Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask Your Doctor


Danielle Dankner

Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of Walt Stoneburner

If stripping down and replacing your outfit with a paper robe isn’t uncomfortable enough, how about proceeding to ask a doctor personal questions that are bound to turn your cheeks bright pink?

When it is sore, irritated, bleeding or just doesn’t seem to be right, it is always best to consult with a professional. While we’ve all felt our face flush as we hand that cup full of pee to a nurse, some questions are better answered then kept a secret or ignored.

Regardless of the question, doctors have most likely heard and seen it all. But for those with a more shy and soft-spoken demeanor, we have asked Dr. Mary Ferris, Director of University of California Santa Barbara Student Health Center, to answer some of the more blush-inducing questions.


Q: Is pain during sex normal?

A: No way! Discomfort means something’s not right, and you should stop if it hurts! Possible causes might be lack of lubrication, tenderness inside from swellings or infections, a position that strains internal structures or maybe you’re uncomfortable and not ready mentally or physically to go further. Take some time to make sex pleasurable, and make a Student Health visit if you’d like a more thorough evaluation.


Q: Can a male contract a yeast infection and if so, can he transfer it?

A: Only rarely do males get yeast infections, because yeast live in a moist, warm environment like the mouth or women’s vaginas. In the mouth it can usually be seen as white patches that don’t rub off, or as skin rashes on the penis or anus. Direct contact from one moist surface to another can transfer the infection, which is easily treatable with medications. In cases of women with vaginal yeast infections that keep recurring despite treatment, doctors will sometimes also treat the partner to ensure that all sources are eliminated, but yeast infections are not considered sexually-transmitted diseases.


Q: What is the most common sexually transmitted disease at UCSB? Is it fact or a myth that our school is notorious for having the most STDs?

A: Whoever said UCSB was high in STDs doesn’t know the facts! Chlamydia is the most common, which is true nationwide. The positive rate for Chlamydia tests at Student Health last year was 3.31 percent, compared to the estimated national average published by the Centers for Disease Control of 6.8 percent among sexually active females aged 14–19 years. The next most common STD is gonorrhea with a positive test rate of 0.53 percent at UCSB. We hope our low rate means students are using condoms and getting treatment at the first sign of symptoms (urinary burning or discharge for men, abdominal pain or vaginal discharge in women). Testing for STDs is available at Student Health without appointments, and is covered by UC SHIP insurance without any additional charges.


Q: What causes gassiness and how can it be prevented?

A: Lots of things can cause gas to be expelled through the mouth or anus, from the simple case of gulping food or drink too rapidly, or from digestion troubles that cause gas buildup in the intestines. Most people are not even aware they are sucking in air when they are rushed or anxious. Gas in the intestines is produced by normal bacteria and may increase with food intolerances like milk products and some foods that are hard to break down, and the whole digestive process is influenced by stress and rarely other diseases. A good preventive approach would be to slow down while eating and change the content of your meals; if that doesn’t work, go see your doctor to look for any other reason why your digestion might be off and producing too much gas.


Q: How much sex should couples have?

A: If your reason for having sex is pleasure, couples “should” have as much sex as they are comfortable with, and that doesn’t interfere with the other obligations in their lives. The amount that’s right for you is going to be different for everyone, and is a personal choice that doesn’t have any arbitrary standard to strive for.


Q: Why do some women have breasts that are noticeable different in size?

A: This is how nature made us, and it’s completely normal to have two breasts be non-identical. So please love your body, and relish the uniqueness of us all.


Q: My hair falls out in huge clumps every time I take a shower, is that normal? Am I balding?

A: Hair growth is very sensitive to your general health condition, and excess loss can occur from illness or major stress. It’s normal to lose 100-125 hairs every day. Becoming bald is a progressive hair loss, but not usually occurring in large clumps. The normal cycle for a new hair is two to three months, so when you lose a lot you need to look back and remember what happened in the past that might have affected new growth. Stress especially can cause a slowing and delay of new hair growth. There are also infections and diseases that can cause excess hair loss, especially in patches, so a doctor’s visit may be needed if you are concerned.


Q: Sometimes I have to pee almost every thirty minutes, is something wrong?

A: Urinating this frequently is usually a sign of something wrong, like a bladder infection or an irritation at the opening of the urethra where the urine comes out. Sometimes after vigorous sex there can be a short-term frequency that goes away with drinking fluids. Anxiety and stimulants like caffeine can also increase the urge to urinate, but if this continues for any significant time it should be checked out with a medical evaluation.


Q: Can women be allergic to semen?

A: Only very rarely does a true allergy develop to semen; limited research suggests less than 1 percent occurrence. It’s much more likely that irritation or burning feelings after exposure to semen are caused by other skin conditions or even vaginal infections. This is something that definitely needs a medical visit to evaluate.


Q: How effective is the pull out method?

A: 22 percent of women who use this “withdrawal” method before the man ejaculates will experience unintended pregnancy within a year, and probably even more since it’s difficult to time it exactly right to avoid those millions of sperm wiggling their way inside. This compares to 85 percent [of] pregnancies [that result] if no birth control is used. The pull out method will not protect you from sexually-transmitted diseases. You can reduce your risk of pregnancy to 0.3 percent with perfect use of hormonal birth control like pills or NuvaRing.” (Source: Hatcher RA, Contraceptive Technology. 20 edition. Atlanta, GA: Ardent Media, Inc., 2011)