Sex Ed Friday: You’re Probably Washing Your Vagina All Wrong, Babe

Your vag will thank you.

 

Photo by istock

It’s no secret that vaginal health is so important. It also can be really difficult to know what to do—there’s not a lot of information on how to take care of our vagina’s.

Take it from someone who threw off her own pH level last year and struggled to get it regulated again—you want to take care of down there, babe. But so many of us with vag’s just don’t know how! And everyday there’s a new ad being bombarded at us about another scented this or that to clean ourselves with. That’s dangerous because it perpetuates the idea that vaginas are somehow intrinsically ~dirty~ (not the good kind of dirty) and that scented products are good for your health down there (spoiler alert: they aren’t!).

 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what you might be getting wrong about vaginal health and how to properly care for yourself, I want to make an important distinction. Not all women have vaginas and not everyone who has a vagina identifies as a woman. Many genderqueer and transmasculine folks may have a vagina—though some people may not use that terminology for themselves, which is a-okay as everyone can use whatever words they want to describe their own body! And trans women may or may not have a vagina. This article is going to be written for everyone who has a vagina, regardless of gender identity! Because we all deserve access to sexual health information. And genitalia does not equal gender.

The big secret about washing your vulva and vagina is that it’s actually super simple and way less complex than all those feminine product marketing companies want you to believe. All you really need is water! It’s shocking, I know. But our vagina’s are pretty magical in that they have the power to keep themselves clean all on their own. Really, no soap is needed at all. While you’re already in the shower, use your hands or a washcloth to slash some water around your vulva area to gently clean the area.

I know that sounds too easy to believe, so I’m going to go more in-depth by explaining how all the “other ways” people with vaginas clean down there are actually detrimental to your health! By the end of this, you’ll be rejoicing in the fact that you now know you’ll never have to buy a “Summer’s Eve” vaginal wash ever again!

 

1. Don’t scrub your vulva. Like, ever again.

Your skin down there is super sensitive. So don’t scrub it for the pure fact that it probably hurts afterward. But also, it doesn’t help in cleaning your vulva at all. You might be scrubbing away some of your bodies natural bacteria which helps keep your pH culture at its normal levels. While you can definitely use a loofa or washcloth to splash some water down there, you never want to exfoliate or go to town scrubbing away. Remember to always be gentle when you’re washing your vaginal area.

2. No douching or steaming, babes! 

Don’t be a douche, literally. The vagina is a delicate ecosystem that likes to be maintained at a normal pH of 3.8 to 4.5. When you douche, you are essentially washing away all your lactobacilli—which is the good bacteria that lives in your vagina to keep those pH levels where they want to be. When you throw off your normal pH levels, you are at risk for getting a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.

A yeast infection happens when the balance between the bacteria and yeast in the vagina changes, then the yeast cells can multiply. Whereas bacterial vaginosis is caused when there is too much bad (pathogenic) bacteria.

And once your pH levels are thrown off, it can be really difficult to regular them. Trust me, it happened to me last year and I had to go on a three-month medication to make my vag happy again.

If that hasn’t warned you away from douching or steaming yet, then listen to the professionals who have found an association between douching and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This infection can lead to severe complications like scarring, ectopic pregnancy, and even infertility. Douching and vaginal steaming damage your good bacteria and strip away everything your vag needs to thrive! When you strain away the protective lactobacilli, you are also at a higher risk for being exposed to an STI since your bodies natural protectors are essentially gone!

3. If you have to use soap…

If you insist on using soap in your nether-regions then please make sure it’s a non-scented, all natural ingredients product. A natural glycerine or castile soap will work, which you can find at most drugstores. If you are using one of these soaps, do not put it up your vagina. Only use water and this gentle soap to wash your labia and vulva. And be sure to stay away from anything with fancy scents, even if it’s marketed to be used as a vaginal wash. It’s not good for your poor vag!

If you want to use soap, be sure to keep in mind that the majority of people with vulvas who feel like they might have a yeast infection—just have an irritation from a product they’ve used. Stop washing with anything but water for a few days and see if the discomfort subsides.

4. If you obsessively clean after sex or the gym.

I know the impulse after you get all hot and sweaty is to clean everything, especially your vag. But don’t go too hard! See point one for reference. While it is okay to clean up after sex or the gym (or any other sweat-inducing activity), make sure you’re not using scented wipes or washes. Use the gentle soaps we mentioned above, or if you aren’t taking a shower then just use a wet washcloth to wipe the outside of your vagina.

5. If you obsessively shave your pubes away.

Contrary to popular misconception, pubic hair is actually healthy. I’m not saying that everyone needs to keep a full bush down there. But it is recommended that you don’t shave too often. Give your pubes some time to grow back a little stubble before you shave again. They are there to keep your vagina healthy and basically the last layer of protection from potential infections. If you are getting razor burn all the time, it’s probably time to get a new razor. You should get a refresh on your razor blades every 2-4 weeks (depending on how much you use it).

 


Now, I know what you’re thinking…

But what do I do if I’m feeling irritated or itchy?

I know the instinct is usually to try one of the above methods to “clean” your vag. But as you now know, they will only make it worse! So if you’re experiencing abnormal discharge (in amount, scent or color), itching or discoloration (like redness) down there—then you should make an appointment with an OBGYN. If you know your body really well and you know it’s a yeast infection, doctors say that over the counter medicine works just fine. But if it continues, definitely see a doctor as it could be bacterial vaginosis or an STI.

Overall, your vag is best left alone with a little splash of water.


Corinne Kai is a writer, sex educator and girl on the move currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. Her background in sex education comes from her volunteer work with RAINN, her work as a sexual assault/domestic violence advocate and she is currently a student at the Institute for Sexuality and Enlightenment. 

Have more sex questions? Leave a comment below or email corinne@gomag.com and come back for more every Friday! 

The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only and should not replace or substitute for any medical, or other professional advice or help. For concerns requiring psychological or medical advice, please consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist This column, its author, the magazine and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice contained within this column.