People go to great lengths to avoid saying the infamous V-word. Lady bits, va-jay-jay, hoo-ha, private-parts, honey pot, flower, coochie, you name it. There is a lot of shame associated with talking about anything related to vaginas, especially when it comes to vaginal health.
If speaking about vaginas makes you uncomfortable, I am here to tell you that A) it shouldn’t, and B) get over it because I will be saying the word vagina a lot throughout this article. All for your benefit, of course!
We all remember the book
I can recall the first time my mom sat me down to give me the birds, the bees, and the female body talk. She supplemented the lecture by ‘gifting’ me the notorious American Girl Doll Book. As an eleven-year-old, the whole ordeal was traumatizing and I buried the book underneath the bed out of embarrassment. Years later, I realized I was not the only one who remembers the fateful day their mothers brought home the book.
All shame and American Girl Doll books aside, I am here to recap tips, tricks, and reminders on maintaining good vaginal hygiene.
To properly take care of what’s going on down there (no pun intended), it’s important to clearly understand how the vagina works.
The vagina is a tube of muscle inside a woman’s body that runs from the cervix (the opening of the womb) to the vaginal opening. The vagina generally has an acidic pH, is naturally lubricated, and contains rich quantities of beneficial bacteria to help fend off infections.
Surrounding the vaginal opening lies the external sex organs, known as the vulva. Vulvas can differ in shape, color, and size for everyone; however, each contains the same parts. Parts of the vulva include the labia, clitoris, vaginal opening, and the opening to the urethra.
Often referred to as “the self-cleaning oven,” the vagina is designed to keep itself clean through natural secretions (a.k.a discharge). According to the American Sexual Health Association:
“In a healthy vagina, there is a balance among many kinds of bacteria. That’s right—a healthy vagina is full of bacteria. Some kinds of bacteria are considered “good” while others are “bad.” Good bacteria help keep the vagina a little bit acidic. This keeps bad bacteria from growing too fast. Sometimes, though, the bad bacteria can take over and cause problems.”Source: https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/vaginalhealth/
Throwing off the vagina’s pH balance and overgrowth of bad bacteria manifests itself in the forms of:
- Vaginal odor
- Change in discharge color and consistency
- Vulvar discomfort: itching or burning
- Bumps and rashes
- Infections such as yeast and bacterial vaginosis
No one likes to admit when their lady bits are out of whack. Luckily, however, there are several things one can do to prevent this from happening.
1. Avoid douching and scented products
Commonly used by women to “clean” their vagina, a douche clears out vaginal secretions by flushing water up the vagina. Similarly, women also tend to gravitate to soaps and cleansers that market against vaginal odor. Not only are these products a waste of money, but they also disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria meant to maintain acidity and prevent infections.
“If nature had intended the vagina to smell like roses or lavender, it would have made the vagina smell like roses or lavender.”Professor Lamont, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Products that guarantee to make your vagina smell like blossoms will only make things worse. Remember the vagina already does a good job cleansing itself, so less is always more when it comes to doing it yourself. When cleansing, it is encouraged to stick to natural, non-scented soaps as well as warm water.
2. Watch what you wear
What you wear can hinder your vagina’s ability to stay clean and dry. Certain fabrics and tight-fitting clothing can trap heat and moisture, creating conditions that increase your risk of developing a yeast infection. It is recommended to wear breathable cotton underwear and change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workout clothes as soon as possible.
Dr. Millheiser’s advice: “If you experience a lot of discharge and dampness during the day, take two pairs of underwear with you every day when you go to work or school, and change your underwear during the day. It’ll help you feel more comfortable and will help prevent infection.”
3. Take probiotics and supplements
According to the Healthline:
“Probiotics are a collection of live microorganisms that have health benefits for your body. Some of the most common probiotics are a type of bacteria called Lactobacillus. The vaginal microbiota naturally contains Lactobacillus. It helps to prevent Candida and other bacteria from growing out of control. “
Experts believe these strains help maintain vaginal balance by sticking to vaginal surfaces and making it more challenging for harmful bacteria to grow. Probiotics may also help prevent vaginal infections, especially yeast infections, and can reduce the risk of vaginal odor.
4. Practice safe & clean sex
Not only will safe sex prevent you from getting STDs and unwanted pregnancies, but it can also prevent the introduction of harmful bacteria to your vagina.
To engage in safe and clean intercourse it is encouraged to take the following steps:
- Use a condom to prevent contact between vaginal fluids and semen (which can contribute to fishy odor)
- Use the bathroom after intercourse to avoid a UTI
- Avoid scented or flavored lubricants (these can throw off pH levels as well as erode the latex on a condom)
- Rinse the vulva with water afterward
5. Maintain a good diet
I am sure you have heard the old-fashioned pineapple trick by now. However, apart from just pineapples, good vaginal and reproductive health revolves around following a full, balanced, and nutritious diet with plenty of fluids.
In addition, certain foods are also effective in treating vaginal health problems.
According to Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California:
Yogurt can potentially help prevent yeast infections and aid in their treatment. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, especially plain Greek yogurt.”