Just like menstruation, vaginal hygiene is a taboo subject in India. Many women till date refrain from talking or sharing tips on how to maintain feminine hygiene. However, it is important to know about vaginal hygiene to keep your genitals clean and your reproductive tract healthy. No matter what age you are, there are few basic vaginal hygiene rules every woman should know about!
Vaginal health: Why is it important?
While it is hardly spoken of, vaginal health is extremely important. Ignoring the problems associated with poor vaginal hygiene can lead to many complications in the future. From affecting your sex drive to fertility to your ability to reaching an orgasm, being indifferent about your vaginal health can have adverse effects.
That said, every woman should be aware of the signs and symptoms of vaginal problems and take important measures to ensure a healthy vagina.
1. Keep the undergarments dry
Not wiping the vagina after urinating can cause the panties to get wet, which can not only lead to bad odour but put you at risk of vaginal infections. Hence, it is always advised to wipe the area using toilet paper or a soft cloth so your underwear is always dry.
The vaginal fluid or discharge is a part of a healthy vaginal environment. The use of products such as talcum powder or excessive wiping of the vagina can make it very dry which can cause itchiness and vaginal dryness. It can also lead to pain during sex and make it prone to injury. Moreover, according to a research study it was reported that perineal use of talcum powder can increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
2. Change sanitary pads after 4-6 hours
According to a Delhi-based gynaecologist Dr. Nupur Gupta, women who have normal blood flow should change a sanitary napkin every four-six hours. The same applies to the days when you have light blood flow. However, if you have heavy flow during menstruation then changing sanitary pads every 3-4 hours is a must. If you are using a tampon, then change it every six hours without fail. Also, clean the area every time you visit a washroom during menstruation.
If sanitary napkins or tampons are not changed for a long time, it can lead to skin rashes and bad odour. In certain cases, it can also put you at risk of infections. Also, some women tend to use reusable cloth pads, which needs to be washed and dried properly before using it.
3. Clean the vagina after intercourse without fail
Make it a habit to clean the vagina every time after indulging in sex. This is because body fluids and particles from condoms can cause irritation. Also, not cleaning up after the act can make you prone to vaginal infections. So always clean the vagina after sex with water to prevent infections like urinary tract infections (UTIs).
4. Avoid using soap while washing your vagina
Avoid using harsh soaps or scented soaps to clean the vagina. The use of soaps laden with harmful chemicals such as glycerol, perfumes and antiseptics can affect the healthy balance of the bacteria in the vagina. Moreover, it can also change the pH in the vaginal region, which can cause irritation and lead to the growth of unhealthy bacteria. Instead use plain soap and water, preferably lukewarm water to wash the area around the vagina.
5. Avoid douching
A douche is a device which flushes up water into the vagina to clean vaginal secretions. Douching involves the use of certain chemicals which can interfere with the vaginal pH. This can, in turn, disrupt the normal vaginal bacteria. Moreover, there is no evidence that douching can protect you against sexually transmitted infections or vaginal infections.
6. Say no to scented feminine hygiene products
It is not a good idea to use feminine hygiene products such as scented wipes, vaginal deodorants or scrubs to keep the vagina healthy. In fact, these products can worsen the condition and make you prone to infections. Moreover, using vaginal scrubs can lead to peeling of the skin, which can further up your risk of infections.
7. Practice safe sex
Unprotected sex carries the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, warts, syphilis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Hence, using protection such as condoms every time you have sex is one of the simplest and effective ways to prevent STIs and vaginal infections and unwanted pregnancies. But before you use one, check if you are allergic to the material of the condom and pick the one that suits you.
Also, avoid using lubes during the act as it can damage the vagina and also put you at risk of infections. The use of lubricants, which contains glycerin, can damage or irritate the vaginal cells, which in turn, ups the risk of STDs such as herpes and HIV. If your partner suffers from any sexually transmitted disease, then it is advised to abstain from sex till the time the symptoms subside or as recommended by your doctor. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
8. Avoid wearing tight clothes
Most experts recommend that you should wear undergarments made from breathable fabrics like cotton. This is because wearing tight clothes and inners made from synthetic fabrics cause sweating due to reduced air circulation. Excessive sweating and moisture can lead to the growth of bacteria and yeast, causing vaginal infection. Avoid using leather pants, tight spandex, and wet bathing suits for a long period of time. Also, do change your clothes after working out or exercising or any activity which can be sweaty.
9. Learn the right way to wipe
Are you wiping the area down the right way? Well, probably not! The right way to clean the vagina is from front to back (the vagina to the anus) and not the other way round. This is because, if you do the other way, then the chances of dragging the harmful bacteria to the vaginal are high. So if you have been wiping in the wrong direction, then it is time to change.
10. Do not shave pubic hair
Some women prefer shaving pubic hair as they think the pubic hair looks gross and unclean. But if research has to be believed, pubic hair acts as a safety net which protects the vulva (outer part of the female genitalia that surrounds the opening of the vagina) from bacterial infections.
Moreover, the use of non-electric shaving methods such as razors for shaving the genital hair was found to cause genital injuries. Also, if you are planning to get it done at a parlour, then beware of the products used which might be laden with chemicals and instruments which can be used without cleaning.
11. Do not ignore signs of vaginal infections
Lastly, but most importantly, do not ignore any signs and symptoms of vaginal infections. Whether you have a stinky smell or excessive vaginal discharge or coloured vaginal discharge, do consult your doctor immediately. Also, do not ignore an itchy vagina or pain in the vaginal region as it could be a sign of an underlying health condition.
12. Never try self-medication
Most women are reluctant to consult a gynaecologist when it comes to infections or diseases of the genital areas such as ringworm infection, pubic lice infection, vaginal dryness, or itching. They, in fact, try some quick home remedies such as using baking soda solution to wash the vagina or applying some homemade paste to get rid of the odour. Moreover, using over the counter antifungal or antibacterial ointment or creams is the go-to remedy if home remedies fail to provide any relief. But this approach is completely wrong. It is best to consult a doctor for all these problems.
Every woman should follow these basic feminine hygiene tips to ensure a healthy vagina. Do share this information with all your friends to spread awareness including your daughters. Because knowing these tips right from puberty can make a huge difference in the overall health and wellness.