6 Serious Sexual Health Symptoms for Women
What's normal and what may need a doctor's attention.
2. Irregular Bleeding
Though birth control pills can cause spotting that isn’t serious, you may still want to discuss your prescription with your doctor.
“But if you’re not on any kind of birth control and you have irregular bleeding that lasts for more than a month or two, I think it should always be checked, even though the odds are, we won’t find anything bad,” Puritz says.
Irregular bleeding “covers a host of things,” she says: periods that last longer than normal, bleeding mid-month, having two periods per month, bleeding after sex, and other unusual patterns.
Abnormal bleeding may stem from multiple causes that aren’t serious, among them, perimenopause or uterine fibroids or polyps.
Thyroid problems can affect the menstrual cycle, too, Puritz says.
In nursing mothers and postmenopausal women, vaginal dryness, combined with friction, can cause spotting after intercourse.
But if you bleed every time after sex, “that’s a worrisome sign that the cervix is being easily irritated and usually, it often does that if there’s some infection of the cervix," Puritz says. "It wouldn’t normally do that in a healthy cervix.” Sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, can cause cervical lesions that bleed with sex.
If you’re postmenopausal, be especially vigilant about any vaginal bleeding; it’s a potential sign of uterine cancer. “You should be seen right away,” Puritz says. “Uterine cancer, compared to ovarian cancer, is extremely treatable. It’s very curable because it’s generally found in an early stage and it has an early warning sign, which is postmenopausal bleeding.”
Besides postmenopausal bleeding, any vaginal bleeding before puberty or during pregnancy should be checked out, too, Shepherd says.
3. Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
With vaginal discharge, “abnormal is what the woman decides is abnormal,” Puritz says. “Women know their bodies pretty well.”
Abnormal symptoms include a strong odor; an unusually large amount of discharge; accompanying itching, burning, or irritation; unusual color; or blood in the discharge.
Most causes of abnormal discharge are minor, Puritz says. “Any sort of infection can cause a discharge.” Common ones include yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomonas, she says. “They’re all easily treated.”
Because sexually transmitted diseases can also cause abnormal discharge, check in with your doctor to rule out the possibility.
Also be sure to tell your doctor about any persistent, watery discharge, a classic symptom of fallopian tube cancer, which is rare.
Women may have itching without discharge, a problem that Puritz sees frequently when patients use perfumed soaps or personal care products -- especially perfumed lubricant jellies. “All perfume lotions and potions wreak havoc,” she says. “Especially if you have sensitive skin, that can cause a lot of itching and irritation.”