The vagina is naturally-designed to clean itself with the help of its natural secretions, otherwise known as discharge. Although it’s important to keep the vagina clean and healthy, there are different opinions regarding how women should go about it.
The vagina is a muscle inside a woman’s body in the form of a tube. It runs from the womb’s opening (the cervix) all the way to the vagina’s opening. The vulva is the external sex organs, and they are the ones found all around the vaginal opening.
Looking after one’s everyday health can help maintain the vagina’s good health. The good health of the vagina can be maintained by keeping the body healthy too. This means that a woman should also maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise. This will help keep the vagina healthy and functioning well.
Some Facts About the Vagina
Vaginal health is extremely important. Because of this, a lot of women get worried when they start to show signs and symptoms of ailments. However, these women are hesitant to go to the doctor because they fear the diagnosis. When they first experience any vaginal discomfort, a lot of women assume that it’s a yeast infection. Because of this, they rush to their local pharmacy to get a quick-fix.
Unfortunately, when it comes to vaginal illnesses, yeast is just one of the many causes of illnesses. Therefore, one needs to get the basic facts and to do this; she must consult with a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and the right treatment as well. Before we go into tips for maintaining vaginal health, let’s go through some facts about the vagina. This may help women understand their vaginas a lot more:
Be Careful When Using Soaps to Cleanse the Vagina
When washing other body parts, people typically use soap to ensure hygiene. However, when it comes to the vagina, this may not be such a good idea. The fact is the vagina can naturally clean its environment.
Women who want to wash this area should steer clear of perfumed soaps and bath products. Also, one should never scrub the vulva as it has delicate skin. If one wants to wash that area, make sure to treat it as how she should treat a baby’s skin.
Just Because the Vagina Itches, That Doesn’t Mean It’s Thrush
A lot of women mistake itchiness of the vulva for thrush. This refers to a type of yeast infection which causes redness, itching, swelling, and discharge like cottage cheese.
However, itching and irritation of the vagina may be caused by different things. In fact, it may result in a skin condition or a vaginal infection. Therefore, it’s best to consult with a doctor when one experiencing itching or burning sensation. This is because vaginal conditions if left unchecked and untreated, can lead to more serious problems.
Irritation of the Vulva May Come from Common Causes
When the vulva becomes irritated, it may be because of some different reasons. These include:
- vaginal secretions
- vaginal sweating
- bacterial or fungal infections
- eczema or dermatitis
- allergies or adverse reactions to hygienic products and other substances
- an adverse reaction to medications
- ingrown hairs
- The vagina normally produces discharge
Usually, vaginal discharge is normal. In fact, it may even serve as one of the important functions of the body’s reproductive system. The discharge helps maintain the cleanliness of the vagina.
Some women don’t secrete any vaginal discharge. Other women secrete a small amount, and this would usually depend on where the woman is in her menstrual cycle. It may also change if a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding. Discharge varies from one woman to another. There’s no “normal” range when it comes to discharging. It can also differ in color, from milky white to clear.
- The odor of the vagina changes
Just like the gut, the vagina also has its natural bacteria. These bacteria help keep the vagina healthy as it protects the vagina from infections. When the vagina is healthy, it contains a lot of “good bacteria.” These helps keep the “bad bacteria” in check.
A woman’s vaginal odor may reflect the health of her vagina. Usually, the odor varies according to a woman’s age. But generally, the vagina would have a pleasant odor. When the odor becomes foul or unpleasant, it may be a sign of infection inside the vagina.
Vaginal Secretions and Bacteria
A woman’s menstrual period comes once a month as part of the natural menstrual cycle. Also, it’s normal for a woman to produce a clear or white discharge from her vagina. These secretions are naturally-produced by the cervix. Since the vaginal discharge is normal, having it doesn’t always mean that something bad is going on. In fact, the amount and type of vaginal discharge vary throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. Sometimes it’s fluid, sometimes it’s thick, and other times it has a more solid consistency.
As we’ve mentioned, a lot of bacteria reside inside a woman’s vagina. And their main function is to protect it. The good bacteria inside the vagina are there for a reason. Here are some of their functions:
- They provide numerical dominance which means that they significantly outnumber the harmful bacteria which might potentially enter the vagina.
- They help maintain the balance of the vagina’s pH level to keep it healthy.
- They produce bacteriocins which are antibiotics which occur naturally. These bacteriocins reduce or fight off other bacteria which enter the vagina.
- They also produce a substance which stops the bacteria from coming into and sticking to the walls of the vagina.
If the delicate balance of bacteria in the vagina is disturbed, it might lead to inflammation and infection. This can cause negative effects on the health of the vagina. If the pH level of the vagina increases, it becomes less acidic. When this happens, the number of good bacteria may decrease, and the number of bad bacteria might increase. This may lead to vaginal infections which have symptoms such as irritation, itching, and abnormal vaginal discharge.
How Vaginal Health Changes as a Woman Ages
As women age, their bodies undergo some changes. These changes may also affect the vagina. Throughout a woman’s life, the vagina may look and feel different. If a woman wants to keep her vagina healthy, then she must understand these changes:
When a Woman Is in Her 20s
When a woman is in her 20s, she’s enjoying the best years of her vagina. This is mainly because she’s at the peak of her production of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. Estrogen is responsible for maintaining the elasticity, acidity, and lubrication of the vagina.
