Edited by Toni Brannagan
Taking care of your vagina isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all deal but hopefully, by now, you already know the golden rule of cleaning your V: Leave it alone!
Despite what decades of scam ~feminine care~ ads say, vaginas are self-cleansing with the help of discharge and good bacterias — just like Kombucha! (Kinda.) The bacteria inside your vagina is responsible for maintaining a steady pH, somewhere between 3.5 to 4.5. If you paid attention in Chem 101 (first of all, good for you), you know that leans acidic.
Let’s break down what it actually means to have a healthy V.
what is a ~balanced~ vagina?
At an optimum pH level, your vagina protects you from infection by providing a comfy home for two types of acid-loving bacteria (good), which are responsible for keeping out extra yeast and other unwanted bacteria (bad). When the latter occurs, that’s when people can develop not-so-fun things like yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis (BV) — but more on that in a sec.
identifying vaginal infections
Two of the most common vaginal infections for women between the ages of 15 and 44 are yeast infections and BV, so chances are, you already have some experience in the area and it’s something you’d like to avoid in the future.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who hasn’t had any infections down there (knock on wood), BV can be identified by itching or burning when you pee, or a strong fishy smell emanating from your discharge, that might become more noticeable after sex. Your discharge may also be an unfamiliar color like white, grey, green, or a foamy texture.
Yeast infections can be identified through symptoms of itching, burning, soreness, or swelling in your vagina and vulva, a rash, or discharge that’s watery or cottage cheese-like in texture. If you’re not sure whether you have BV or a yeast infection, the odor should be an indicator. Whereas BV smells fishy, yeast infections actually smell kinda like bread. (In the words of my coworker sitting next to me, “like a Panera.”)
Basically, you’ll probably notice if you have BV or a yeast infection, even though it might present as similar to an STD, and you should check in with your doctor if you get any of these symptoms. They’ll be able to diagnose you properly, and provide the necessary care. To be clear, BV and yeast infections aren’t an STD, but having sex with a new partner does increase your risk — basically, allowing anything up in there has the potential to mess with your natural chemistry.
preventing vaginal infections
The tough news is that *all* vaginas are different, and some people are literally just more prone to something like a small gust of wind messing with their vaginal pH. If you’re one of those people, having a chat with your doctor about what you can do to stop recurrence should help. They might recommend probiotics, switching up soaps or detergent, or wearing cotton undies.
To generally encourage your vagina to keep doing its job, here are a few more things that you can try:
- If you are having penetrative sex, use a condom in addition to any hormonal birth control you may be taking. As it turns out, outside materials like semen can mess with your pH.
- Don’t douche! But you know that already.
- Eat yogurt — a healthy source of probiotics that’s easily implemented into your diet!
How familiar are you with your vagina’s chemistry? Any remedies you swear by? Let us know in the comments.