*This is a collaborative guest post
Vulvar and vaginal care are both important, yet often overlooked concerns. Women are afraid to talk to their healthcare providers if they feel any discomfort “down there” for fear of being stigmatized, leaving many potential questions unaddressed. Ignoring symptoms such as pain and irritation may also lead to grave infections when untreated.
It’s best to take proactive steps in keeping your vagina and vulva healthy, and the first step is to educate yourself. In this article, we’ll discuss how your vagina is different from the vulva and what you need to know to promote better vulvovaginal health.
Vulva? Vagina? What’s the Difference?
You can’t use “vulva” when you mean “vagina” and vice versa.
“Vulva” is generally used to refer to the outer parts of the female genitals, which includes the labia (inner and outer), clitoris, urinary canal, and the entrance to the vagina.
No two vulvas look alike. Each one is unique, differing in shape, size, and color.
“Vagina” refers to the tubular muscle that connects with your cervix and uterus. This passage allows sexual intercourse, childbirth, and menstrual flow.
Avoiding Vaginal Infections
Vaginal infections happen when your vagina’s natural microbiome is disrupted by reasons such poor hygiene or unsafe sex. When bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms are imbalanced, infections such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection can occur.
Vaginal discharge that is clear, white, or yellowish and sometimes sticky is normal. However, if you notice a milky or yellow-green discharge, accompanied by a foul odor and a burning or itching sensation in your vagina and vulva area, this may be a symptom of infection. It is important to also note that some vaginal infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia don’t manifest symptoms.
Itching, burning, and/or irritation are common symptoms which indicate that something might be wrong. While these aren’t cause for major concern, it is always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider if you experience any major changes to your vulva or vagina.
The good news is that these infections can be prevented and treated. Here are some simple ways to care for your vulva and vagina:
• Don’t douche
If you’re a fan of douching to clean your vagina, you might want to rethink doing so. Douching can disrupt and eliminate even the good bacteria, causing your vaginal pH level to be thrown off balance. This makes you more susceptible to bacterial infections. The vagina is a wonderful organ that is equipped with a self-cleaning mechanism, hence the discharge. All you really need to “clean” your vagina and vulva area is warm water. If you’re going to use soap, go for plain, unperfumed ones.
• Use cotton underwear
While thongs may make you feel sexy, cotton is always king for better vulvovaginal health. Synthetic materials may irritate your skin while cotton is generally non-irritating. Also, moisture and warmth promote the growth of yeast, which can lead to infections. Cotton underwear, being soft, absorbent, and breathable, reduces the instances of moisture, inhibiting the growth of bacteria.
• Practice good hygiene
After bowel movement, always wipe from front to back. This way, you can prevent introducing bacteria to your vulva and vagina. If it itches, don’t scratch. Scratching can further irritate the area. Make sure to also always use condoms to prevent passing or getting sexually transmitted infections.
• Have a healthy diet
What you eat will affect you and your body, making it important that you carefully select what goes in your daily meals. Probiotic-rich foods such as fermented products (kimchi, miso, sauerkraut) aid in maintaining the balance of your gut microbiome. Omega 3-fatty acids are great for circulation and blood flow. They also are thought to help with vaginal dryness. Give this salmon recipe from Winnow a try. Additionally, taking cranberry pills for vaginal health can contribute to having a better overall vulvovaginal health and help prevent UTIs.
Practicing Good Vulvar and Vaginal Care
It’s not a good idea to follow fads such as vaginal steaming or using a yoni/jade egg for your vagina.
Fear shouldn’t keep you from talking to a medical professional if you’re noticing that something’s off with your vagina or vulva. Vulvovaginal care isn’t a mysterious, uncharted territory. There are plenty of resources available to keep yourself educated about health matters that concern you and your health, and it all starts with making sure you get the right information.