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These Common Habits Are Actually BAD For Your Vagina

Here's what some of us do every day that is so not good for our va-jay-jay.

Women's Health

If you pay really close attention to the comment section on this site, you'll notice that EIC Necole Kane will pop up from time to time. One of the last times that I personally saw her was when she was talking about how it tickles her—"tickle" is my word, not hers—how much we all like to talk about our vaginas. I think what tickles me is how many of our readers are like, "Hell yeah! We've all got one, sooo…whatcha got for us about 'em today, y'all?"

This week? It's all about habits. Not good habits—such as not douching and making sure to take a probiotic in order to prevent bacterial and fungal vaginal infections. Nah, I'm going to tackle some bad vaginal habits. Here's the catch, though. I'm willing to bet half of what I'll get paid for this piece that most of us are guilty of four-or-more of these. It's mostly because they're not the kind of things that we think about, let alone talk about, as much as we probably should. But hey, there's no time like the present.

So, before you do anything else to your va-jay-jay today, skim this over. Should you recognize yourself in any of the things on this list, it's time to make some changes. For the sake of your vagina's comfort and your health overall.

1. Vaginal Steaming

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I'll be honest. Although I know that vaginal steaming is all the rage for a lot of folks, it's never been something that particularly interested me; especially with real-life stories like the woman who ended up with second-degree burns from doing it. While some women profess that it helps with menstrual cramps and can remove weird-smelling discharge, many medical professionals claim that there is no real proof that it works; not only that, but what they do say is vaginal steaming could be dangerous and totally counterproductive. Not just because of the potential for burns, but because the herbs and water combo could throw off your natural pH balance and lead to some sort of an infection.

I think the best way to put it is via the health site Healthline: "your vagina isn't meant to be steam-cleaned". It can't be said enough, how self-cleaning your vagina is. So, if you're doing some sort of vaginal steaming in order to "help your vagina along", it doesn't need it. Mother Nature has totally taken care of that.

2. Peeing Prior to Sex

If you want to reduce the risk of being diagnosed with a UTI, make sure that you urinate after not before doing-the-do. According to medical professionals, when we pee prior to coitus, it weakens our urine steam, making it harder to push bacteria out. Since bacteria basically has little hooks that like to attach to the lining of our vaginas (pretty gross, I know), the stronger our urine steam, the better. And it's stronger once we've climaxed, not before.

3. Ignoring Your Vagina’s pH Balance

A healthy vagina has an acidic balance of somewhere between 3.5-4.5. When that "count" is off, problems (like infections) ensue. That's why it's a good idea to be as proactive as possible when it comes to properly maintaining your pH.

You can do this by using a menstrual cup or disc because the silicone that it's made out of doesn't irritate your vagina; plus, cups and discs simply collect the blood without irritating your vaginal walls and lining (menstrual blood that flows into a tampon or out onto a pad can definitely throw your natural acidic balance off). You can also mess with your pH by having unprotected sex (semen's pH is 7.1 – 8, so a new partner can definitely disrupt what's going on down there) and/or using scented body products.

4. Washing with the Bougie Stuff

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It really can't be said enough, y'all. Your vagina is self-cleaning. IT DOES NOT NEED YOUR HELP TO STAY CLEAN. If you ignore this and try to prove otherwise, all of that perfume-smelling stuff can also result in your vagina not feeling like its normal self.

Now, if you want to make your vulva feel fresher, something that I use is Pangea Wash; it's 100 percent natural and I've got absolutely no regrets. Or, you can go with one of the DIY washes that I wrote about a while back. But honestly, if you only used water down there, for the most part, you should be good.

It should go on record that if you're trying to find something that will mask an odor, that's a sign that you should go to the doctor not pile on some Summer's Eve. Although it's normal to have a bit of a natural scent, if it's super strong or offensive, that's a red flag that something is definitely up.

5. Not Drying “Her” After Showering

The skin on your vulva (which is the outer part of your vagina) is pretty fragile, so no one is saying to get out a towel and go to town with it. But if you're someone who tends to hop out of the shower and not at least pat "her" dry, you're leaving a lot of moisture down in your nether regions that can easily turn into a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and germs. So yeah, dry her off. It's a little thing that can mean a lot in the days and weeks ahead.

6. Sleeping in Your Underwear

Hopefully, you already know that cotton (preferably organic cotton) really is the best thing for your vagina, as far as panties go. The reason why is because it's a fabric that gives your girl the ability to breathe. At the same token, whenever you wear lingerie-friendly fabrics like satin or nylon, because they are moisture-wicking and absorbent, moisture can collect and that can trigger infections down there too.

That said, even cotton panties need to be taken off sometimes; preferably at night. By going commando while you sleep, your vagina can "air out" and that can do wonders for its health and well-being.

7. Going the Cheap Toilet Paper Route

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Is it just me or is even toilet paper getting mad expensive? Plus, you've gotta buy it in bigger bulks now (le sigh). I'm irritated but I've adjusted because Quilted Northern Ultra Plush is my jam! After checking out a list of the best toilet papers of 2019, it appears I am not alone.

And why does toilet paper matter when it comes to your vagina? It's because that cheap one-ply stuff can actually irritate it. So, if you want to pamper your vagina, just a bit, splurge and spend $5-7. You go to the bathroom every day, several times a day; it's worth it.

