What Happens When You Take a New Lover? Biochemistry + Microbiology in the Bedroom
Advice from Naturopathic Doctors Ginger Nash & Tara Nayak to help you to avoid troublesome intimate body drama.
Inviting someone into your body’s personal space through physical intimacy for the first time can be thrilling - and stressful. Understanding the ways that your female body may respond to a new sexual partner can make for a smoother transition through the messy jumble of biochemical enthusiasm. Awareness may also provide an opportunity to prevent a few potential problems.
First, sex affects our hormones. Male pheromones (chemical substances released by the body) have been shown to alter levels of "luteinizing hormone", the chemical messenger that stimulates ovulation in women. The evolutionary advantage of this biochemically-clever maneuver is obvious. Maybe your period schedule is changing because your male partner's body is giving it a primal signal to procreate? A biologically brilliant move.
Female pheromones have long been thought to influence other females’ menstrual cycles, too. Have you ever had your period sync up with a woman you spend a lot of time with at home or at work? (We know we’ve had personal experiences with our closest girlfriends tending to stay on the same lunar cycle—give or take a few days.) If your new sexual partner is female, maybe your moon cycles will align. The scientific community has tried (and failed) to find an explanation for this phenomenon, but women overwhelmingly report it to be the case.
Oxytocin is a hormone that influences our ability to orgasm, to love, and to bond to others. It’s one of the reasons we feel so blissful after romantic encounters. Oxytocin rises in response to increased sexual activity and has been shown to improve the “Female Sexual Function Index” by naturally increasing vaginal lubrication. The splurges and surges of oxytocin that come along with the enthral of a new sexual partner can mimic the subtle oxytocin fluctuations associated with our menstrual cycles. (High levels of oxytocin during breastfeeding are responsible for the absence of menstruation many women experience during the postpartum period- so the connection is pretty clear.) This is yet another reason sex with a new partner can subtly shift our menstrual cycles.
If these bugs could talk….
Our bodies are covered with bacteria. Over the last decade, scientists have been uncovering the vast complexity of the human microbiome. We not only have a microbiome of our intestinal tracts but also microbiomes of our skin, our sinuses, our bladders, and of course, of our vaginas as well. Everywhere we interface with the outside world we have billions of bacteria interacting with us to defend against foreign pathogens and interplay with our immune and cellular functions.
The vaginal microbiome is no exception. Besides the obvious effects of a new partner’s bugs co-mingling with our bugs, there are also some other changes that may be troublesome at the outset. The normal vaginal pH of 3.8 - 4.5 prevents some of the most common bacteria from becoming excessive and causing infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV), trichomoniasis and Candida (yeast) overgrowth. At the same time, the low pH of the vagina maintains healthy levels of friendly lactobacilli--our vaginas are remarkably self-sustaining ecosystems.
When we have a new partner the pH can be disrupted, thereby throwing off the bacterial equilibrium of the vaginal tract. First, the delicate balance of pH in the vagina changes with sexual intercourse, whether new partner or otherwise. Add to this upward shift in pH an exposure to various unfamiliar bacteria and yeasts that have colonized our partner’s skin. This is true whether we have a new male or female partner. Semen isn’t sterile, and naturally has a high pH and contains low levels of bacteria- so it’s easy to understand why it can be disruptive to the vaginal microbiome. With a female partner, research indicates that a new lover will bring a disrupted biome as well: regardless of our lover’s gender, oral-genital sexual contact is another avenue for transmission of new and interesting micro-critters. Sex is microbially intimate!
There are times when it’s normal for the vaginal environment to become less acidic. For example, during your period and during ovulation, a slightly higher pH assists the sperm in successfully reaching an egg for fertilization. Interestingly, just after orgasm the vaginal pH increases as well. The normal process of aging, with decreasing estrogen levels, can also raise the pH of the vaginal environment. This is likely why perimenopausal women often experience more urinary tract infections. Lower estrogen levels means higher pH, more unfriendly bacteria- and most importantly- thinner, dryer, vaginal tissues.
