For as long as I can remember, I have received innumerable advice on how to care for my vaginal area. Gossip stories, word-of-mouth, and generational practices are only some sources of vagina related information. I am sure that you have been advised too. It is important to know that some of these ‘tips’ are not only false, but they can also harm your vagina and vulva. Now is the time to do a little myth busting!
First things first, a lot of people think that the external component of the female reproductive organ is called vagina, but that isn’t true. The vulva is the outer part of the genitals. The vagina is a closed, muscular canal that extends from the vulva to the neck of the uterus.
Your vagina cleans itself inside of the body with natural vaginal secretions (discharge). Yes – discharge is normal! It simply means your vagina is healthy. Vulvar care is essential to keep the vulva dry and free from irritants, and to prevent the vulva from becoming red, swollen or irritated. As menstruators, we need to empower ourselves to be healthy. Responsibly caring for our vagina is essential to prevent infections.
Although our vaginas self-clean, we need to take into consideration our habits that might affect its health. A lot of people may wonder what they can do to improve their reproductive health. Here are a few tips that might answer your “should I’s” and “shouldn’t I’s”:
- Put on clean underwear every day and keep your vagina dry: Even if it was worn for 15 seconds, wash it. Let it be clean before it is used again. Your underwear is subject to discharge from your vagina, natural discharge. The discharge may have foul odour, hence, washing your underwear before wearing it should be a priority. Keep the vaginal area as dry as possible. This includes changing your underwear. What must also be understood is that your vagina has a pH, which is a measure of how acidic or alkaline it is. A healthy vaginal pH is between 3.8 and 4.5, which is more on the acidic side. The vagina maintains this itself, but not changing a wet swimsuit or not changing your underwear after sweating can create a pH imbalance, and can lead to a bacterial infection or irritation.
- Know when it is time to see a doctor: Inspect yourself. When you notice a sudden change in vaginal odour (especially if it is strong), it might be the first sign of an infection. .Pay attention to any changes in these natural processes. If you notice any bumps, open sores, or see any discolored area, or foul smelling vaginal discharge, experience itching, or painful sex, then visit your doctor.
- Stop using perfumed soaps and gels: the vagina is self-cleaning. You should only clean it using water. Soaps, especially perfumed ones, tend to increase the risk of infections, throw the vaginal pH out of balance, and cause unpleasant odours. Gentle soaps are okay for external genitalia. Do not douche. Douching is washing or cleaning the inside of your vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. Douching can create many vaginal health problems like infections or multiplication of harmful bacteria .
- When you menstruate, change your pads and tampons at regular intervals. It is recommended that one changes their sanitary napkins and tampons every 4 to 8 hours, to avoid infections and bacteria build up. Even though it depends if you use a menstrual cup, which is a small funnel shaped cup made of rubber or silicone that you insert in your vagina to collect period fluid, make sure it is the correct size, it’s properly cleaned after every use (usually with warm water and a mild, oil and fragrance free soap) and make sure that you wash your hands with antibacterial soap pre and post the menstrual cup insertion. It will reduce chances of infections.
- Have safer sex: Engaging in sexual intercourse where bodily fluids (ejaculate fluid, anal rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, blood, pre-seminal fluids etc.) are involved might give a pathway to harmful pathogens, like viruses and bacteria, to enter your vagina, causing infections like syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, genital herpes, or genital warts, to name a few. Incase of oral sex, dental damns can be used. A dental dam is a barrier between a person’s mouth and the other person’s genitals. Incase of vaginal sex use condoms. Women can use internal condoms that are a barrier-type contraceptive inserted into the vagina prior to sex. External condoms are worn by men, to keep semen from entering the vagina. Pee post sexual intercourse as it can flush out any bacteria, thereby preventing the spread of UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections – an infection in any part of the urinary system). However, this cannot protect you against STIs or prevent pregnancy.
- Get timely screenings done: Just like the rest of your body, it is important to get your pelvic exam done regularly for routine care. This screening is done to evaluate your reproductive organs(it includes your vulva, vagina, cervix, ovaries, uterus, rectum and pelvis) to check for abnormalities.
- After using the bathroom: Wipe front to back, it minimizes the risk of spreading bacteria to your urethra. If the bacteria reach the urethra, it can cause UTIs.
- Diet plays an important role in vaginal and reproductive health. Drink plenty of fluids, and maintain a nutritional diet. For instance, if you are prone to yeast infections, then adding yoghurt to your diet will improve your vaginal pH and prevent recurrent infections.
To sum it all up, it would be appropriate to say that there is not anything complex that we need to do to keep our vaginas and vulvas healthy. What we do need is to form certain habits and stay regular. It would not only help the vagina but also our body. When your vagina feels fresh, so do you!
Written By, Dhruvi Gandhi
Dhruvi is a student currently in the first year of her undergraduate studies and a part of the Blog Team at The Period Society @periodsociety. She is studying at NMIMS, Bombay. She is an avid reader and a math buff. She believes that it is important to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene. She wants to open the conversation surrounding these issues via her writing and hopes that one day no menstruator is ashamed to talk about menstruation.
Reviewed by Dr. Reena Bhalala
Dr. Bhalala is a General OB/GYN working as an OB Hospitalist at the North Central Baptist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. She has been handling obstetric and gynaec emergencies since the past 15 years.
https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHBF_enIN876IN877&sxsrf=ALeKk01rrmbhzuox7XcLD2g-zNytSmyoow%3A1613754566196&ei=xvAvYOy0C8eS9QPVjKS4Dw&q=vaginal+discharge+&oq=vaginal+discharge+&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd2l6EAMyBwgAELEDEEMyBwgAELEDEEMyBAgAEEMyBAgAEEMyBAgAEEMyBAgAEEMyBAgAEEMyBAgAEEMyBAgAEEMyBAgAEEM6BwgAEEcQsANQk4AEWNqzBGDStwRoA3ACeACAAcEBiAHPCpIBAzAuOZgBAKABAaoBB2d3cy13aXrIAQjAAQE&sclient=gws-wiz&ved=0ahUKEwjsr7CduPbuAhVHSX0KHVUGCfcQ4dUDCA0&uact=5 -Vaginal discharge
For over ten years I have worked as a Public Health Professional with people of all ages within non-profit organizations, social service organizations, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics to train, educate, promote, manage, design and implement public health programs to meet the needs of the communities I served. I have worked for organizations such as, Planned Parenthood, The Southern Nevada Health District, Kaiser Permanente, the City of Berkeley’s Public Health Department, and most recently Upstream USA. In these positions I was responsible for managing health education projects and people. In addition to being a people manager, I conducted and evaluated needs assessments,assisted in the development of curriculum, content, and training presentations for diverse audiences on a variety of public health topics. One of my main responsibilities was to conduct in-person, and live web-based public health education training presentations.I have a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a specialization in Social and Behavioral Sciences. I also hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Communications, and Minor in Sociology. I love helping to empower people of all ages to take charge of their health, and lead healthier, happier, more informed lives. In my spare time, I love cooking, reading, traveling, and watching & listening to all things related to true crime.
Tanya C Jaikaran, MPH