Artwork by Teaunna Gray.
Did you know that 70% of women are unable to identify 5 major parts of their own vagina? For so many, their vagina is a source of embarrassment. There is shame & vulnerability about the way it looks or smells and many block themselves from true intimacy and loving this beautiful part of womanhood.
Let’s start opening up more conversations about vaginas. We need to learn about and love our vaginas!
In my practice I get endless questions about smell, discharge, lumps and bumps, hair, how often to wash, should you wash, and so on. AND with more and more “vaginal hygiene products” out there like vaginal washes, tightening sticks, “lip stick” vaginal scents—it can be hard to know what you should and shouldn’t be doing!
Artwork by Teaunna Gray
Lets start with a baseline. What is normal ?
A more important question is what is YOUR normal? Everyone has their “own unique normal”. The first step is getting to know what your vagina normally looks like, feels like, smells like, and how all this changes with your cycle.
Discharge: Some discharge is healthy. Usually about mid-cycle (around day 14-16 of your cycle) you can have clear-white discharge. It should be egg-white consistency. It should not have a major odor, or need a pad or panty liner for the quantity of discharge. Colour that is brown, green, grey, red, yellow is worth a trip to the doctor/gynecologist’s office.
Smell: Ladies, no one’s vagina smells like rose petals. When it comes to smell, you have to trust your instincts on what your normal is. We all have unique scents and pheromones. What I would watch out for is sudden changes in strength, pungency, or type of odor (fishy, putrid, foul, or meaty). Later I’ll discuss some tips on how to improve the smell through diet and lifestyle!
Appearance: Most lumps and bumps are extremely difficult to diagnose. If you wax or shave your hair, a lot of lumps and bumps can be attributed to ingrown hairs. If it looks like a pimple and is acting like a pimple… it’s probably a pimple. So lumps and bumps don’t always need to be a massive source of anxiety. Some things to watch out for are clusters of sores, pain, tingling, excessive redness/tenderness, large lumps/bumps that don’t go away, and any lump/bump/sore that also has pelvic pain associated with it. If ever in doubt, it’s worth consulting a medical practitioner!
pH: The pH refers to how acidic or basic your vaginal environment is. The ideal pH is somewhat acidic, between 3.5-4.5. If your vagina is too acidic (closer to 0) or too basic (above 4.5) then this can lead to infections, irritation, redness, bleeding, bad smells, etc. The only way to really know your vaginal pH is by getting it tested.
Artwork by Teaunna Gray
Here are some common mistakes that can throw off your smell, pH, and overall health of your vagina:
- Wiping back to front.
- Using scented hygiene products. This includes any and all scented products, including tampons, pads, soaps, smell enhancers, and lubricants. Many scents are made with harmful and irritating chemicals that may make the problem worse in the long term.
- Douching & using soaps to clean. Almost all soaps change the pH and disrupt the natural flora of the vagina. Over time this leads to irritation and increases susceptibility to infections (urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and bacterial infections).
- Baths. These aren’t bad unless a strong soap is used for bubbles or the bath tub isn’t cleaned regularly. This can cause irritation, infection, or throw off your vaginal pH.
- Condoms. This one is not always discussed but is important! Are you sensitive to latex or the chemicals used to lubricate condoms? Are the condoms being used for multiple places? Condoms are really important, not only as a birth control but also for prevention of sexually transmitted infections. However, many people have sensitivities to latex or to ingredients used for the lubrication on the condom. This can cause irritation, pain during sex, and urinary tract-like symptoms. Secondly, there is nothing wrong with multiple positions during sex. However, if the condom is touching/penetrating the anal region and then the vaginal region, this will transfer bacteria along with it. So just use different condoms if you are penetrating multiple areas.
- Lubrication. As mentioned above, lubricants can contain chemicals that you may be sensitive or allergic to.
- Exercise clothes/yoga pants. Did you know there are more sweat glands in your vagina than your arm pits? Staying in your sweaty clothes or underwear promotes more moisture, which may promote odors and cause bacteria/yeast to hang around.
Artwork by Teaunna Gray
Here are some ways to take care of your vaginal health!
- Go commando… when you can! Just as you need air to breathe, so do your lady parts. Sleeping commando is a great way to freshen things up. Tight underwear, thongs, and yoga pants restrict blood flow and circulation.
- Eat fruits and vegetables. Your diet has a major impact on the health of your vagina! Foods like dairy and sugar are also food for bad bacteria and yeast. Fruits and vegetables have so many vitamins and nutrients that detoxify our bodies from junk. Here are some super foods for your vagina: pineapple, green apples, broccoli, cucumber, brussels sprouts, garlic, onion, pumpkin and flax seeds.
- Move often. Exercise increases blood flow to your muscles… ALL your muscles. This includes those in your pelvic and vaginal areas. Movement helps to promote good circulation to your vagina. This can then help with smell, lubrication, and strengthening vaginal muscles.
Kegel exercises: Your vagina is made up of muscles just like the rest of your body. Contracting your pelvic muscles improves blood flow to the area and improves the strength of your muscles. Ultimately this makes your vaginal canal strong but flexible.
- Reduce your stress. Stress plays a large role in the health of your vagina. It affects your hormones, pH, vaginal immune system, libido, and natural lubrication. Managing your stress can have a positive effect on smell, susceptibility to UTI’s and other infections, and reduce irritation.
- Kombucha. This tasty drink is high in probiotics. Probiotics provide your body with a variety of healthy bacteria and fight off bad smells and nasty bacteria. If you are taking probiotics in capsule form, don’t forget that these can also be used intra-vaginally as a suppository. Consume sources of probiotics regularly for your vaginal health.
- Have a bit of an itch? Mix coconut oil with tea tree essential oil. Find a good quality tea tree essential oil that is therapeutic grade. You can apply this mixture to the outside areas of your vagina and between the lips. Do this before bed for 2-3 nights. Tea tree can also be applied to pimples and ingrown hairs in the area. Sometimes itchiness can be due to dryness, dehydration, different times of your cycle, stress, irritation, etc. As long as you are sure it’s not due to a major infection, sometimes a couple nights of this home remedy can fix it.
- Dry Brushing. Purchase a dry brush from a waxing salon or anywhere that sells body care. Brush your inner thighs, and outer vaginal area in an upward motion. Always brush in a direction towards your heart. Go slowly and gently and spend about 10 minutes doing this a couple times per week. This encourages circulation and gets rid of dead skin. It is always a great place to start to learn and love your vagina.
More questions about vaginas? Book an appointment with me:
Dr. Kirsty Gaylor ND