Treat Your Vagina With Care
The vaginal canal is lined with a mucous membrane and a combination of bacteria that are responsible for protecting your vagina from infections. The vagina is also a self-cleaning organ that washes itself by producing secretions, aka discharge. “Vaginal secretions are absolutely normal, and usually are a sign of good vaginal health,” Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy tells SL. “The bacteria in your vagina keep it in tip-top condition and at an acidic pH, which is integral to vaginal health. If you repeatedly wash, bath or shower to clean out your vagina, you’ll wash away the all-important bacteria and disrupt this natural mechanism, which can lead to bacterial vaginosis (BV). In fact, BV is the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge in women during their reproductive years. Around one in three women will have BV at some point.”
It’s normal for your vagina to have an odour, and it will change depending where you are in your menstrual cycle. Your vagina’s bacterial make-up changes in response to pH and hormones, affecting the odour. “It’s okay for your vagina to smell like a vagina,” says Deborah. “And although there is a vast range of products – from scented tampons to deodorants – meant to make your vagina smell fresh, there’s no need for them. If you use these products, which also contain preservatives, cleansing agents, alcohol and more, and rub them on the vulval area, it can easily trigger irritation and sensitivity, making matters worse. This is called vulvitis. It can be very unpleasant, causing stinging and burning sensations when peeing and discomfort during sex.” Deborah says you only need to rinse with warm water to keep things clean down there. “If you don’t feel comfortable going soap-free, stick with a plain, gentle, unscented soap or shower gel.”
Experts agree vaginal douching is the worst offender when it comes to intimate health. “Douching involves squirting a solution, often scented with synthetic chemicals, up your vagina with the intention of cleaning it,” says Dr Shirin Lakhani of Elite Aesthetics. “Some say it leaves them feeling fresher and gets rid of unpleasant odours, and it’s bizarrely more popular than ever. The problem is, douching removes everything that’s inside your vagina, including the good bacteria that keep it healthy. Without that bacteria, you’re at risk of an infection. There is little scientific evidence that douching makes your vagina cleaner.”
Opt For Cotton
When it comes to underwear, cotton should be your top choice, and it all comes down to breathability. “Cotton underwear allows air to circulate and the skin to breathe better than synthetic fabrics do,” says Shirin. “Wearing underwear made with synthetic materials can trap sweat, dirt and bacteria and hold it close to your skin, which can mean an increased risk of genital irritation and infections.” Instead, opt for natural fabrics such as cotton and silk. And try not to wear pants in bed either, says Deborah. “There’s no need to wear underwear in bed. Go commando and let the air circulate.”
Pee After Sex
You may have heard the old wives’ tale about always going to the loo after sex, and with good reason. “Studies have shown that not peeing within 15 minutes of having sex increases the risk of a UTI,” says Deborah. “If you are prone to urine infections, then it makes sense to get up after sex and pee. The problem is that the rectum and vagina are anatomically very close to the urethra – the place you pee from. After sex, bacteria can easily pass from the rectal and vaginal areas into the urethra.”
…And Always Wipe Front To Back
For similar reasons, it’s important to wipe from front to back every time you go to the loo. “This is vital to prevent bacteria and germs from the rectum or anus from entering the vagina, and urethra, therefore helping prevent a urine infection,” adds Dr Zahra Ameen, consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at the Cadogan Clinic. Still not convinced? One study found wiping front to back can help reduce the chance of a UTI by 64%.
Choose Your Lube Wisely
“Vaginal dryness happens to all of us, but always make sure you’re using a water-based lubricant, as these tend to be free from parabens and don’t contain any nasties,” says Deborah. “Any lube you choose should have a similar pH to your vagina. Silicone-based lubricants are also generally safe and effective, and while an oil-based product can also be used, these shouldn’t be paired with condoms, as they can cause latex to rupture.”
Know Periods Don’t Make You Dirty
“Periods aren’t a lot of fun. However, they’re perfectly natural and just because you are having a period doesn’t mean you are dirty, or unhealthy,” says Deborah. “There’s no need to go mad with cleaning wipes, scented tampons and panty liners or vaginal deodorants. You only need to wash the genital area once a day, even during your period.” If you want to feel extra clean during your period, Shirin adds that you can rinse the area with water twice a day if needed. “Blood can offer a favourable environment for bacteria to thrive, so rinsing with water up to twice a day can help you feel cleaner.”
Finally, Here’s What To Look Out For…
There are a number of signs that indicate your vagina could do with some TLC. “A change in colour or smell of your discharge is a key sign,” says Shirin. “Normal vaginal discharge is a white or clear, non-offensive discharge. Keep an eye out for abnormal discharge – a fishy smell, a yellow colour or a texture like cottage cheese is not normal. This could be a sign of an infection. Pain in the vagina or a burning sensation also shouldn’t be ignored.” Zahra adds that if a symptom is persistent (for more than three months), this should always warrant a chat with your GP. “This is especially true if you are experiencing persistent smelly discharge or bleeding in between periods or after sex.” Finally, always make sure you are up to date with your smear tests – a smear should be done every three years between the ages of 25-49.
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.