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Personal Hygiene Series: All About Vaginal Health

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Keeping your vagina healthy is actually very simple and straightforward. But unfortunately, a lot of women don’t really know and understand the vagina.

So, without realizing it, they make simple mistakes that can lead to uncomfortable, and even serious vaginal health problems. To keep you – and your vagina – healthy and happy, here’s a basic guide to keeping everything A-OK down there.

What is the vagina?

This might sound like a stupid question, but the truth is, women often use the word, “vagina” for the wrong area of their body. So, let’s set the record straight.

The vagina is a tube that runs from the bottom of the womb to the vaginal opening.

Then, there are the external parts of the female genitals. These include the vaginal opening, urethral opening, the clitoris and the labia (the inner and outer lips). All of these external bits are referred to as the vulva.

An easy way to think about this is that the vagina is what’s hidden within your body. The vulva is made up of all the parts you can see on the outside.

Your “vagina” is actually pretty complex, if you think about it, and not just one area. Why is this important? Because when you know the vagina and vulva better, it’s easier to keep this area of your body healthy.

Vaginal health and the vaginal microbiome

“Microbiome” is sort of a trendy health topic these days. But usually, when you hear about the microbiome, it’s about the gut, and all of the bacteria which makes up the gut microbiome.

But did you know that the vagina has its own microbiome? It’s true. Your vagina is rich with beneficial bacteria. And if that seems gross or strange, here’s why it’s actually a very good thing.

The healthy bacteria down there is what fights off infections and helps to keep you lubricated. When this natural microbiome gets disrupted, you up the risk for infection, just like you would if your gut bacteria was compromised.

On top of this, your vagina also has its own pH balance and acidic level. Both the vaginal microbiome and pH level are self-regulating. However, it’s very easy to disrupt them.

So, the question is, how can you keep your vaginal microbiome balanced and bangin’?

These are the top tips to keep the beneficial bacteria in place and keep the bad bacteria out of there.

Don’t douche. Period.

Because the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, you really don’t need to use anything except for water.

In the summer months, the vulva can feel sweaty and icky. When you have your period, you might smell menses. After a workout, you might want to freshen up down there – the same goes for after sex.

But whatever you do, do not douche. Douching throws off your natural pH levels, as well as the beneficial bacteria levels, and this can increase the risk for infection.

Because the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, you really don’t need to use anything except for water.

So, be careful to avoid using fragrances, soaps, and lotions down there, as this can disrupt the natural bacteria and pH levels.

And if you like to take baths with scented products, be aware that this could throw off pH levels and leave the vaginal area more vulnerable to infections.

Practice safe sex

Along with wearing condoms during intercourse, it’s also a good idea to play it smart when you’re busy down there.

For example, try to have vaginal intercourse first, followed by anal sex and not the other way around. If you do move from back to front, be sure to clean up first and switch condoms.

Otherwise, you can introduce a whole slew of harmful bacteria into the vagina and increase your risk for UTI’s and other infections.

Another easy way to prevent infection is to always, always, always pee after sex. This helps to flush away any bacteria that may have entered the urethral opening during intercourse.

Use lube

When a woman is aroused, the vagina lubricates itself naturally. But sometimes, the vulva and vagina can feel a bit dry.

Using lube not only makes intercourse more comfortable, but it also prevents chaffing, scratching and injury to the vagina. That hurts and also increases your risk for infection. No thanks, right?

This is why we reach for lube.

But did you know that many standard lubricants actually increase your risk for infection? Aviva Romm, M.D. reminds women that their lubricants often contain parabens, petroleum, and other harmful ingredients.

So, to stay lubricated without nasty ingredients, Romm suggests using aloe vera gel or coconut oil as a natural and safe alternative to common lubricants.

Wear the right panties

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According to the gynecologist and medical director of the Jean Hailes Women’s Health Organization, Dr. Elizabeth Farrell, the underwear you slip into can either support or wreck vaginal health.

Whenever possible, wear cotton underwear to keep the vaginal area dry with plenty of opportunity for air circulation.

What should you avoid? Dr. Farrell recommends skipping the sexy G-strings and tight-fitting pieces. If they’re made with synthetic fabrics, avoid them completely.

That’s because they make it easier for bacteria to travel from the rectum to the vagina. On top of this, they also make the vaginal area damp – the perfect breeding ground for yeast infections.

Along these same lines, be sure to change out of sweaty workout clothes and wet swimsuits ASAP to help keep the vaginal area fresh and aired out.

When it comes time for bed, leave your undies behind and sleep without them. Yeast and bacteria flourish in warm, dark and damp places, according to the gynecologist, Dr. Alyssa Dweck. And when you go commando, you allow the vaginal area to breathe.

Use antibiotics sparingly

Antibiotics can be a lifesaver in the face of illness. And that’s because they do a great job at wiping out bad bacteria. The only problem is that they also wipe out beneficial bacteria, too – and that goes for your gut bacteria, as well as your vaginal bacteria.

So, if you use antibiotics, make sure you take steps to repopulate good bacteria to help keep the vagina healthy.

You can do that by loading up on probiotic-rich foods, like unsweetened yogurt and kefir, along with kombucha and fermented vegetables, including kimchi and sauerkraut. Other vagina-friendly foods include cranberry juice and garlic.

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