The woman’s vagina is designed to naturally keep itself clean with the help of its natural secretions or discharge. For all women, looking after your everyday health can help keep your vagina in good shape,
Generally, good vaginal health is maintained by making sure the woman is generally healthy; this includes a healthy diet and exercise. Note that normal exercise helps maintain good vaginal function the way walking and running help the pelvic floor tone up. Here are a few things you should know if you want a clean and healthy vagina.
Vaginal secretions or discharge: Apart from the period which is part of your natural menstrual cycle, it is normal to produce clear or white secretions/discharge from your vagina. This mucus is produced naturally from the neck of the womb, known as the cervix.
Vaginal discharge is not always a bad sign unlike the general belief by some women that the clear or white discharge is associated with sexually-transmitted infections. Changes in the amount of discharge could be hormonal; in other words, it could belinked to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause.
The character and amount of vaginal discharge vary throughout your menstrual cycle. Around the time your ovary releases an egg; ovulation, the discharge usually becomes thicker and stretchy, like raw egg white. A healthy discharge doesn’t have a strong smell or colour. There may be an uncomfortable wetness, but there shouldn’t be any itching or soreness around the vagina. If there are changes to the discharge that you are not used to, such as a change in colour or if it starts to smell or itch, then you need to see a doctor as you might have an infection
Bacteria in the vagina: There are lots of bacteria inside the woman’s vagina, and they are there to protect it. According to Professor Ronnie Lamont, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, “The vagina contains more bacteria than anywhere else in the body after the bowel, but the bacteria are there for a reason.”
Functions of the good bacteria inside the vagina includes:
- provide “numerical dominance”; they outnumber other potential harmful bacteria that might enter the vagina
- help keep the vagina’s pH balance (how acidic the vagina is) at an even level, which helps keep the balance of bacteria healthy
- can produce bacteriocins (naturally occurring antibiotics) to reduce or kill other bacteria entering the vagina
- produce a substance that stops invading bacteria sticking to the vagina walls, which prevents bacteria invading the tissues
If the balance of bacteria is disturbed, this can lead to infection and inflammation. Bacteria called lactobacilli help keep the vagina’s pH balance at its normal low level), which also prevents the growth of other organisms.
If the pH of the vagina increases; it gets less acidic, that is, the quality or amount of lactobacilli can fall and other bacteria can multiply. This can result in infections such as thrush, which can cause symptoms which include itching, irritation and abnormal discharge.
Washing your vagina: It is a good idea to avoid perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics as these can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina and cause irritation.
Use plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vagina gently every day. The vagina will clean itself inside your body with natural vaginal secretions/ discharge.
During your period, washing more than once a day may be helpful, keeping the perineal area between the vagina and anus clean is important. A good perineal hygiene is necessary by washing that area at least once a day using your normal bathing soap.
However, not all women are the same; some may wash with perfumed soap and not notice any problems. But if a woman has vulval irritation or symptoms, one of the first things you can do is use non-allergenic, plain soaps and see if it helps.
Vaginal douches: A douche flushes water up into the vagina, clearing out vaginal secretions. Some women use a douche to clean the vagina, but using a douche can disrupt the normal vaginal bacteria. There is also no evidence douching protects against STIs or vaginal infections, and it may even increase the risk.
Scented wipes and vaginal deodorants: These perfumed products can disrupt the vagina’s healthy natural balance. “If nature had intended the vagina to smell like roses or lavender, it would have made the vagina smell like roses or lavender,” says Professor Lamont.
Washing with water and a plain soap should be all a woman needs to keep her vagina healthy. It is normal for the vagina to have a scent. Vaginal odour can change at different times of the reproductive cycle and should not always be thought of as being a sign of infection or illness
Safer sex: Some bacteria and viruses can get into the vagina during sex. These include the bugs that cause chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis and HIV. You can protect your vagina against these infections by using a condom when you have sex with multiple partners.
Cervical screening: All women aged from 25 to 64 are advised to go for cervical screening. Being screened regularly means any abnormal changes in the cervix can be identified early on and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing.
- Additional report from Women’sHealth