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Are You Washing Your Vagina Correctly? You Sure?

You probably are but just in case...

Women's Health

Last fall, I wrote an article entitled, "Did You Know There's A Right & A Wrong Way To Take A Bath?" The objective was not to be out here assuming that grown ass women don't know how to clean themselves. It's just that, sometimes it's the little things that we do—or don't do—that can actually cause bigger problems along the way when it comes to cleanliness and overall hygiene.

That's why I thought it would also be a good idea to touch on how important it is to make sure that we're all taking care of, what I oftentimes encourage my love nieces to call, their "treasure box". Because, the reality is, while a lot of us find ourselves having a super sensitive vagina or even an infection that we can't get to the root cause of, many times it was triggered by the fact that, while we meant well, we simply weren't cleaning our va-jay-jay as properly as we should have. So, in the effort to keep you and "yours" clean and comfortable, here are some washing tips to always keep in mind.

Remember: Your Vagina and Vulva Are Two Different Things

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Yeeeeeah. I have no idea who started the whole notion that the word "vagina" speaks for everything that is going on when it comes to our genitalia area because, technically, that isn't right. Our vagina is actually the muscular inner tube that starts at the end of our vulva and extends all the way up to our cervix (which is right in front of our uterus). Meanwhile, our vulva is the external part of our genitalia. It consists of our clitoris, our labia majora (the outside of our lips) and labia minora (the inside of our lips), along with our vestibule (the opening of our vagina) and our urethral meatus (which is the opening of our urethra, because you know that we pee out of a different hole…right?). And, when it comes to washing our lower region, it's not the vagina that needs to be cleaned; it's our vulva (and only parts of it). This brings me to my next point.

Your Vagina Is Totally Self-Cleaning

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You might've heard that your vagina is self-cleaning and that is absolutely true. The reason why I'm being intentional about reiterating this point is because there still seem to be way too many people who are consumed with douching and steaming their va-jay-jay when their vagina doesn't need any of that.

When discharge is healthy, it's designed to carry out the dead cells and bacteria that may be inside of your vagina. So, when you do things like douche or steam, not only can that throw the pH balance of your vagina off (which can lead to a killer yeast infection), but steaming could result in literally burning your vagina (one woman actually got second-degree burns from vaginal steaming) too.

And how do you know if your discharge is leaning towards the unhealthy side? For starters, if it's clear, white or off-white and you're noticing about 1-2 teaspoons of it coming out a day, you should be all set. Another sign is if your discharge isn't clumpy, itching and/or irritating. If anything is contrary to what I just said, don't assume that some Summer's Eve or a vaginal steam session is gonna clear things up. It's much smarter to make an appointment with your physician, so that they can diagnose what is really going on with you. It could be a yeast infection. It could be a bout of bacterial vaginosis. It could be that a new sex partner has altered your pH balance. It could be an STD. The only way you're gonna know for sure is if a professional tells you what's up. Let them.

How Do You Wash Your Vulva, Anyway?

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Now when it comes to actually cleaning your vulva, since it isn't self-cleaning like your vagina is yes, you should wash it. But here's the thing—you still don't actually have to use soap. Our vulva area is pretty sensitive, so soaking in the tub or washing with a clean washcloth with warm water can do your vulva good more than you would probably think. But if you absolutely cannot imagine keeping soap away from your outer and inner lips, make sure that you go with the kind of soap that is mild and unscented. It's also important that you swap out your washcloth, every 3-4th wash and that you gently open up the folds of your vulva so that you can get into the crevices of the outer part of that part of your genitalia. Also, just like when you wipe after using the bathroom, make sure that you go from front to back while cleansing your vulva. Just like going the opposite direction can lead to irritation or a mild infection when you wipe, the same thing can happen when you wash.

As far as your anus goes, believe it or not, there are soaps out in the universe that are specifically for it; the kind that will clean your anal area without drying it out. One is Honest's Soothing Bottom Wash. Another comes in a spray form; it's by Indigo Wild and it's called Zum Bum.

Leave Feminine Sprays and Washes Alone

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Whatever you do—and this really can't be stated enough—please leave all of the feminine sprays and washes completely alone.

First of all, your vagina wasn't created to smell like a rose garden or a candy store. In fact, men are naturally drawn to the scent that your va-jay-jay naturally creates. Secondly, just like scented soaps can piss your vulva off, so can all of those vaginal products that promise to make you feel "fresher". And third, there are certain chemicals that are in a lot of commercial products that could prove to be harmful to your vulva and/or vagina if you consistently use them over time.

So, what if you want to add a little "extra" to your vulva area? I actually wrote an article a while back that features some DIY vaginal wash recipes (you can check it out here). Beyond that, adding 1-2 drops of lavender oil per every ¾ cup of coconut oil can be a nice moisturizer for the mound of your vulva (the top part where most of your pubic hair is…or would be) and inner thighs. Not only does it smell amazing, but both lavender and coconut oil contain antifungal properties too. Avoid putting the oil near your vaginal opening, though. Lavender oil is pretty potent; it is prone to cause a significant amount of stinging if applied internally.

If There’s a (Strange) Odor, Again, See Your Doctor

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Depending on your diet, the time of month that it is for your cycle, when you last had sex and the way that you're made up, your vagina (I'm saying that because it's mostly the discharge that creates whatever scent your genitalia's got) is going to range in smell from lightly sweet to slightly sour to maybe even a little coppery (some guys even describe the taste of vaginas as being the hint of a penny). All of this is fine and perfectly normal. When you should be concerned is if your vagina has a strong fishy, ammonia or rotten (unless you're on your cycle and it's been a minute since you've changed your pad or tampon) scent and/or it's so pungent that people around you can smell you. If that is the case, nothing in this article is going to keep the power of that type of odor away. Something is "off". You need to see your doctor.

Welp. That's what I've got for y'all on this topic. Nothing earth-shattering but hopefully relevant enough to keep your vagina's pH right, your vulva fresh and you feeling confident about them both. Amen? Amen, chile.

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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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