Your vagina is the muscular tube that connects your vulvar opening to your cervix and uterus. The vagina has an incredible self-cleaning and lubricating body part. It maintains an optimum inner environment by utilizing your body’s estrogen hormone and with the help of good bacteria(lactobacilli) that are naturally present in the vaginal wall. Any change in this delicate balance can lead to vaginal infections, dryness, or other problems. A well-balanced vaginal environment can result in great sexual health, reduced risks of vaginal and uterine infections, decreased vaginal dryness or irritation, and feeling comfortable in your body.
DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be all-encompassing and should not replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.
This blog may contain images that are considered graphic but they are used for the sole purpose of informative education.
Here are 10 simple ways to keep your vagina healthy and happy.
1. Know your body, especially your intimate lady parts. Increase your knowledge of how your body works and how best to support it. This self-awareness can give you the confidence to have meaningful communication with your health care provider. Vulva and vagina are two closely related parts that have totally different appearances, functions, and problems. One can easily be confused with the other.
Here is a picture of the vulva, which is the outer fleshy part that is in contact with your panties, pads or pantyliners.
Here is a picture of the vagina, the tube that is connecting the vulvar opening with the cervix and uterus. Your healthcare provider examines the vagina with a speculum during your yearly exam.
2. Don’t Douche! Douching, or inserting water or other feminine hygiene products in the vagina is not safe. Your vagina is an efficient self-cleaning organ and can maintain the natural balance of the good and bad bacteria without additional help. Douching can result in disruption of this balance leading to all kinds of problems including infections like yeast or bacterial vaginosis (BV).
3. Use skin friendly products such as skin sensitive unscented soaps, toilet paper and bath products for cleaning your vulva. Wear cotton underwear only (preferably the white unbleached kind). Don’t worry you can still find cotton underwear that make you feel confident in your sexuality. Avoid wearing thongs or tight clothes. Tampons or pads can occasionally irritate the vagina or vulva. If you have sensitive skin, consider using menstrual cups instead. Menstrual cups are made of silicone or rubber, are reusable, skin and environment friendly and cost effective. When taken good care of, one menstrual cup can last for several years.
4. Use safe shaving techniques. If you shave your pubic hair, make sure you are changing the blade regularly and using a sensitive skin shaving gel or soap. NEVER share your razor or blade with anyone, even your partner. Most women start shaving up from their legs, move to their underarms, and end at their vulva. This technique will carry bacteria found on your skin to your most intimate parts. Consider having a separate vulva razor that is changed frequently. Bacteria have a nasty habit of getting through the small cuts on the skin that your naked eye cannot see. This can result in infections ranging from a small boil to some serious ones. If you have frequent skin problems, avoid shaving, waxing, or using any hair removing products on your pubic area. You can instead trim your hair or just go natural.
5. Practice safe sex, use condoms! By limiting sexual activity with one stable partner and using condoms, you can avoid many of the sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia. Some condoms with spermicides can irritate your vagina. If you are having more frequent yeast or Bacterial Vaginosis infections, you can try changing the condom to a simple latex one without any add on. If you have latex allergy, you can use Polyurethane condoms.
6. Know your lubes. If you are using lubrication for sexual enhancement or vaginal dryness, use products from trusted brands. There are several types of lubricants that you can find in your local pharmacy near the condom aisle. Most commonly available ones are water based, oil based, silicone and petroleum based. It is best to avoid the petroleum-based products, they can disrupt the vaginal lining and weaken the latex condom. You can also use natural lubricants such as coconut oil or avocado oil. Water or silicone-based lubes are generally safe, easy to use and do not stain your clothes or the bedsheets. The lube used for pelvic exams in your gynecologist’s office is water based.
7. Kegel exercises are a great way to tone your vaginal muscles specially after giving birth. Doing regular Kegel exercises, not only improves your sexual health but also reduces the risk of developing urinary leakage. CLICK HERE for a great resource on how to do Kegel exercises.
8. Get any unusual discharge checked out, it may be a sign of vaginal infection. If your vaginal discharge appears to be clumpy, frothy, grayish or smells bad, you may have an infection. Not all vaginal infections are caused by yeast. Some of them can be Bacterial Vaginosis or other sexually transmitted infections. It is important to get any unusual discharge checked out to get the right treatment.
9. Take extra care of your vagina after birth or pelvic surgery. The vaginal canal after birth or hysterectomy undergoes intense healing and regeneration. Avoid sex or use of tampons or toys for at least 6 weeks after delivery to reduce the risk of serious infections or trauma. It is best to wait until you are cleared by your health care provider at your 6-week postpartum visit. ASK your provider for a referral to pelvic floor therapy!
10. Get vaccinated for HPV earlier in life. Sexual activity and smoking tobacco can increase your risk for getting HPV infections that lead to cervical and other cancers. HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin or sexual contact. Nearly all sexually active people get exposed to HPV sometime during their life. While most HPV infections go away on their own within 2 years, some HPV infections linger on and can cause cancers later in life. Quitting smoking and getting vaccinated for HPV reduces this risk. HPV vaccine is safe and is recommended by the CDC for adolescents at 11 or 12 years of age to ensure they are protected before they are exposed to the virus. HPV vaccine can prevent over 90% of cancers caused by HPV. Vaccination is recommended for men and women from 9 through 26 years of age. If you were not able to get vaccinated during the recommended age group, you can have a discussion with your health care provider. You are eligible to receive the vaccination until age 45 if you are at higher risk! Visit THIS LINK for more information.
The Bottom Line
Go for regular gynecologic checkups and use safe sexual practices. Quit smoking and get vaccinated for HPV to reduce your risk for genital cancers. Get any vaginal or vulvar problem checked out and treated in a timely manner to keep your vagina happy.
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Manjusha Sahni, MD is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist. She has been practicing in the Roanoke Valley for more than a decade. She is an educator at VTC medical school and the OB/GYN residency program at Carilion. She is a well-being coach who is passionate about empowering women to take charge of their personal health and well-being. She loves to spend her “me” time with her family. Her hobbies are painting, dancing, and hiking.