For women, vaginal health plays a role in their overall health. When you have vaginal problems it can affect your desire for sex, fertility, and the ability to orgasm. Want to learn some do’s and don’ts when it comes to the health of your vagina? For the most part, the vagina can be considered a self-cleaning organ. We will cover some ways you can keep your vagina healthy.
The vagina is a closed muscular canal that extends from the outside of the female genital area (vulva) to the neck of the uterus (cervix). There are various factors that can affect the health of the vagina:
- Sex. Unprotected sex can result in sexually transmitted infections. If you experience forceful sex or an injury to the pelvic area – this can result in vaginal trauma. Be sure to practice safe sex.
- Health conditions and treatments. Endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, might cause painful sex. Scarring from a pelvic surgery or some cancer treatments can also cause painful sex.
- Birth control and feminine-hygiene products. Condoms, diaphragms and associated spermicide, can irritate the vagina. The use of sprays, deodorants or douches can cause or worsen irritation.
- Pregnancy and childbirth. During pregnancy, vaginal discharge often increases. Vaginal tears are common during childbirth. In some cases, an incision made in the tissue of the vaginal opening during childbirth (episiotomy) is needed. A vaginal delivery can also decrease muscle tone in the vagina.
- Psychological issues. Anxiety and depression can contribute to a low level of arousal and resulting in discomfort or pain during sex. A traumatic sexual experience can cause you to associate pain with sex.
- Hormone levels. Changes in your hormone levels can affect your vagina. For example, estrogen production declines after menopause and during breastfeeding. Loss of estrogen can cause the vaginal lining to thin (vaginal atrophy), making sex painful.
What can you do to keep your vagina healthy?
- Be sexually responsible. Use condoms or maintain a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who’s free of STIs. If you use sex toys make sure to clean them after every use.
- Get vaccinated. Vaccinations can protect you from HPV and hepatitis B. HPV is the virus associated with cervical cancer. Hepatitis B, which is a serious liver infection that can spread through sexual contact.
- Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. You can do Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle training to keep the muscles in good condition.
- Know your medications. When you are prescribed medication, it is a good idea to discuss details about the medication and any possible side effects with your doctor. Some medications are known to cause yeast infections.
- Limit your alcohol consumption and don’t smoke. Chronic alcohol misuse can compromise sexual function. Nicotine might affect sexual arousal. Substance abuse can cause poor physical and mental health, which can affect sexual function.
- Keep it simple. In terms of showering or bathing, use mild soaps. After sex it is also a good idea to urinate to avoid a UTI. Do wash the vulva with warm water, mild soap (if needed), and make sure the area is dry.
Some things you should avoid doing to keep a healthy vagina.
- Avoid lubricants that contain: glycerin, petroleum products, parabens, fragrances, flavors, non-natural oils, and dyes.
- Do not wash inside your vagina. If you wash inside your vagina there is a risk of upsetting its delicate pH balance. Which can result in irritation or an infection. Again, the vagina does most of its own cleaning with its own natural discharge.
- Do not ignore the warning signs of an infection. If you notice a change in color with your vaginal discharge or an odor – be sure to make an appointment with your doctor. Vaginal discharge should apear to be clear or white.
- Stay away from scented: pads, liners, and tampons.
It is very important to keep up with your well-women exams. Your annual exams are one of many ways to help to keep you on a healthy track in life. That way if any issues do arise, the better chance you have of successfully recovering from a diagnosis.
Talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have. If you detect any changes in your health consult with your doctor. The sooner the better! Again, early detection is key. OB-GYN Women’s Centre is committed to the care and treatment of every woman.