Pearl Diver

Friday, March 29, 2013


Dear Patrick: My girlfriend tastes a little different than she used to. I wouldn't say she tastes bad exactly but I do notice a change. Should I mention something to her? I don't want to make her feel bad about her body, but I wonder if a trip to the Gyno might be in order.



Oh, honey, this is a diplomatically difficult situation. We have all heard plenty of hateful comments about women's genitals. I once tried to do a communication exercise in a sex education class and asked everyone to help make a list of slang terms for female sex organs. One of the women there raised her hand after about five minutes of this and asked if people were deliberately using contemptuous terminology. We had to stop the sex ed and have a conversation about the power of language to control and demean certain classes of people. The point of the exercise was to help participants to create vocabularies they could use to think about their own sexuality and communicate their needs to a partner—even understand others better. But if the terms for your intimate parts are also used to insult people, that process has to have a political component. You need to claim the language of hate and infuse it with new meaning, and you also probably have to make up new terminology that is owned only by the people whose bodies are at issue.

So here you are, wondering if your partner has a vaginal infection or some other medical problem, and you don't know how to bring this up without reinforcing any misogynist bullshit she has had to listen to about women's bodies being inferior, disgusting, weak, ugly, etc., etc., etc.

The first thing you do in a situation like this is to own it. Just tell her you need to bring something up but you are afraid to make her feel bad about her body. Explain, as accurately as you can, what you have experienced. She may be filled with fear and self-hatred, or she might take it matter-of-factly and just go call her doctor and make an appointment. If the former is true, be a strong loving presence. Repeat how much you enjoy and appreciate her body. Tell her you know this is hard, and you never want to hurt her, but you also want her to be healthy. Any infection is easier to treat if you catch it early. You have very useful data, and I wish it was easier to communicate it to your sweetheart.

Many things can cause a change in the body's taste or odor. The most likely candidate is a vaginal infection. Yeast infections tend to smell like beer or rising bread. Bacterial infections have a nastier smell rather like rotten fish. The treatment for these (and other causes of vaginitis) vary greatly. So you usually need a doctor to diagnose and treat them. There are also skin conditions that might need treatment. The dermal covering of the labia or the area between vagina and anus can suffer from an overgrowth of yeast. These things can happen because you are eating too much sugar, using a lubricant that upsets your body, developing an allergy to soap or laundry detergent, or wearing underwear that doesn't allow enough air to circulate. (Satin is sexy but plain cotton panties are best for everyday wear.) People can also get infections from sex toys that aren't clean, toys that are shared, or fingers and toys that go from the anus to the vagina without being thoroughly washed first.

A few of them can also be spread from one woman to another, although this is pretty rare. This is helpful because it could make her feel better to check you out. If both of you are getting evaluated for healthy taste and smell, she is less likely to give in to the Typhoid Mary self-talk that can be so depressing and unfair. Both of you are taking care of each other's health, being guardians and protectors.

I hope you can find a doctor who is knowledgeable and respectful toward women's bodies. Don't put up with bad treatment. If your girlfriend feels it is not safe to tell her doctor she is in a relationship with another woman, she doesn't have to do so. It isn't clinically relevant anyway. There are a few infections like trichomoniasis that male and female partners can pass back and forth. So the doctor may ask you to bring your partner in for examination. If you want to keep your sex life private, tell the doctor that is not possible. Each of you can visit your own doctors to maintain your privacy.

In a perfect world, nobody would have to worry about this. All doctors would be expected to give their patients equal considerate care. There are times when you have to tell a doctor, even if they are a bigot, about your sexuality because it is relevant to your treatment. But there are other times when you can do whatever you need to do to feel safe. Getting treatment is the priority. Whatever it takes to make that happen is okay.


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