If you have a vagina, you know how marvelous they are. It’s important we take good care of them. But let’s be honest, there’s still stigma and misconceptions about vaginas. Many of us feel uncomfortable talking about sexual health with our community and healthcare providers. However, by taking care of our vaginas, we can ensure we have pleasurable sexual experiences and improve our overall well-being.
Let’s start with a common misconception. Often we use the word vagina to reference the entire female sexual organ. However, the vagina is actually only the internal canal that connects the uterus to the outside world. The external anatomy is known as the vulva.
Now that we’ve clarified the terminology, let’s discuss how you can take care of your vagina and vulva.
Mirror, Mirror In Your Hand
A great place to start is to become familiar with your vulva. Many of us don’t know what our vulva and vagina look like. That’s not surprising, considering it’s hard to get a good look at it. This is where a mirror comes in handy. A hand-held mirror works best, but you can use whatever you have at your disposal.
One of the easiest ways to get a good look at your vulva is by either laying down or standing and maneuvering the mirror so you can see your anatomy. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your external and internal parts. It’s your body. Getting to know what’s normal for your body makes it easier to know if something’s wrong.
Signs of the Times
So, now you know what your vagina and vulva look like, but how do you know if there’s a problem? Here are some common symptoms of vaginal ailments:
A change in discharge
Redness and/or itching
Bleeding between periods, after sex or after menopause
Pain during sex and/or while masturbating
If you’re noticing any of these symptoms, check in with your healthcare provider.
COMMON VAGINAL HEALTH PROBLEMS AND REMEDIES
Vaginal Dryness and Pelvic Floor Weakness
There are quite a few changes to our vaginal health that are common, and there are steps we can take to remedy them ourselves (though we always recommend discussing any concerns you have with your healthcare provider). Vaginal dryness, as well as weak pelvic muscles, can cause pain during sex. Often because of this pain, sex becomes less enjoyable and there’s a lack of sexual fulfillment for both you and your partner. When we’re less sexually active, the symptoms get worse. Thus, you get stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.
However, one of the most accessible treatments for vaginal dryness and weak pelvic muscles is masturbation. Those who masturbate regularly have increased vaginal lubrication and find it easier to become aroused, helping relieve vaginal dryness. During an orgasm the vaginal and uterine muscles contract which can help strengthen weak pelvic floor muscles, making penetrative sex more pleasurable, while also helping alleviate incontinence.
Learn more about the benefits of masturbation (no orgasm required!) here.
Adult toys such as Osé 2 are a fantastic resource for mitigating the effects of both vaginal dryness and pelvic floor weakness. Osé 2 is designed to help you achieve blended orgasms, by mimicking the human mouth, fingers, and tongue. Since Osé 2 is completely customizable, you can adapt the speed, pressure, and movements of the stimulation over the clitoris and G-spot to a level that isn’t painful. Pro tip: always use a high-quality, water based lubricant. It will combat the dryness that already exists, creating a more pleasurable experience. Through masturbating and the use of products such as Osé 2, it’s possible for you to experience some relief from pain during sex. This breaks the self-perpetuating cycle; it once again becomes possible to have painless, entirely pleasurable sex.
Learn more about the other kinds of orgasms, including anal and nipple, here.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common, but you can protect against them. Using a condom protects both you and your partner from STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, they don’t prevent STIs like herpes and genital warts. That’s why open, honest communication with your partner(s) and getting tested for STIs are crucial components to maintaining vaginal health. They are the next line of defense against contracting and spreading STIs. Some of us can feel defensive or embarrassed when asked about STIs, but remember that the more we have these conversations, the easier it is to be advocates of our own health and well-being, and that of our partner(s). We all have the right to have healthy, pleasurable sexual experiences.
Caring for Your Vagina and Vulva
The vagina is an incredible, self-cleaning organ, so it’s often best to leave it alone. That being said, there are some things that you can do to ensure you’re taking great care of it.
1. Wash with warm water, mild soaps and dry thoroughly with a clean towel.
The skin of the vulva and vaginal opening is delicate and sensitive. The name of the game here is to avoid irritating the skin. Hot water can irritate the skin as can scented soaps. Use warm water to rinse off all the soap. Don’t wash inside the vagina itself. Remember, it’s self-cleaning.
2. Avoid douches unless prescribed.
Just like you don’t want to wash your vagina with soap, you don’t want to douche it either. Doing so can affect the healthy bacteria and PH balance of the vagina, causing more harm than good.
3. Wash new underwear before wearing.
It’s hard to say exactly what chemicals and bacteria are on underwear after being in a store, so it’s best to wash your new underwear before you begin wearing them just to be safe.
4. Don’t scratch
Scratching the delicate skin of the vagina and vulva can cause a great deal of irritation as well as create small wounds that bacteria can get into. If you’re experiencing itchiness, we recommend seeing a healthcare provider.
5. It’s normal for there to be a slight scent.
It’s completely normal for both your vagina and vaginal discharge to have a scent. It’s common to have a tangy, coppery or sweet scent. However, if you’re smelling a fishy or overly strong scent it’s best to see your healthcare provider to make sure something else isn’t going on.
6. Don’t use lube that is petroleum-based.
While we always recommend using lube during sex or while masturbating, avoid using petroleum jelly or oil-based lube. Lube is meant to help prevent irritation, but petroleum and oil-based products do the opposite. It’s best to use water or silicone-based lube instead.
7. Always use a new condom when switching between vaginal and anal sex and vice versa.
Using a new condom prevents transferring bacteria from the anus to the vagina. These bacteria can be harmful when passed to other locations.
Taking care of your vagina doesn’t have to be overwhelming. One of the best things you can do is to become familiar with both your vagina and vulva. It’s easier to recognize when something is wrong when you know what your normal is.
Sexual pleasure and wellness are intimately intertwined. By taking care of one, you benefit the other. Masturbation can help alleviate many symptoms of common ailments, such as vaginal dryness, while also deepening your sexual pleasure. You can take charge of your sexual pleasure and wellness by getting familiar with your vagina.