Vaginas. They’re pretty amazing, aren’t they? But, before we go any further, let’s just clear something up. While many people use the word ‘vagina’ to refer to all the internal and external female genitals (and that’s okay – we know what you mean), the vagina is actually only the muscular canal that connects your cervix to the vaginal opening.
The vulva, on the other hand, refers to all the outside stuff like the labia (the inner and outer ‘lips’), clitoris and urethra. So how, exactly, should you be taking care of your vagina, vulva and intimate bits in general?
Stop. Douching. Right. Now. It’s actually doing more damage than good. The good news is that the vagina is self cleaning (how amazing is that?!) so you don’t need to do too much to keep it clean. The vulva (that refers to the external bits, including the labia), however, are not self cleaning. But all you really need to do to clean your vulva is water. If you want to use a product, choose something that has been specially formulated for use in this intimate area – regular soaps can upset the delicate pH balance and leave you prone to infections.
And, while we’re talking about washing our intimate areas, try not to sit around in sweaty gym gear or a damp swimming costume. Shower as soon as possible and change into cotton undies to lessen your chances of getting a yeast infection.
Wipe front to back
Yes, we’ve heard it said a million times before but wiping from front to back really is one of the best things you can do for your vagina. Why? Because when bacteria from the anus enters the urethra, you can get a nasty Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). In fact, between 50-60% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime. Another way to avoid a UTI is to pee after sex. And ladies, this really should be a non-negotiable.
Okay, so 100% cotton underwear might not be the sexiest choice but it definitely is the healthiest choice for day-to-day wear if you want to avoid a yeast infection, which 75% of women will experience at least once in their lives.
Why? Well, the expert advice from WebMD is that cotton is a breathable fabric that absorbs moisture and will keep you dry. If you really want to wear something lacy or satin, choose a piece that at least has a cotton gusset – your vagina will thank you for it.
If you’re prone to yeast infections, irritation or itchiness down below, medical professionals suggest you try to go without underwear at night, giving your bits a chance to breathe.
You know the old saying, ‘A woman can never have too many shoes or tubes of lube’? Okay, that might not be exactly how the saying goes… but it should. A good quality lubricant can make all the difference to a sexual encounter, and it’s not just for pleasure reasons. It reduces frictions so you’re less likely to injure yourself and, if you’re using a condom, lube means it’s less likely to break or come off. Best choices – especially if you’re using latex condoms – are water- or silicone-based lubricants.
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Bye-bye bubble bath
Soaking in a hot bath with fragrant bubbles might feel amazing but your vagina isn’t enjoying it as much as you are. That’s because products like these can change the pH of your vagina, decreasing the amount of ‘good’ bacteria and increasing the chances of Bacterial Vaginosis or a yeast infection. In fact, try to steer clear of any scented feminine hygiene products like tampons or pads as they can cause irritation.
Do your kegels
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles, nerves, ligaments and tissue around your pelvic bone and together they play a critical role in our urinary and bowel functions, as well as our sexual and reproductive systems. With a weak pelvic floor, you might experience unpleasant symptoms like incontinence or painful sex. And if that’s not enough to convince you to start a strict kegels routine, maybe this will: kegels can improve the blood flow to the vagina and the pelvic floor, boosting sexual arousal.
This might be at the bottom of the list but it’s probably the most important thing you can do for your vagina (and your health in general): ALWAYS practice safe sex. And if you experience pain during sex, unexpected bleeding, smelly discharge or pelvic pain and bloating, see your gynaecologist or other health practitioner. Actually, go for regular check ups even if you don’t have any uncomfortable or worrying symptoms.