Good vulva and vaginal health is easier than you think. It starts with understanding your own body, knowing what works for you, and talking with your OB-GYN provider if anything irregular arises.
Despite what you may read, there are no special products or requirements for proper vulva and vaginal care. In fact, your vagina was built to self-clean, and your most important job is to monitor and maintain a healthy, clean surrounding environment.
Below, we outline some tips for healthy hygiene practices for optimal vulva and vaginal health, but first, let’s walk through the basics.
Vagina vs. Vulva
Surprisingly, many women confuse the terms vulva and vagina. They are two distinct areas of female genitalia; let’s review.
What is the Vulva?
The vulva encompasses and protects your external genitalia, including your pubic mound, clitoris, labia, and opening to the vagina, as well as your urethra, the urinary opening.
What is the Vagina?
The vagina connects the vulva to the cervix and, ultimately, to the uterus. It is the canal that allows for monthly menstruation and childbirth.
Now that we know the correct terminology let’s review some tips for maintaining optimal vulva and vaginal health.
1. Keeping it Clean
Cleaning your vulvovaginal area is simple:
- Wash daily with warm water—soap is optional, but use a gentle soap like Dove-Hypoallergenic, Neutrogena, Basis, or Pears. Use your fingers instead of a washcloth.
- Do not wash inside your vagina. Doing so could upset its delicate pH balance and cause irritation and infection. The vagina usually cleans itself with discharge.
- Avoid using special scrubs, scented soaps, and douching—even products that say they’re designed for vaginal care. These can also throw off your natural pH balance and bring on infection. If you’re concerned about vaginal odors, first, remember the vagina is not a flower—nor was it ever intended to be. However, if you smell something other than your usual "Eau de You" and are also experiencing burning, itching, or other discomforts, you should contact your Moreland OB-GYN doctor.
- After using the toilet, wipe in the front and then in the back. Doing the reverse could transfer bacteria to the urethra and cause a urinary tract infection.
2. Good, Clean Sex
Because your vulva is an important center of pleasure, protecting it from harmful chemicals and bacteria is important.
- Check the ingredients of any lubricants you plan to use. Some may contain unhealthy ingredients that can throw off your pH balance. Avoid lubricants that contain:
- Petroleum products
- Non-natural oils
- Moreland OB-GYN offers a few varieties of lubricants that are doctor-approved. We sell these discreetly in our office. You can review the options with your provider to find out what is best for your needs.
- Check condom ingredients, too. Many brands are made with spermicides that can kill your vagina’s good bacteria, upset your pH balance, and lead to irritation and infection.
If you’re switching between anal and vaginal sex or vice versa, use a new condom each time. Your anus can carry strains of bacteria that can irritate or infect your vagina; similarly, your vagina has bacteria that can irritate your anus.
- Bacteria can sometimes get into the urethra during sex, so afterward, urinate to flush out bacteria and avoid contracting a urinary tract infection.
- Shower or clean the vulva with warm water, then thoroughly dry the area.
3. Dress for Success
Choose clothing that will ensure your vulvovaginal area can breathe easily and stay dry. Moisture can promote the growth of bacteria, which can lead to a yeast infection.
- Wear cotton underwear rather than silk or polyester. Cotton is less likely to hold moisture and makes it more difficult for smell-producing bacteria to build up. Consider women’s boyshorts for a more open fit around your legs.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing—including thongs, which can collect fecal matter that can reach the vagina and cause infections and odors.
- Change your clothes and underwear after working out.
- Avoid wearing a damp swimsuit all day.
- If you experience heavy vaginal discharge, change your underwear twice a day.
- At night, reduce sweat being trapped around the vulva by forgoing your underwear altogether.
4. Pubic Hair: To Shave or Not to Shave
Pubic hair protects the vulva from bacteria and viruses. It shields and cushions the sensitive skin it covers, protecting it from friction during sex. As long as it’s regularly cleaned, pubic hair poses no health risk.
Some women feel that having pubic hair leads to more moisture and odor and prefer to completely remove it via shaving, waxing, or electrolysis. Others feel that keeping it groomed, using scissors to trim, helps alleviate those problems. And others prefer to leave it au naturel. Really the choice is yours.
Shaving can cause razor burn, redness, itching when the hair grows back, and infection from ingrown hairs. Cuts and nicks can also introduce unwanted bacteria. Do not use hair removal cream, which burns off hair and can be especially harsh on the vulva’s sensitive skin.
5. General Vaginal Hygiene
Here are a few more tips regarding good vulvovaginal health:
- Avoid scented tampons, pads, and liners.
- During your period, change your tampon 4 to 5 times a day. That goes for pads and liners, too.
- Wash or wipe the area regularly during your period.
- Consuming probiotics like yogurt can help prevent yeast infections and reduce vaginal odor by keeping your vagina’s pH levels in order. (Do not put yogurt into your vagina! Its sugars can actually encourage yeast to grow.)
- Staying well-hydrated helps keep bacterial overgrowth and stress-related sweat in check.
- See your Moreland OB-GYN doctor annually for your wellness visit and in between if you have any concerns.
If you have any questions about good vulvovaginal health, contact the team at Moreland OB-GYN today. We’d be happy to help you.
The providers at Moreland OB-GYN are dedicated to providing women with compassionate OB-GYN care throughout life. This includes complete obstetrical care, gynecology, gynecologic and obstetric surgery, fertility services, preventive health care, and more. Learn more about our services and contact us online to request an appointment.