Hey hot girl! We are all ready to be free from the shackles of COVID-19 and able to live on our own terms again. For some of us, that may include making it hot with whoever we've had our eye on or a new catch. Either way, it's important that we educate ourselves on what both dating and sex may look like in a post-pandemic world. Planned Parenthood and Dr. Sara C. Flowers want to help us get ourselves and our honey chests ready for all of the attention this summer may bring.
Iman Milner: Tell us a little about who you are and your position with Planned Parenthood.
Dr. Sara C. Flowers: I've been the vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) since 2018, but my entire career has been spent in sex education, particularly working with youth. I see so much opportunity to improve the way we think and talk about sexuality, identity, and relationships as a society. It's exciting to be able to shape and expand access to sex education that's not just medically accurate but that's also relevant to people's actual lives.
As for the technical details, I received my Doctorate in Public Health from The Graduate School and University Center, CUNY, as well as a BA in Psychology and a Master of Public Health degree, both from The George Washington University.
IM: For millennial women who are approaching or are in the midst of their sexual peak, what advice do you have for keeping things properly hydrated down there?
Dr. Flowers: Great question. First, I think we have to acknowledge that dryness and wetness are both okay and that the concept of 'normal' varies from person to person. In pop culture, wetness is often glorified, and it's great to have songs that make people with vaginas feel empowered, confident, and sexy! But we also have to be careful about how those narratives might pressure people into believing there's a right and wrong way to have a vagina. Millennials span a wide range of ages, and how lubricated your vagina is can be affected by many different factors — for example, current or past pregnancies, normal changes throughout your menstrual cycle, medications, infections, and peri-menopause (the time when your body is transitioning into menopause).
Lubricants can help with vaginal dryness during sex. They can also make sex more fun for you and your partner(s). But keep in mind that not all lubes are created equal. For example, oil-based lube and condoms don't mix well, and condoms are great to help prevent the spread of STIs. So if you're using condoms, stick to silicone or water-based lubes.
IM: What do you say to women who plan to have a hot girl summer that may include multiple partners but who want to make sure their pH stays balanced? Any suggestions?
Dr. Flowers: Vaginal pH and what's normal for you may vary based on your age and other factors. Sometimes antibiotics, menstruation, and sex can change your vaginal pH. But in general, there's nothing you need to do to clean your vagina or maintain a certain pH — the vagina is an amazing body part that is able to clean itself!
Avoid methods like douching to clean your vagina or restore its pH. Douching can actually raise your vaginal pH, making your vagina more prone to bacterial infection. It's also best to use mild, non-scented soaps when washing your vulva (the outside of your vagina), and remember that your vagina will clean itself. It doesn't need help.
One more thing: As exciting as it is to finally see some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we should also remember the risk of getting or spreading the coronavirus is still out there. During a pandemic, the safest person to have sex with is yourself, so don't underestimate your ability to have a hot girl summer — even if your only partner is you or a sex toy!
IM: What are the best replacements for women who have latex allergies but want to practice safe sex?
Dr. Flowers: If you have a latex allergy, consider using latex-free condoms, which can still allow you to enjoy sex safely! Polyurethane, polyisoprene, and nitrile condoms (made of plastic or rubber) are just as good at preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy as latex condoms. Fortunately, latex-free condoms can be found widely; in many of the same places, you'll find latex condoms.
IM: For people who struggle to orgasm with a partner, what suggestions do you have for making the experience pleasurable for everyone?
Dr. Flowers: Ahhh, orgasms. It's true that many people with vaginas don't reach orgasm through penis-in-vagina sex. (For what it's worth, people with penises don't always have orgasms easily either!) Some people find that stimulating the clitoris directly by touching or rubbing is more successful on the orgasm front.
If you don't yet know what feels good to your body, masturbation is a great way to experiment and try things out. If you understand how your body responds — or doesn't respond — to different types of touch, you can better communicate that to your partner and get what you want out of sex. More fun for all!
IM: Vaccine and chill, how should we be approaching sex as the pandemic continues?
Dr. Flowers: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is one important step toward protecting yourself and your loved ones and helps to bring us a few steps closer toward some sense of "normalcy." But the reality is that the pandemic is ongoing. Even when it ends, some people may be wary about physical interactions, and these hesitations could last well into the future.
Have open and honest conversations with potential partners about COVID-19 risk — especially if you or they may be at an increased risk for severe COVID-19. You can also use COVID-19 conversations to naturally transition into questions about sexual health and STI testing. Both involve talking about what behaviors you're comfortable with in terms of health risks and how you'll respect each others' boundaries.
For example, are you okay with your partner going to an indoor event and then seeing you? Are you okay with it under certain circumstances (i.e., if they're vaccinated and wear a mask)? Being open, honest, direct, and clear about what you're both okay with will help you both feel safe, respected and even build intimacy with each other. And using that same communication skill in the bedroom (or wherever you have sex!) can help sex be more pleasurable and fun, too.