When it comes to vaginal health, you can never be too careful. This delicate yet powerful organ is highly sensitive to your daily habits and activities. It’s the “route of entry” for your reproductive tract, so everything you do makes a huge difference. Are you treating it well?
A healthy vagina depends on microbial balance. The good bacteria prevents infections by controlling the bad bacteria. Vaginal microbes also produce lactic acid, a microbicide that also keeps problems at bay. Thanks to this acidic environment, bad bacteria can’t grow and thrive.1 Vaginal tissue and the local immune response is also vital.2 If either one fails, the risk of infections and STDs will increase.
1. Avoid Douching
On paper, douching seems like a smart idea. It will leave your lady parts squeaky clean, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. Douching is full of perfume and chemicals that will only cause irritation. Even worse, it can kill “good” bacteria, causing an unhealthy microbial imbalance. This can increase your risk of developing a vaginal infection, including STDs and HIV.3
The vagina can actually clean itself! Every day, it produces mucus that washes away vaginal discharge, blood, and semen.4 Douching will only throw things for a loop.
2. Treat Infections Early
If you notice something funky, head to the gynecologist. You may have anything from an STD to a common vaginal disorder, like bacterial vaginosis (BV) or a yeast infection. It could also be neither, but you won’t know unless the doctor checks it out.
With that said, know what’s normal and what’s not. Pay attention to your normal odor and discharge. If you notice a fishy smell with white or milky gray discharge, it may be BV, the most common vaginal infection.5 A yeast infection, on the other hand, causes intense itching, soreness, white “cottage cheese” discharge, and pain while urinating and sex.6 It’s the second most common vaginal disorder.7
3. Regularly Visit The Gynecologist
The gynecologist isn’t just someone who diagnoses infections. She’s there for regular check-ups, too! From physical pelvic exams to Pap smears, routine tests will find problems before they snowball out of proportion.
Let’s look at cervical cancer, for example. This quiet disease takes 15 to 20 years to develop in ladies with normal immune systems.8 But thanks to Pap smears, cervical cancer is also the second most preventable cancer in females. This test examines cervical cells and looks for any abnormal, pre-cancerous changes.9
4. Never Use Anything But A Lubricant
During sex, a personal lubricant can make the deed more comfortable. But what if you don’t have any on hand? Avoid using petroleum jelly or oil, two things that will make your vagina more alkaline.
Bacteria will be more likely to thrive and cause infections. Both products may even damage vaginal tissue and reduce local immune response, making you more susceptible to STDs, HIV, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
In fact, according to a 2013 study in Obstetrics & Gynecology, using petroleum jelly increases the risk of BV by 22 percent, while using oil increases the risk of yeast infection by 32 percent.10 Always use a lube that is meant for sex.
5. Practice Good Hygiene
Practicing good hygiene is a must for the entire body. And when it comes to the vagina, simple is best. The Office on Women’s Health suggests washing the outside of your vagina with warm water and mild soap. If you have sensitive skin, plain water is perfectly fine.
By taking regular showers and wearing clean underwear, you can control body odor and discomfort.11
6. Wear Loose Clothing
When possible, keep things airy with loose-fitting garments. Tight underwear and jeans can really suffocate your vagina! Both body heat and moisture will increase, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and yeast overgrowth.12 This is especially true on hot summer days.
And if you’re in workout clothes or wet bathing suit? Don’t wait to change into dry clothes.
Change Tampons And Pads Regularly
During that time of the month, change your tampon every 4 hours, and avoid wearing one overnight. Using a tampon for too long can disrupt the vagina’s microbial balance and pH. You’ll be a greater risk for infections, or worse, toxic shock syndrome.13
If you’re a pad kind of woman, avoid odor and discomfort by changing once it’s soaked. Never use menstrual products with scents, as the chemicals will only do more harm than good.
|↑1||O’Hanlon, Deirdre E., Thomas R. Moench, and Richard A. Cone. “Vaginal pH and microbicidal lactic acid when lactobacilli dominate the microbiota.” PloS one 8, no. 11 (2013): e80074.|
|↑2, ↑10||Brown, Joelle M., Kristen L. Hess, Stephen Brown, Colleen Murphy, Ava Lena Waldman, and Marjan Hezareh. “Intravaginal practices and risk of bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis infection among a cohort of women in the United States.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 121, no. 4 (2013): 773-780.|
|↑3, ↑4, ↑11||Douching. WomensHealth.gov, Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑5, ↑7||Dou, Na, Weiping Li, E. Zhou, Chan Wang, Zhaozhao Xiao, and Honghui Zhou. “Risk factors for candida infection of the genital tract in the tropics.” African health sciences 14, no. 4 (2014): 835-839.|
|↑8||Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. World Health Organization.|
|↑9||Screening Tests and Vaccines. WomensHealth.gov, Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑12||Vaginal Yeast Infections. WomensHealth.gov, Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑13||Toxic shock syndrome (TSS). BetterHealth Channel, Victoria State Government.|