The vagina is an amazing sexual and reproductive organ. Most of the time vaginas are really good at taking care of themselves. Sometimes though, harmful bacteria and parasites are introduced into the vagina and its surrounding areas, which can result in unpleasant infections such as yeast, bacterial vaginosis (BV), urinary tract infections (UTIs), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Here are a few helpful tips to keep your vagina happy and healthy!
1) Wear cotton underwear. Avoid synthetic materials like polyester so your vagina can breathe.
2) Wash your hands. Remember to wash your hands before you insert a tampon or menstrual cup, before masturbating and/or having sex. Ask your partner(s)s to wash their hands before sex too.
3) Avoid getting soap inside your vagina. Soap can upset your vaginal flora, so best to wash your genitalia with just water.
4) Don’t douche. Douches often contain irritating perfumes and can flush out the flora that you need to maintain a healthy vagina. Douching can lead to an infection or help spread an infection farther into the reproductive system, so best to not do it.
5) Wipe from front to back after you pee. There can be harmful bacteria hanging around your bum, don’t bring it forward to your sensitive parts! Use the same logic when it comes to anal sex. If a penis, toy or finger has been in your bum, don’t put it in your vagina afterwards without washing it or putting a new condom on it.
6) Pee after sex. This helps to flush out any bacteria that could have entered the urethra during sex, helping to prevent UTIs. Drinking cranberry juice can help prevent UTIs as well.
7) Eat plain yoghurt! It contains active bacterial culture that is good for your vaginal health and helps to prevent yeast infections. It’s an especially good idea to eat yogurt (ideally without sugar) anytime you’re taking antibiotics because they can make you more prone to yeast infections. If you don’t eat yogurt, you can also get acidophilus in pill form at your local health food store.
8) Use a condom. Penises and shared sex toys can introduce harmful bacterias into the vagina, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea (and other STIs). Be safe, use a condom if you’re having penetrative sex. And make sure to get tested regularly.
9) Never leave a tampon in for longer than 6-8 hours. Leaving a tampon in for too long can result in toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which can be fatal. Avoid sleeping with tampons in. Consider using pads or menstrual cups (like the Keeper or Divacup) instead. Menstrual cups can be left in for up to 12 hours.
10) Get to know your vagina! Look at it with a mirror. Get to know how it looks, smells and tastes. It’s normal for your vagina to have a slight odour and some discharge. Your discharge will change somewhat throughout your menstrual cycle and when you are sexually aroused. While you’re at it, get to know your menstrual cycle too (you can track it on a calendar, or there are lots of free period apps now for smart phones!). Pay attention to what’s normal for you, that way if ever something is out of the ordinary (like increased discharge, a funny smell, itchiness or irritation, pain, bumps/sores/rashes, abnormal bleeding and/or a late period), you’ll know to get it checked out.