Though the vagina remains one of the most important organs for those who have it, we often don’t talk enough about vaginal health and hygiene. Talking about vaginas is as much a taboo as talking about sex is, and hence, in an effort to gloss over uncomfortable details, we forget to take proper care of this organ, which in turn leads to a whole host of diseases and complications. From douching to avoiding an annual vaginal exam, there are tons of common misconceptions about what you should do to maintain a healthy vagina. So, here are some basic facts you should know, and should probably follow, in order to achieve good vaginal health:
pH refers to the vagina’s acidity level. Vaginas naturally contain a balance of different “good” bacteria which protect it from external “bad” bacteria and fungus. They provide natural disinfectants and help maintain a healthy vaginal pH of 3.5-4.5. A vaginal pH in this range indicates that there is a perfect amount of “good” bacteria (lactobacilli), and no overgrowth of the “bad” bacteria that can cause odour, irritation and sometimes infection. Vaginal pH varies from person to person, day to day, depending on your cycle, your diet and many other external factors. And hence, one’s pH can be either high or low, depending on various factors. Just as every person is different, every vagina is different.
Have you ever been told that your vagina should smell “fruity” or “floral” or “pleasant”? That’s a complete and utter misconception. It’s true that every vagina has its own smell, but that’s a combination of the discharge and bodily fluids that comprise and lubricate the vagina, and nothing about it should adhere to a particular patriarchal aesthetic. However, if you are worried about your scent, you can place an organic fragrant oil to an area around your vulva but not on it (places like between your thighs or on your lower stomach, for example). But it’s important to remember that there is no singular way in which a vagina should smell, it’s different for every person!
The white sticky semi-solid substance you find in your panties often? Yep, that’s what you call ‘vaginal discharge’. It’s nothing but a natural secretion of bodily fluids that keeps your vagina lubricated and well-cleansed. Discharge can vary in amount, colour, texture and scent depending on your cycle, and is, in fact, essential for the healthy functioning of the vagina. However, if you feel that your discharge is unusual or abnormal (green, grey, very yellow, smelly, itchy, chunky, and so on), definitely go visit a doctor. In case you experience abundant discharge, you can remove the excess discharge in your shower by inserting one clean finger into your vagina, moving it from one side to another and ‘scooping’ the discharge out.
Cleansing your vagina properly is extremely important for healthy vaginal function. Dead skin cells, oil and germs can build up between your clitoris and your clitoral hood, as well as inside your vagina, so it’s important to lift your hood up and rinse thoroughly so it doesn’t harden and cause infections or diseases. Use the washcloths and towels you use to clean and dry your vagina on a rotation basis, because otherwise they might accumulate germs that can have unfavourable effects. It’s also important to remember to wipe from the ‘front to back’, because not only does that keep rectal bacterial away, and is also an easy method of cleansing.
Do not, and I repeat, do NOT douche. Douching is a method to wash out the vagina with a mixture of water and vinegar. ‘Douches’ are sold in drugstores and supermarkets and come in a bottle or bag which is sprayed through a tube upward into the vagina. You may think it helps, but it only masks any problems while causing more! Douching throws off your natural scent, alters your PH and forces bacteria into your cervix. Water and a soft, clean washcloth is actually all you need to clean your vulvar areas that contain a mucous membrane.
Soaps and conditioners are also not very advisable when it comes to cleansing your vagina. They may remove the “good bacteria” and the natural necessary lubricants that protect the vagina. They may also cause irritation, inflammation, major discomfort and dryness. There should always be some amount of moistness present in your vagina, and soaps take that away.
Nowadays, you see also see a variety of vaginal washes (such as V-Wash) in pharmacies, which claim to cleanse your vagina without disturbing the pH balance. But that’s just capitalism trying to fool you. A vast majority of vaginal washes, even those touted as hypoallergenic, still contain dyes and fragrances which are known irritants, so it is important that you read the label before you use them. While vaginal washes are used to cleanse “bad” bacteria from your vulva, they might often wash away the “good” bacteria too. To be safe, always consult a trusted gynaecologist before we use something like a vaginal wash.
While they may look good aesthetically and often make you feel sexy and beautiful, tight thongs or lacy panties (and so on) can affect your vagina adversely! It is important to allow your vagina to breathe, and hence, it’s best to avoid clothing that is too tight in the vaginal area. They may cause unwanted infections, or even itching or soreness. Cotton panties are the safest and most comfortable option when it comes to protecting your vagina, and they are healthy as well as convenient.
Balancing your diet in general and including things like pineapples, strawberries, yogurt, soy (the list goes on!) can definitely influence your vagina’s pH balance in positive ways. Beverages like water, cranberry juice and pineapple juice are also proven to improve vaginal health, as they keep it moist and hydrated. Adding a probiotic supplement to any part of your diet can, again, increase the amount of “good” bacteria in your vagina, which in turn offers better protection. Eating healthy definitely equals to a healthier vagina.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things one can know about one’s vagina and subsequently take measures to take better care of it. And yet, it’s essential that we remember each one. The less ideal your vaginal pH balance is, the more susceptible you are to infections, STDs and other diseases, and hence, it is important for all of us to take care of this organ. Our biology books and sex education classes are often inadequate when it comes to teaching us more about our vaginas, and more about how to keep it healthy. So, through this piece, I hope we all learnt at least the basics of vaginal hygiene. Apart from these tips, it is also important to go for regular vaginal exams to a trusted gynaecologist, and not be hesitant to do so. If you show your vagina enough love, it will love you back.