The labia surround the vagina. The inner and outer labia are skin folds which contain fatty tissue. When a woman is in her 20s, the outer labia may seem smaller.
During a woman’s 20s, her libido is also at its peak. If the woman is sexually active, she may start experiencing UTI or urinary tract infections. This happens when the bacteria travel from the vagina into the urethra. To minimize the risk of developing this condition, it’s important for women to urinate after sex. This helps force the bacteria out of her vagina.
At this age, the vagina is also very efficient at self-cleaning. While it cleans itself, it also produces a clear or white discharge. The hormonal changes which occur during the menstrual cycle affect the amount of discharge produced by the vagina. Currently, the vagina needs little maintenance. This includes washing it daily with water and a mild type of soap.
When a Woman Is in Her 30s
When a woman is in her 30s, the inner labia may start to darken because of hormonal changes. If a woman becomes pregnant, she may experience more frequent vaginal discharge with a milky color. It may also have a mild odor but shouldn’t smell fishy or foul.
After a woman gives birth, her vagina may lose elasticity. It may appear more stretched than before. As time goes by, most vaginas do return to the pre-birth size… well, almost. To help with the flexibility, women can practice Kegel exercises. This exercise can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles to restore the tone of the vagina.
Also, at this age, oral contraceptives may have negative effects. These include breakthrough bleeding, vaginal dryness or an increased vaginal discharge. However, these symptoms eventually fade away on their own. If they don’t, one must consult with her doctor.
When a Woman Is in Her 40s
When a woman is in her 40s, she’s already in the perimenopausal stage. This is the time before the woman’s menstruation would stop. Currently, a woman’s vagina undergoes some significant changes.
As this age, the levels of estrogen in the body decreases. Also, the walls of the vagina become drier and thinner. This may cause a variety of symptoms which include burning, itching, redness, and much more.
To prevent this from happening, regular sex would help a lot. This will keep the vagina elastic as it helps increase the flow of blood. There are also vaginal estrogen creams and vaginal moisturizers which can help fight vaginal dryness. Also, during this time, the pubic hair may turn gray and become thinner.
When a Woman Is in Her 50s and Beyond
When a woman turns 50 (and beyond), she may have already stopped menstruating. Her estrogen levels may also become quite low, or they may even have depleted already. The vulva will look shrunken, and women may experience vaginal atrophy.
Low estrogen levels may change the vagina’s level of acidity. Because of this, the woman may become more susceptible to infections because of the overgrowth of bacteria. The low estrogen levels can also have an impact on a woman’s urinary tract. This may lead to an overactive bladder and urine leakage.
Women who are at this age may also be prone to vaginal prolapse. This happens when part or the whole vaginal canal falls into the opening of the vagina. This would also involve other body organs such as the uterus, bladder, and rectum.
Maintaining Vaginal Cleanliness and Health
Not a lot of people may realize this, but the vagina is an incredible organ. It plays a huge role in a woman’s sexual pleasure, and it’s also capable of producing life. But as women age so does their vagina. Of course, an aging vagina doesn’t have to be a bad thing. One may even come to appreciate her vagina more as time goes by.
Since there’s no more “risk” of pregnancy, a woman may feel freer while having sex. Also, she may feel more comfortable with herself – and her vagina – as time goes by. To appreciate the vagina even as one age, it’s important to maintain vaginal health and cleanliness. Here are some tips on the common ways women clean their vaginas:
Washing the Vagina
Stay away from any scented gels, soaps, and antiseptics. These can have a negative effect on the pH levels and balance of bacteria in the vagina. Instead, use mild, unscented soaps to wash the area surrounding the vagina every day. You don’t need to worry about cleaning the inside of the vagina as it already does that on its own.
When a woman is having her period, it’s helpful to wash more than once a day. This is because of the blood and the discharge that’s coming out. Of course, it’s still important to be gentle when washing the area surrounding the vagina.
Using Vaginal Douches
A vaginal douche flushes water right into the vagina. This clears out all the vaginal secretions. A lot of women use this, but it’s not recommended. This is because a douche might disrupt the balance of bacteria in the vagina. Also, it may even increase the risk of developing vaginal infections.
Using Vaginal Deodorants and Scented Wipes
We’ve already discussed how scented hygiene products may disrupt the healthy balance of the vagina. If a woman’s vagina is clean and healthy, it won’t produce a foul odor. So, there’s no need to use scented products to “clean” the area.
Usually, all one needs to use for cleaning are water and mild soap. If a woman notices that her vagina has an unappealing smell, she shouldn’t mask it by using vaginal deodorants and scented wipes. Instead, she should visit her doctor to determine if she has an infection which is causing the unpleasant odor.
Unlike the last 2 items, this one is highly recommended. Women aged 25-64 should consider having a cervical screening procedure done. Regular screening will ensure that one will be able to catch any abnormal changes in the cervix as soon as they happen. And if treatment is necessary, the woman can have it early on.