Vulva and Vagina Health

Photo by Maria Talks on Unsplash

Hey! Let me be honest with you. Taking care of my vagina and vulva has never been easy. In fact, it is the one part I do get paranoid about. I cannot use a public washroom without thinking about all the possible bacteria and infections I will collect. I count the number of times I drink yoghurt in a month to benefit my pretty flower down there. Crazy, right?

Well along the way, I have learnt a few things that I am going to share with you. The focus will be on:

  • The vagina and vulva
  • What goes wrong
  • What you can do about it
  • How to tell if your vagina is not okay

The vagina and vulva

A vagina is an elastic, soft, muscular canal that begins from the cervix to the vaginal opening on the outside. I am going to assume you already knew that.

The vulva on the other hand is the outside part of the vagina. It comprises of the clitoris, labia majora (outside lips) and labia minora (inner lips) surrounding the clitoris, the urethra and the vaginal opening.

Naturally, the vagina cleanses itself with the discharge/fluid that comes from it. So what exactly goes wrong down there?

What goes wrong

Many things can tamper with the overall health of your vagina and vulva. They are inclusive of:

Imbalance of vaginal bacteria

The vagina has an abundance of bacteria beneficial to it. The bacteria protects the vagina from any bad bacteria that may enter the vagina. They also keep the vagina’s pH balanced. The vagina’s normal pH ranges between 3.5 to 4.5. If disrupted, many other organisms can grow since the environment is no longer in favour of the good vaginal bacteria.

Infections such as bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis, thrush or yeast infections may result due to imbalance of good and bad bacteria. The most common symptoms are itching, abnormal discharge which can be smelly and inflammation.

Use of perfumed products and douching

These sound great but are bad for your vaginal health. Use of perfumed products on your vagina affects the pH of your vagina. This then leads to an imbalance of good bacteria in your vagina and the irritating journey of thrush begins.

Douching on the other hand washes off everything from the vagina, both good and bad. This in return leaves your vagina unprotected.

Unprotected sex

This goes without saying, unprotected sex with multiple partners poses a great threat to your vagina. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as gonorrhoea, genital herpes, genital warts, chlamydia, syphilis among many others can be transmitted. On top of that list is the possibility of getting a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

High sugar intake

Consuming foods that contain a lot of refined sugars will favour the growth of bad bacteria and fungus in the vagina. The bacteria and fungus feed on these sugars in your body.

Meat and dairy products

Some meat and dairy products contain artificial hormones that mimic the natural estrogen hormones produced by the body. They are called xenoestrogens. As a result, they block estrogen from the vagina. Estrogen helps the vagina form a mucus lining which is the vaginal discharge that cleanses it. When it is blocked from the vagina, the vagina is left vulnerable to infection.

Poor hygiene

Poor hygiene comprises:

  • Wiping from back to front when in the washroom. This transfers bacteria from the anal region to the vaginal opening and the vulva. This may lead to infections such as UTIs.
  • Staying with tampons, sanitary pads and panty liners for too long. Leaving them on for too long can give your body toxic shock syndrome since the bad bacteria will be infiltrating the body. As a result, your body gets a severe infection sending it to shock.

Wrong underwear material

Anything that is not cotton is unfavourable for your vagina. This is because they do not absorb sweat and any other moisture as cotton would. This in return leads to a moist and warm environment that favours the growth of yeast.

What you can do about it

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Incorporate pro-biotics and pre-biotics into your diet

Science has shown that pro-biotics may help prevent and treat bacterial imbalance in the vagina, and we can’t argue with science. You can specifically check for pro-biotics with Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri cultures.

Fermented foods and drinks such as yoghurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauekraut, kefir, tempeh and pickles should definitely be your friends. This is because fermented foods and drinks also contain live cultures of Lactobacilli.

Pre-biotics on the other hand help in stabilizing the pH of the vagina. This results to good bacteria growing benefiting your vaginal health. Foods such as onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, soybeans, oats, leeks and whole wheat products fall into this category.

NOTE: Pre-biotics can make bowel conditions worse, therefore, take them in moderation.

Avoid scented products and douching

Avoid using scented products and douching while washing your lady parts. Use of warm water alone is highly encouraged. If one has to use soap, ensure it is unscented. This avoids disrupting your vagina’s pH and irritation too.

Sexual hygiene

To protect yourself from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) practice safe sex. Use condoms to protect yourself from STIs. Ensure to change your condom when moving from anal sex to vaginal or oral sex. This prevents the spread of bacteria from any of these parts to the other. Additionally, avoid sharing sex toys with multiple partners.

Last on the list, you can pee, wash your vulva or shower after sex. This helps remove any bacteria that would lead to a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

Vaginal hygiene

Avoid wearing tampons and sanitary pads for too long. Change them 3 to 5 times in a day depending on how heavy or light your flow is. Ensure not to use scented version of these too. You can shower at least twice a day during menstruation to avoid build up of bacteria on the vulva.

Do not insert products into the vagina to self treat at home. Only do this if your doctor has prescribed it.

Wipe from front to back when using the washroom. You can also consider washing or rinsing off with water after using the washroom. This helps in eliminating bad bacteria that may threaten your vaginal health.

Wear the right material

The key goal here is to keep your vulva dry and clean. Cotton underwear makes a suitable companion as it helps your vulva stay dry and fresh by absorbing any moisture.

Avoid wearing tight underwear as they prevent circulation of air in the vaginal area. Do not put on thongs unless the are coming off five to ten minutes after you have them on. Thongs move bacteria from the anus to the vaginal area and this definitely leads to infections.

If your vagina secretes a lot of discharge, you can consider carrying an extra underwear to change during the day. Remember, a moist and warm environment favours the growth of yeast. In addition to this, change your underwear when you are done with the gym and do not wear a wet swimsuit all day.

Lastly, do not be afraid to stay without anything down there. Fresh air is good for the vagina. Allow it to breathe once in a while.

Watch your diet

Avoid consuming foods that contain a lot of refined sugars. Minimize your intake of processed dairy and meat products as well. Don’t forget what we talked about earlier about these.

Treat any infections

When your body shows symptoms of an infection in your vaginal area, visit your doctor immediately. This will help eliminate the threat as soon as possible. You can add regular gynaecology visits just to be safe.

How to tell if your vagina is not okay

You can tell if your vagina is not okay when:

Photo by fliss clooney. on Unsplash
  • Your vaginal discharge changes in colour and consistency. It can change to a heavy white discharge, cream or cottage cheese like consistency, watery consistency, and a different colour such as yellow or green.
  • Your vaginal discharge has a foul or fish like smell.
  • You feel itchy on your vulva.
  • Presence of bumps or rashes on your vulva.
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding occurs.
  • Experience pain during sex.
  • Swelling at the vaginal entry.
  • Redness at the vaginal opening.
  • Experience pain when urinating.
  • Abdominal pain.

Conclusion

Be in touch with your vagina. Take care of it like you would your favourite pet or person. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need to.

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