Women's Health Matters

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In this section, we answer some common questions women have about sexual health. We include questions about birth control, infections, abortions and other sexual health issues.

Birth control

Is it safe to smoke when taking birth control pills?
Smoking (as you probably have already heard) increases your risk of all kinds of illnesses including heart attacks and strokes. Smoking as few as four cigarettes a day makes you seven times more likely to develop heart disease. Birth control pills that contain estrogen can also increase the risk of blood clots. Young women rarely have heart attacks, so the risk of complications is very small, but doctors usually advise smokers over 35 not to take these pills. Talk to your doctor about taking birth control pills that contain only progestin (not estrogen) or better yet talk to your doctor about ways to quit smoking!

What do I do if I miss a pill?
If you miss one pill, take two the next day and continue taking the rest of your pills as you normally would. Use a back-up method of birth control, such as a condom, until you have been back on the pill for seven consecutive days.

If you miss two pills or more pills and have had sex, call your doctor or birth control clinic to talk about whether you need emergency contraception. You should use a back-up method of birth control, such as a condom, until you have been back on the pill for seven consecutive days.

Am I going to gain weight on the pill?
Studies have been done comparing women taking birth control pills to women using other forms of birth control. The studies didn't show any differences in weight gain between the two groups over the long term. One side effect of some birth control pills, however, is to increase your appetite, especially in the first few months you take them.

Does the Pill affect fertility?
No, the pill does not adversely affect fertility once you stop taking it. However, delaying childbirth by using the pill or any other birth
control method can decrease fertility. On average, a couple in their 20s trying to get pregnant (having regular unprotected sex), will conceive in about 5 months. Eighty-six percent will conceive within a year. By age 35, only fifty-two percent will conceive in a year, and by 40 this is down to thirty-five percent. When a woman is over 45, her chance of conceiving
after a year of regular, unprotected sex is less than five percent.

Do I need to give my body a rest from the Pill?
No. You can safely take the pill for years without interruption.

I had unprotected sex and I'm afraid I might get pregnant. What can I do?
Emergency contraceptives may be used if you have just had unprotected intercourse and are worried about pregnancy. They are most effective when used within the first 72 hours (three days) after intercourse but can be used up to 100 hours (five days) after intercourse. Emergency contraceptive pills reduce your risk of getting pregnant. They can be obtained over-the-counter at a pharmacy (without a prescription) or at a sexual health clinic.

A post-coital IUD may also be used to prevent pregnancy for up to a week after unprotected sex if this method is appropriate for you. Otherwise, you need to wait at least two weeks after unprotected sex, before a pregnancy test will give reliable results. Unless you get your period before that, you'll have to wait to know for sure. If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor, the staff at your local birth control clinic or at Planned Parenthood. They can help you decide what to do next. You may want to check out our page on Decision-making about Unplanned Pregnancy.


What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is a virus that causes genital warts. It is important to protect yourself from HPV because some strains of the virus can also increase your risk of cervical cancer if your cervix becomes infected. To learn more, check out our page on the Human Papilloma Virus.

Is oral sex safe?
You can't get pregnant, but you can still get an infection from oral sex. Oral sex is considered safer than unprotected anal or oral sex because some infections are harder to get through oral sex and others can't be passed that way at all. Check out our page on the Risks associated with Sexual Activity to learn about which infections you can get through oral sex and how to protect yourself.

How long after unprotected intercourse, before an HIV test will give a reliable result?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. The HIV test is an antibody test. This means that it measures your immune system's response to the virus, not the virus itself. It is recommended that you wait three months after the date you think you might have been infected, in order to get a reliable test. These three months are sometimes called the window period. If you are infected, you can pass the virus to other people during the window period, so be sure to use a condom if you have sex during this period.


Does abortion cause infertility?
No. While there is always a risk in any surgical procedure, medical complications are very rare. The risk of infertility for a woman who has had an abortion done in a legal medical facility is not higher than for a woman who has never had an abortion.

