Although it’s an extremely important organ 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 our efforts to keep it all “hush hush”, we forget to take proper care of this organ, which might lead to various 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’s breaking down some common myths, and telling you what you should actually know in order to achieve good vaginal health:
pH refers to the vagina’s acidity level. Vaginas naturally contain a balance of different bacteria (these are the good guys!), that protect the vagina from external 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 odor, irritation and sometimes infection.
Myth: Every vagina has the same pH, and hence requires the same amount of care.
This is absolutely untrue. 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, and requires different amount of care!
All vaginas have a scent, and no two vaginas smell the same.
Myth: Vaginas Should Smell “Fruity” or “Floral”
Absolutely freaking not! These are nothing but patriarchal myths made to appease the heterosexual male gaze. 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 remember, all vaginas have their own unique scent, and if yours doesn’t pander to what is conventionally considered “aesthetic”, there is nothing wrong with that.
Your body secretes natural fluids, which is commonly known as ‘discharge’.
Myth: Discharge is Something “Abnormal”, and Something to Worry About
This is totally and completely wrong. Discharge is how your vagina self-cleanses and it is completely normal and vital to healthy vaginal function! Discharge can vary in amount, colour, texture and scent depending on your cycle. Don’t be frightened at all if you see those white stains in your underpants often. 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.
Myth: “Douching” is A Good Way to Cleanse My Vagina
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.
Myth: Soaps and Conditioners Are Nice Too
Nope with a capital N. Remember those helpful bacteria? Soaps and conditioners will remove them 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.
Myth: Vaginal Washes Sound Like a Great Thing
Nowadays, you 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, all over again. 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.
Myth: To Ensure It Gets Properly Cleaned, I Should Insert The Cleaning Agent Inside My Vagina
Never, EVER do that!! Inserting cleansing agents into your vagina—and this applies to any gels, deodorants, perfumed products and wipes, too—can MAJORLY disturb your vagina’s natural balance. Always apply these externally, around your vulva, and never inside it. While they still pose a possible risk of irritation, unscented baby wipes are the lesser of evils if you want to “freshen up” your vagina. However, always pay attention to your irritants and triggers while using any external cleansing agent.
Myth: Tight Thongs, Lacy Underwear Are Cool
While they may look good aesthetically and often make you feel sexy and beautiful, they can affect your vagina adversely! It is important to allow your vagina to breathe, so don’t wear clothing that is too tight in the vaginal area. Cotton panties are the best option, as they are both comfortable and healthy.
The food you eat affects your vagina too!
What To Eat, What to Avoid:
Balancing your diet in general and including things like pineapples, strawberries, yogurt, soy (the list goes on!) can influence your pH balance in positive ways. Beverages like water, cranberry juice and pineapple juice are also proven to improve vaginal health, and keep it moist and hydrated. Adding a probiotic supplement to any part of your diet can increase the amount of “good” bacteria in your vagina called lactobacillus. So, eat healthy, and your vagina will thank you!
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 wonderful, organ. Our biology books and sex education classes often don’t teach us more about our vaginas, and more about how to keep it healthy. So, through this piece, I hope I have been able to introduce you to the important aspects of vaginal hygiene. Apart from following the tips that I have talked about, it is also important to go for regular vaginal exams to a trusted gynaecologist, and not be afraid or hesitant to do so. You are beautiful, and your vagina is beautiful, so let’s show it some love, yeah?