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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.
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Feature image by Giphy
Originally published September 4, 2019