menstrual cup that can be used two times, and then discarded. The Softcup is made of plastic and can be worn during penetrative intercourse, although note that it does not prevent pregnancy or the spread of STIs. Softcups cost $0.25 at SSIS. You can buy any of these products in our office, Shapiro Campus Center 328, during our open hours this semester on any day when classes are in session!

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