Can I get the abortion pill?
RU-486 (or mifepristone) is often called the abortion pill. It is currently not approved for use in Canada although it has been used in Europe for many years. It is a hormonal drug that a woman can take in the first nine weeks after unprotected sex, to stop the development of the pregnancy and prompt an abortion. This drug may be available through clinical trials in some places.

I'm a teenager. Can I get an abortion without telling my parents?
In Ontario and British Columbia, young women don't need parental consent to have an abortion. In other provinces, the age where a hospital requires a parent's consent varies. Even when a parent's consent is not required, you will usually be encouraged to tell a parent or other important adult in your life. By law, hospitals, clinics and health insurance plans must keep your name confidential.

How can I get an abortion?
Call your local birth control clinic or the Planned Parenthood office in your area about how to arrange for an assessment and abortion if appropriate. In the Toronto area, you can call the Bay Centre for Birth Control at 416-351-3700. Visit www.prochoice.org for a list of abortion providers in Canada and the United States.

Other sexual health questions

What is the G-spot?
The G-spot is the area where the back of the clitoris touches the top wall of the vagina. This area has been touted as being very important to orgasm and a woman's sexual arousal. The truth is that different women are aroused by different activities. Some women find vaginal penetration with a penis or any other object that stimulates the G-spot very exciting; other women prefer external stimulation of the clitoris. Lots of women like both. Sometimes rubbing the G-spot can stimulate female ejaculation, the release of a clear fluid from the urethra. By the way, the G stands for Grafenberg, the last name of the German doctor who first described this area.

What exactly is lube?
Lube is short for lubricant. It refers to a variety of products that can be used to make the vagina slippery and sex more enjoyable. These are useful for women who don't produce enough natural lubricant and they can also help prevent condoms from breaking. As for what they are made of, there are probably as many formulas as there are products. Water-based lubricants (such as K-Y Jelly, Wet or Astroglide) contain water and some other substance to make them slippery. They can also contain flavours, colours, perfumes and spermicides if you wish, however some of these things can irritate the vagina, so experiment carefully. Oils like Vaseline or massage oil can also make the vagina slippery, but these products break down the latex in condoms making them more likely to break. Lastly, saliva can act as a lubricant and may be fun to apply, but it tends to dry up more quickly than some of the commercial products. As well as we have noted above, saliva is a body fluid, and oral sex does involve some risk of transmitting infection.

What is the best douche to use?
The answer is none. A douche is a liquid, which some women use to clean the vagina. This is not necessary. The vagina keeps itself clean.

The vagina contains a variety of bacteria. It may sound strange, but the balance of bacteria in the vagina is an important part of keeping it healthy. If one bacteria or yeast takes over, you can develop an infection like bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection. Douches can destroy the balance of bacteria and get an infection started. They can also irritate the vagina, possibly putting you at higher risk of other sexually transmitted infections.

If you notice an unpleasant odour or discharge you should go to your doctor or birth control clinic to be checked for an infection, not just douche and try to cover it up. Never douche before visiting your doctor, even for your routine check-up. It will make your test results unreliable.

What is the age of consent in Canada?
The age of consent refers to the age that the government of Canada says a person must be before they can legally consent to sex. In Canada, this age is 16, with some exceptions:

  • The law includes a "close-in-age exception," which says that 14- and 15-year-olds can have sex with someone who is less than five years older provided the relationship is not exploitative.
  • The age of consent for anal sex is 18 unless the couple is legally married. Although federal courts of appeal and courts of appeal in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec have ruled that this law discriminates against gay men and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, this law has not yet been changed.
  • Twelve and 13-year-olds can consent to have sex with youth who are no more than two years older. 
  • Children under age 12 cannot legally consent to sexual acts.
  • It is illegal for people in positions of authority or trust (such as a teacher or health-care provider) to have sex with a person under the age of 18.


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  • Women's College Hospital