Vaginal health might not be your ‘go-to’ conversation starter at dinner parties, but many women could benefit from talking more openly about it.
After all, it’s easy to get confused when you’ve got the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow sharing eye-wateringly mad treatment suggestions about steaming your lady bits.
Maintaining a healthy vagina is very important, as is taking care of the whole vulvovaginal area, but you need to know how to do that safely and effectively.
In this article, we’ll share practical dos and don’ts for you to follow – and not one of them involves finding a second use for your Bissell steam mop.
What we’ll be deep diving into:
- The characteristics of a healthy vagina
- Why you need to be very careful about using products down there
- The positive action you can take to maintain vulvovaginal health
- Beware of inadvisable and unnecessary ‘clean’ vagina products
Let’s talk anatomy
Before we begin, let’s establish the location of various parts in the vulvovaginal region.
The vulva is the external female genital area that features the outer folds of skin called the labia majora. The inner folds of skin are called labia minora, and the clitoris is located at the top of those folds, shielded by the clitoral hood.
The area between the labia minora folds is called the vulva vestibule, where the vagina and urethra openings are. The vagina is inside the body, and the average length is under four inches, with the cervix at the top.
The ecosystem of the vagina
Inside your vagina is a whole ecosystem of microbiome, aka good bacteria.
The most prevalent microbiome is the lactobacilli, which produce multiple substances that stop yeast from growing.
If you’ve ever had a yeast infection, you’ll no doubt wonder why we haven’t built some statues to honour lactobacilli.
Indeed, these genius floras are doing the Lord’s work by keeping the vaginal PH level at a healthy balance of 4.
In a mildly acidic environment, the lactobacillus keeps infection under control, but if those levels drop, problems begin.
What causes Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
When the PH level in the vagina drops and lactobacillus decline, other bacteria begin to dominate and can cause nitrogen-containing compounds called amines to develop.
It’s about as pleasant as it sounds to be hosting an illegal rave of amines in your vagina, as anyone who’s had BV can testify.
There’s inflammation, soreness, itching, odours and burning during urination to contend with.
What causes thrush?
Similarly, thrush occurs when the vaginal microbiome is disrupted and the yeast-suppressing lactobacillus decline.
With thrush, fungi called Candida begin to multiply and overgrow, causing soreness, smelly discharge, rashes, and discomfort.
We can’t blame thrush entirely on a dip in vaginal microbiome as it can also be triggered by hormone changes or immune system issues.
But if you can keep your vagina ecosystem healthy, it’ll certainly give you a fighting chance of avoiding outbreaks of BV and thrush.
How do I maintain a healthy vagina?
We’re glad you asked because we’ve got so many tips to share.
Let’s tackle these in sections and give you the lowdown on the dos and don’ts.
DON’T start messing about with your vagina’s ecosystem by douching. Your vagina was designed to clean itself by making mucous and discharging it. It does this quite competently without using vinegar. Save your vinegar for chips and put the douche down.
DO clean your vulva every day using warm water and plain soap. Given that it’s outside your body, the vulva can do with some help, but nothing fancy.
DON’T use perfumed products inside the vagina or on the vulva. We’ve already outlawed involving yourself in vaginal cleaning full stop, but don’t be tempted by scented products as they’ll get ‘irritating’ fast.
DON’T be worried if you have a regular discharge from your vagina. It’s completely normal to see up to 1tbsp daily. As we’ve explained, the self-cleaning vagina produces mucous and discharge as part of its healthy regime. It’s nothing to worry about.
DO contact your GP if you notice something odd about the discharge. If your discharge has a noxious smell or changes colour, it can signify something is up. Both BV and Thrush can cause discharge to turn dodgy.
DON’T remove all your pubic hair. The trend might be for the shaved look, but pubic hair is there for a reason – to protect your vulva. Hair provides a shield from bacteria and viruses and skin friction during vaginal intercourse.
DO feel free to tidy the lady garden but bear in mind that keeping some hair is in your vulva’s best interests. Stick to mowing the bikini line and trimming the rest. The full Hollywood style might be popular, but so are Crocs, and we all know they are wrong.
DON’T go over the top when plucking, waxing or using hair removal creams on the vulva area. You can expect to get very sore as your hair follicles in that area begin a protest.
DO use condoms. If you are having sex with a new partner, or the relationship is an open one, or you aren’t sure if your lover is monogamous, be safe. Condoms protect against sexually transmitted infections, the enemy of a healthy vagina.
DON’T skip the lube. Vaginal dryness can happen to any woman at any age, and there are some times in our lives when it’s more likely to occur. Artificial lubrication will help to make sex more comfortable and counter any irritation of dry skin.
DO urinate straight after you have sex. You might not want to break the sexy spell by hitting the bathroom, but in the interest of avoiding urinary tract infections, it’s a good idea.
DO be sure to regularly change your sanitary products – whether you are wearing tampons or pads or another type of period product. It’s a way to protect against unfriendly bacteria trespassing into your vaginal ecosystem.
DON’T use perfumed tampons. As we’ve explained, perfume and vaginal PH levels are incompatible unless you are a big fan of having BV. Let us presume you are not.
DO wash more regularly when you are on your period if you want to. When you are bleeding, it’s quite understandable if you want to clean up more often, but stick to the rules of warm water, clean flannel and plain soap.
DON’T use tampons if you have BV. We are all creatures of habit, and if you prefer tampons, we get that you might want to use them no matter what. But when your skin is irritated, and your vagina is sore, putting a tampon in won’t be pleasant. Just stick to pads or period underwear until you feel better.
DO make good underwear choices – think breathable fabric. Cotton undies are far better for your vagina than silk or polyester for that very reason.
DON’T sleep with your knickers on. At night, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to embrace the freedom of no underwear and let the airflow. Knickers at night cultivate a warm, moist environment where yeast can thrive.
DO change out of gym clothes and swimwear straight away. At the risk of using the word moist twice in two paragraphs, it’s the same principle as knickers at night. Get sweaty or damp clobber off quickly and change into clean kecks.
DO keep well hydrated. Water is your best beverage friend for so many reasons, not least that it’s good for your vagina, as well as your overall health.
DON’T throw caution to the wind and consume loads of sugar, fat and alcohol. The reason? Aside from making you feel rubbish, it also feeds bad bacteria that will play havoc with your vaginal microbiome.
Time to put our tips into practice
We hope you’ve now got plenty of information about how to maintain a healthy vagina.
So much of the received wisdom is pretty straightforward and easy to apply.
If you know anybody who’d benefit from learning more about vaginal health, please send them this article.
Good vaginal health is for everyone, not just those in the know.
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