8. Using Dull Razors

If you're someone who uses a razor to keep everything nice and neat down there, here are some things to keep in mind. One, swap out razors every two weeks; that way, you won't end up using a dull blade that could cause irritation or spread bacteria. Two, exfoliate the area you want to shave first so that the hair will be easier to remove. Three, consider going with a male razor; the kind that they use on their face. The blades will give you a closer cut, plus they'll be gentler on your skin so that you won't get ingrown hairs and razor bumps.

9. Not Washing Your Undies Properly

This is one that a lot of us fail at—washing our panties right. If you're thinking, "How do you wash them wrong?", I'm soooo glad that you asked that. It's actually a good idea to wash them by hand with a gentle unscented fabric detergent. But if your schedule is super hectic and it's best to toss them into the washing machine, please remember these five things—sanitize your washing machine on a monthly basis (germs and bacteria do tend to store up in there); if you live with someone who is currently under the weather, wash your undies in a separate load (germs can spread that way as well); if you've currently got bacterial vaginosis, wash those panties separately from everything else (even your other underwear); tumble dry your undies on low for about 30 minutes (that helps to remove any remain bacteria), and budget to get some new ones around every six months or so. Even the best drawers aren't designed to last forever.

10. Foreplay Being Too Short

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OK, so after reading my fair share of articles on foreplay (and then doing some unofficial polling of people that I know), the general consensus is women would like to have around 15 minutes of it before intercourse is even up for discussion. Whether you just read that and thought it was way too long or way too short, the main thing to keep in mind is this—if you aren't wet enough down there, wait before penetration to get to that point. There is nothing more uncomfortable than intercourse when you're dry. Plus, the more "lubed up" you are, the less friction and irritation your vagina will have to go through.

11. Eating the Wrong Foods

Your vagina will tell on you if you're not eating the right foods. How will it do that? For starters, yeast thrives off of sugar, processed foods and cheese, so if you're eating a ton of these, you're practically begging to get a yeast infection. Fried food isn't the best either because its fat content can alter your pH balance and increase the risk of you being diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis.

And while caffeine and alcohol aren't "wrong" per se, they along with onion, garlic, spices, red meat and asparagus, can affect the smell of your vagina. Something to keep in mind if you're planning a romantic dinner for you and your partner in the near future.

12. Staying in Workout Clothes Too Long

If you and your workout buddies like to get a smoothie or a salad right after leaving the gym, please make sure that you shower and change first. Workout clothing like yoga pants aren't made out of the most "breathable" fabric and when you're all hot and sweaty, the natural yeast and bacteria that's in your vagina can start to thrive and multiply.

Not to say that it's an automatic that staying in your exercise gear will make things itchy and irritable for you, but if you want to significantly decrease your chances of that happening, getting out of those wet clothes, taking a shower and then putting on some cotton drawers and something that isn't super tight below will help to make that happen.

13. Not Cleaning Sex Toys

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Guess how many people own a sex toy of some sort? Drum roll…three out of four people reportedly own a dildo (the next favorite toy among Americans is a vibrator). That's certainly enough individuals to make this worth mentioning.

If you use a sex toy, you've got some sort of infection and you don't wash it before your next use, it is possible that the microorganisms will linger and you could reintroduce yourself to the infection all over again (same goes for your partner). That's why it's imperative that you wash them, thoroughly, after each and every use. Not just underneath a faucet of tepid water either. Self broke down how you can do it properly here.

14. Wearing Pantyliners Too Much

If you have a heavy amount of discharge (by the way, it's only "abnormal" if the texture, amount or smell is different from what you are used to) and you wear pantyliners to "protect" your panties, that's cool (a list of the most popular right now is here and a list of organic ones is here). But if you wear them for more than 10 hours, they can also trap in moisture that can result in an infection. So, as a rule of thumb, when you get home and take off your bra, try and make it a point to remove your pantyliner too. Your vagina needs the break.

15. Being Unprotected

Remember how I mentioned earlier that it's important to have protected sex? Yes, to protect yourself from STDs and an unplanned pregnancy but again, semen can throw your pH balance way off. If you don't want to risk that, condoms are your best bet.

It's not like condoms are anyone's favorite thing in the world, but technology is getting better by the day. Vegan condoms are an actual thing. Or, if you want to check out a pretty comprehensive list based on size and personal preference, there's one here and here.

16. Diagnosing Vaginal Health Issues via Google (or Any Search Engine)

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I have a natural fungal sensitivity. This means that if I'm not careful, tinea versicolor will pop up and so will a yeast infection. Before I had experienced either one of these before, when some "abnormal" symptoms started to appear, the researcher in me was like, "No problem. I'll just Google what's going on." Although once I did go to the doctor, my diagnosis was correct, the way I went about treating both issues was all wrong.

Your health is important. In many ways, it's pretty fragile too. See your medical professional for an annual check-up and, if something isn't right, including when it comes to your vagina, let them tell you what's up and what you should do about it. Otherwise, self-diagnosing could end up doing more harm than good in the long run. Trust me, I would know.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

15 Things I Bet You Didn't Know About Your Own Vagina

Keep Your Vagina Like A (Literal) Fountain Of Youth

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"What's In There?" An Owner's Manual For Your Vagina

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Originally published September 4, 2019

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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