More dryness and less lubrication definitely contributes to the frequency of UTIs. Whether this is happening from changes in the vaginal tissues themselves - or because we are having frequent and potentially more vigorous sex at the beginning of a new sexual relationship- many women are prone to what was once called “honeymooner’s cystitis.”
Don’t let this stop you from enjoying the fun of being intimate with a new lover! There are some effective ways to keep your vagina happy, healthy and well lubricated naturally and safely.
Here are some simple ways to keep your vagina happy when you have a new partner:
- Urination before and after sex has been shown to decrease risk of urinary tract infections by effectively flushing bacteria away from the urethra. Pee before you cuddle (if that’s your thing)!
- If you find you’re not producing enough lubrication for sexual play, help your vagina out! In fact, it’s been shown that sometimes your body just needs a little reminder. When you use a small amount of lubrication this actually can ignite your body’s own secretions to take over.
Heal your vagina after rigorous or extended periods of sexual activity. This is a HUGE revelation in women’s health! Have you ever felt pain or burning after a particularly intense sexual experience? This is due to microtrauma to the vaginal tissue. If you skinned your knee you would probably treat the wound, right? Why aren’t we treating our vaginas with the same love!?
- Avoid soaps and harsh chemicals. Trust us, trust your vagina! It knows how to clean itself. Synthetic washes can alter the acidity of the vaginal environment which directly affects what bacteria can grow there. You may smell fresh but your microbiome may be a mess after using these disruptors!
Rinse with fresh water. The French were onto something with bidets! Water is really the only cleanser you need for the actual vaginal canal as the bodily secretions naturally flush it out as mentioned above. If you’re someone that’s more prone to infections or irritation, a quick rinse after sex may make all the difference.
- Preventive Care. Though all of the at home tricks are helpful, sometimes our bodies need deeper treatments to correct our predispositions. We work with women to identify imbalances in the vaginal microbiome, help support a healthy vaginal terrain and make it less hospitable to bacterial overgrowth and irritation. This may include dietary changes, botanical medicines, nutrients, or more, including the excellent Curious Intimacy products. Not only do we recommend them for our patients, we use them ourselves!
Drs. Ginger Nash and Tara Nayak started “Feminology: the art and science of female hormones” exactly one year ago. Together our expertise is focused on natural medicine and the myriad ways of supporting, rather than suppressing, the rhythms of women’s bodies. We have a combined 25+ years of clinical experience and work in education. Our primary aim is to help women better understand themselves and the working of their bodies, especially the subtle orchestra of our hormones. Hormones play a significant role in the way women feel and they interact with many other bodily systems, essentially balancing overall health and state of mind. Feminology is about exploring women’s health in the context of our culture. This means we acknowledge the effects that economic status, racial, gender and religious bias play in our health. The time has come for honest conversation about women’s lived experiences in their female bodies. Moreover, there is a lack of scientific information presented to women when faced with making choices about issues central to their health and well-being. We are working toward changing that every day!
Curious Intimate Skincare collection includes an array of potent medicinal plants that rejuvenate, nourish, and protect intimate tissues in formulas that deeply contemplate the science of a woman’s physiology in tandem with respect for a woman’s sexual needs. Designed to support the healthful function of a woman’s intimate biochemistry, our formulations acknowledge the crucial relationship between cellular health and a balanced microbiome.
Curious Intimate Skincare promotes balanced pH, which plays a vital role in overall vaginal health. We dispense with the troubling ingredients found in conventional products that cause harm or interfere with intimate ecology, while providing an entourage of plant-sourced oils and botanicals that work synergistically to provide cellular structural support and therapeutic phytonutrients. There is quite simply no silkier, lighter, more natural intimate skincare available.
Curious Sexual Wellness and its products and materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All materials published by Curious Sexual Wellness are provided for educational purposes only. Please seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition.
Curious is a registered trademark of the Luminary Medicine Company
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