How To Care For Your Vagina, By A Sexual Health Nurse

vagina
Some 'feminine care' products sold online could damage your vagina (Shutterstock)

Our vaginas get a really bum rap. They’re constantly told that they don’t look right or smell right, despite being naturally beautiful just as they are.

Understandably, given the deluge of false advertising targeting our insecurities, women are often left worrying that our lady bits are unattractive. This misplaced anxiety can lead to a crippling lack of confidence, both in ourselves and in the bedroom, which really is a crying shame.

The internet has a lot to answer for here. Concerned that your vagina smells, is too loose, too dry or ugly? Steer well clear of Google. Otherwise, expect to be told that a) you’re pregnant (Google health questions always point to the p-word) and b) no-one will ever shag you again unless you buy *insert totally ridiculous bullshit ‘feminine care’ product here*.

From detox balls that promise to tighten your vag, only to leave it dry and crusty, to the flowery, oh-so-spiritual yoni oil that promises to make your fanny smell of roses but can actually cause yeast infections, the world wide web is a minefield of potentially dangerous products. Some even prey on women who are struggling to conceive by falsely claiming to improve fertility. In short: some people will merrily abandon their morals to make money. It’s repulsive, but true.

The latest hot product to supposedly solve your nether region woes is oak gall, also known as crushed wasp’s nest. Guaranteed to turn you into a sex goddess, cure urinary tract infections and eliminate any “unpleasant odours”, you simply ground them into a paste and apply to your lady bits for life-changing rejuvenation. Lovely. If you’re into painful sex and an increased risk of HIV caused by damage to your vaginal walls, that is.

This insanity must end. Which is why we called upon sexual health nurse Helen Knox, who it goes without saying is passionate about women’s health, to answer a few of our most burning questions about caring for our vaginas.

I know people say they are, but are detox balls etc really that bad for my vagina?

When it comes to vaginal care I would recommend that women do not use anything on, in or around their vulva or vagina that has not been recommended by a reliable and qualified healthcare source that they can trust such as a pharmacist, doctor, nurse or gynaecologist.

This is due to the fact that the vagina has a delicate ecosystem of millions of micro-organisms that are perfectly balanced to maintain vaginal health. Lactobacillus for example, is a type of ‘good’ bacteria that helps maintain the slightly acidic pH of the vagina, which helps protect it from harmful bacteria that could cause an infection.

Inserting any kind of product into the vagina can upset this incredible ecosystem and cause an imbalance to occur, making you more likely to experience symptoms of a condition such as BV.

I haven’t heard of BV, what is it?

BV (bacterial vaginosis) is the most common vaginal condition for women and is thought to be twice as common as thrush. It is often identified by a ‘fishy’ smell coming from the vulva and perhaps discharge from the vagina, although you can have BV and not smell anything at all. It can cause a watery, grey or thin vaginal discharge or an abnormally large amount of discharge. This can cause discomfort, often leading women to misdiagnose themselves as having thrush.

Is it dangerous?

BV, in itself, is unpleasant but not dangerous and it is not classed as a sexually transmitted infection. Most women are able to treat it quickly and easily, but it can be problematic for pregnant women. In a few rare cases, recurrent BV left untreated can lead to further complications.

How is it treated?

Two in three women can expect to get BV at some point in their life, but it doesn’t need to be a problem. There is a variety of effective treatment options available, including antibiotics and over the counter lactic acid vaginal gels and pessaries. Talk to your pharmacist or GP for a proper diagnosis and to discuss treatment options. Balance Activ BV Gel, which is available from pharmacies and many supermarkets, contains a unique combination of lactic acid and glycogen. The lactic acid helps to combat BV and the glycogen provides nutrients to help the good bacteria regrow. This helps to maintain and restore your natural balance and relieve symptoms. They also have a handy symptom checker tool available online.

How should I clean my vagina?

You don’t need to clean your vagina. Leave it alone! When your vagina is healthy, it maintains itself and there really isn’t any need to start using anything to wash internally. As part of your daily cleaning routine, washing around your vulva, once a day is sufficient – twice, if you must. The vulva is the skin around the opening to your vagina, and washing this with plain water, is fine. Don’t use soaps, shower gels, scented soaps or feminine sprays down there.

What is my vagina supposed to smell like?

Firstly, all vaginas have a smell. It is something many women feel embarrassed about but it is completely normal. What you must be aware of is any change to your natural smell. It can become stronger depending on monthly hormonal changes, or how much you’re sweating, which is also completely normal, but if the smell changes significantly or is noticeably unpleasant then it is best to talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if there is a problem.

What should I do if I don’t like the natural smell of my vagina or my partner has complained about it?

If it is your natural odour, you and your partner may just have to learn to accept and love it as it is. If you start trying to change or mask it by over washing or using perfumed soaps or products that are antiseptic, this could have a negative effect on the balance of pH and microorganisms inside your vagina.

What should I do if I’m experiencing dryness or am concerned that my vagina is loose?

If you are at all concerned about your vaginal health, please talk to your pharmacist who will either be able to recommend products to help or can refer you to see your GP or a local clinic where you can be examined and advised appropriately.

I found a product online that claims to be all-natural. Does that make it safe to use?

No! Even though a product claims to be natural, it doesn’t make it right, suitable or safe for use in the vagina.

Why are products that could harm our vaginas allowed to be sold with false claims?

While the internet is a brilliant tool for lots of credible information, it is unfortunately also home to lots of misleading information. Product claims may be based on ideas but not be backed up by fact and research. There are many reputable companies out there that are investing heavily in producing brilliant products for vagina health that are based on fact and research, so there is no need to use anything you find on the internet that isn’t medically recommended, safe and appropriate for you. Be guided by your qualified healthcare practitioners, whose sole aim is to help you, rather than sell you something you don’t need or shouldn’t use.

So there you have it, ladies, look after your vaginas by leaving them the hell alone! If you are at all concerned, seek professional advice (professional meaning: not on the internet). Over and out.

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