Updated: Jun 23, 2019
By Bionca W. Shy, PharmD
Founder of Funk Diva
“Owning a vagina can be compared to owning an antique automobile. If it malfunctions you’re definitely obligated to properly repair and maintain it but it’s hardly ever something that the average person can afford to replace.” -Dr. Shy
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that approximately 1.4 million women visit outpatient clinics to address issues associated with vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC) and over 21 million are impacted by bacterial vaginosis (BV) among women 15-45 years of age annually. Therefore, it’s properly safe to conclude that the vagina is a bit of a task to deal with as a woman.
The female vagina embodies a world of its own with a microbiota mainly comprised of Lactobacillus- a gram-positive, facultative anaerobic bacteria that produces lactic and acetic acid along with hydrogen peroxide to maintain a healthy vaginal pH (usually around 4.5 or less). However, bacteria such as Atopobium, Streptococcus, Peptostreptococcus spp., Staphylococcus spp., Bacteroides spp., and Escherichia Coli spp. (to name a few) when well balanced, can make up the normal environment of the vagina as well. A healthy vaginal microbiota can most certainly aid in the prevention of common infections like VVC and BV which predispose women to more severe conditions (when left untreated) such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV transmission, and even premature labor.
“THE VAGINA DOESN’T NEED ALL THAT SIS!”
Women have employed an array of self-care approaches to maintain vaginal health, however, many practices can cause more harm than benefit. A Canadian cross-sectional study by Crann et al. (2018), surveyed over 1,400 women ages 18 years and older and found that eighty-percent experienced at least one vaginal infection from using one or more of the following self-care hygiene strategies:
▪️waxing and shaving of pubic hair
Results showed that survey participants had a significantly higher risk of reporting adverse vaginal events when using the latter hygiene practices.
THE VAGGY SOLUTION
It’s imperative that proper vaginal hygiene is free of harsh products and practices that disturb and alter the vaginal ecosystem and pH. Here’s 7 quick tips you should be aware of to keep your vagina in check:
1. Cleanse with mild soap and water
Anti-bacterial soaps and harsh feminine products can significantly disturb the vaginal microbiota by killing off the good bacteria that help protect it.
2. Monitor vaginal discharge regularly
The vagina self-lubricates and women can often experience clear stretchy discharge around ovulation but copious discharge that’s discolored and/or possess a foul odor (i.e. white-yellow & fishy-Bacterial vaginosis; white to yellowish cottage cheese-Candida albicans; yellowish-green, foamy and foul smelling -Trichomoniasis) accompanied with or without itching, burning, or vaginal pain should be properly addressed with your doctor.
3. Always wipe from FRONT to BACK
Proper cleansing practices post toileting is essential to avoid bacteria (i.e. E.Coli) entering the urethra and/or vagina from the anus when wiping the wrong way which potentially can cause urinary tract and vaginal infections. Front to back is always the correct strategy to every wipe!
4. Underwear is not a requirement but when in doubt wear COTTON
Cotton underwear helps absorb excess moisture and also allows proper ventilation of the vagina. A sweaty vagina is a breathing ground for bacterial growth. It’s perfectly okay to avoid underwear if that’s your thing but when wearing them ensure the crouch is made of cotton and also don’t forget to change them after gym visits.
5. If practicing various forms of sexual intercourse (anal and vaginal) ALWAYS use a new condom
The gastrointestinal tract and the vaginal ecosystem DO NOT mix! What ever floats your boat is up to you but remember using a condom helps to decrease your risk of contracting STIs and HIV.
6. Get tested for STIs routinely
Most vaginal infections can go undetected irrespective of a single sex partner. No one is alluding that your prevention strategies of getting routine tests suggest your significant other is up to no good but it’s important to get tested when there are signs and symptoms detected by your doctor that may be of major concern.
7. No, No, No....to douching, spraying, and moisturizing the vagina with products and chemicals
Plain and simple- A RECIPE FOR DISASTER!!!
Vaginal health is essential to a woman’s quality of life and overall well-being. Avoiding harmful chemicals and practices and implementing effective prevention and hygiene strategies can help keep your vagina balanced and viable.
Script for Success segments are aimed at providing brief healthcare information to our audience of readers.
1. Crann et al. Vaginal health and hygiene practices and product use in Canada: a national cross-sectional survey. BMC Women’s Health 2018; 18(52): 1-8
2. Larsen B and Monif G. Understanding the Bacterial Flora of the Female Genital Tract. CID 2001; 32(4): 69-77
3. CDC: Bacterial Vaginosis. Accessed June 19th 2019.
4. CDC: Vaginal Candidiasis. Accessed June 19th 2019.
5. Goncalves B, Ferreira C, Alves CT, Henriques M, Azeredo J, Silva S. Vulvovaginal candidiasis: Epidemiology, microbiology and risk factors. Crit Rev Microbiol. 2016; 42:905-27