A healthy vagina is important for your overall health. The vagina, one of the most important female genital organs, is a hollow muscular canal with a soft and flexible lining that connects your uterus to the outside world. The uterus (cervix) is an inverted pear-shaped muscular organ of the female reproductive system, located between the bladder and the rectum. Your vagina extends from the vulva (the external part of the female genitalia, which protects your sexual organs and the urinary opening ) to the neck of the uterus. The vagina performs three primary and important functions:
Allows the passage of unwanted uterine tissues in the form of blood during your monthly periods (also known as menstruation).
Receives the penis (the primary male genital) during sexual intercourse (or sex) and holds the sperm (primary male gamete) until it passes into your uterus for pregnancy.
Provides a passageway for childbirth and that’s why the vagina is also called the birth canal. When you give birth, your baby travels through the cervix and out through the vagina.
Importance of Maintaining Vaginal Health
Maintaining the overall health of your vagina is easy and you need not be overwhelmed. Your vagina consists of huge amounts of healthy bacteria that are responsible for keeping it lubricated and protecting it from infections caused by foreign substances like harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. A healthy vagina is also the basis of improved sexual health, pleasure, and wellness. Keeping it healthy will avoid skin infections, itchiness, dryness, and rashes.
The foremost thing is to maintain your vaginal pH to keep it up and functioning well. pH or 'power of hydrogen' is a scale used to specify the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Your vagina's pH balance is a natural mechanism of protection against unhealthy bacteria and infections.
A normal vaginal pH level is between 3.8 and 4.5, which is moderately acidic. The pH scale ranges from 0 (strongly acidic) to 14 (strongly basic or alkaline). A pH of 7.0, in the middle of this scale, is neutral.
Read on to find ways to maintain the balance of your vagina and how to keep it healthy.
Signs and Symptoms of Unhealthy Vagina
Unusual, strong smell. The vagina has its natural smell and if you think the smell is getting stronger, then it must be an infection or simple irritation by fabrics, friction, products, etc.
Abnormal vaginal discharge. This is a normal phenomenon until it gets too heavy and you need to keep changing your underwear or use a pantyliner. When heavy discharge comes with a smell, unusual colour, texture, and sometimes with pain, it could be a sign of an infection or another underlying condition.
Itching. Itching can be caused due to various reasons or from just a simple irritation after shaving, waxing, or after a rough activity or sex causing more friction. If itching is persistent and causes extreme discomfort, then you might have to consult your gynaecologist.
Dryness. Vaginal dryness is a feeling of soreness or itchiness in and around your vagina. Vaginal dryness can cause pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse and you may urinate more than usual.
Any problems in the vagina can impact fertility, sexual desire and ability to reach an orgasm. An enduring vagina disorder can put you under tremendous stress, hamper relationships and crash your self-confidence. If you notice any of the above signs or experience these symptoms often, then it is advisable to consult your gynaecologist without any delay.
10 Simple Ways to Keep Your Vagina Healthy
Your vagina is independent and can function perfectly well with just a little care and love. Here are 10 simple ways to follow and practice daily to keep your vagina healthy and happy:
1. Wipe from front to the back. After every bowel movement, wipe your vagina. Always start from the front and move backwards. In women, the openings of the anus (an opening at the lower end of your intestines) and vagina are fairly close together. If you wipe from back to front, you increase the risk of bringing bacteria from the anus into your vagina, leading to itching and discharge.
2. Say goodbye to chemically loaded hygiene products. Most soaps and gels are basic in nature, while the natural pH of your vagina is slightly acidic. When you wash your vagina with these soaps too often, the natural health of your vagina is altered.
Scented soaps and female hygiene products also strip your vagina of healthy bacteria and make it dry, leading to dryness or itchiness and increases your risk of fungal infections.
Normally, your vagina can maintain a healthy pH by itself. If you have symptoms of itching and a foul-smelling discharge, check in with your doctor. Water alone is enough to clean your vagina. If you don’t feel right about using just water, use a mild soap after consulting your doctor.
3. Practice kegel exercises. Kegel or pelvic floor muscles are the muscles present in your vaginal region that play an important role during childbirth. Pelvic floor exercises that involve contracting and relaxing muscles in the hip region are important for keeping your vagina strong and flexible.
Doing about five sets of kegel exercises each day is recommended. Check with your doctor what exercises can you do and if you need any additional support while performing them.
4. Do not wear sweaty clothes or underwear for too long. Remember that bacteria thrive in dark, moist environments. If you don’t shower after swimming or working out, your sweaty clothes or underpants become the perfect reasons for bacteria and fungi to grow and invite a host of infections and problems. Make sure to change your bathing suit, gym clothes or other sweaty clothes as soon as possible.
5. Support your vagina with the right foods. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated; eat lots of fruits and veggies, have natural probiotics like curds, kefir (fermented milk drinks) to balance the good bacteria and defense against infections.
Other foods that are great for your vaginal health are avocados, apples, flaxseeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cranberries and dark leafy vegetables.
6. Safe sex and hygiene practices matter. Using protection (condoms for example) during sexual intercourse will not only protect you from STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases), but also from unwanted pregnancy.
Post-sex discharge and itching can cause discomfort and disturb your normal vaginal bacteria. Another safe sex practice is urination after sexual intercourse. This simple habit can help get rid of bacteria in your urethra and bladder.
7. Let your vagina breathe. Wear cotton underwear or panties to keep your vagina dry and clean. Cotton is the most breathable and comfortable material. Avoid wearing tight or synthetic material underpants.
Do not wear too-loose fitting or too-tightly fitted jeans or pants. Wearing tight-fitting jeans can lead to sweating and make your vaginal area moist, allowing bacteria to grow.
8. Avoid or limit douching. The word "douche" means to wash or soak. Douching is washing or cleaning out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. Douching doesn’t just flush out the good bacteria but can also help bad bacteria flourish, leading to vaginal infections. Douching can encourage the bacteria to move into your uterus or the ovaries (primary female reproductive organs).
Understand that youe vagina can naturally clean itself. Avoiding douching is extremely important for good vaginal health.
9. Choose tampons and sanitary pads wisely. Your sanitary products can be loaded with chemicals, and fragrance additives. You should be generally aware of what's in them. Tampons are a menstrual product designed to absorb blood and vaginal secretions by insertion into your vagina during menstruation. Certain tampon brands include harmful chemicals called phthalates, known as "endocrine disruptors" that mess with your hormones (your body’s chemical messengers).
A sanitary napkin, or a sanitary towel, sanitary pad, or pad is an absorbent item worn inside your underwear during menstruation to absorb bleeding. Scented sanitary napkins can upset the balance of good and bad bacteria and interfere with your vaginal health.
It is recommended to use organic, unscented tampons and pads. Another important tip is to change your tampons or sanitary napkins every 4 to 5 hours, especially during heavy bleeding to maintain hygiene. Talk to your gynaecologist to discuss this in detail.
10. Regular checkups is the key. Routine checkups with your gynaecologist is the key to maintain your vaginal health. Regular screening and physical tests will help identify signs of infection and treat them early. Your doctor can also keep your updated on the latest developments and can address any concerns you might have.
1. Health.cornell.edu. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://health.cornell.edu/sites/health/files/pdf-library/Maintaining-Vaginal-Health.pdf> [Accessed 12 February 2021].
2. Sabo, M., Balkus, J., Richardson, B., Srinivasan, S., Kimani, J., Anzala, O., Schwebke, J., Feidler, T., Fredricks, D. and McClelland, R., 2019. Association between vaginal washing and vaginal bacterial concentrations. PLOS ONE, 14(1), p.e0210825.
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