Being aware of vaginal health is essential for every woman. Vaginal health is not just limited to your sexual life but your overall health. If you don’t take care of your vaginal health, it can lead to issues with fertility, the ability to achieve an orgasm, and also the desire for sex. Any issues with your vaginal health can also lead to relationship problems and stress while also taking a toll on a woman’s self-confidence. This is why it is so important to be aware of vaginal health. Here’s all you need to know about vaginal health to stay healthy.
What Factors Affect Vaginal Health?
Every woman should be aware of some of the common signs and symptoms of vaginal problems and how to take care of their reproductive health. There are many factors that affect the health of the vagina. Some of these include:
- Unprotected Sex: Having unprotected sex with unknown or multiple partners can cause sexually transmitted infections. Forceful sex can cause an injury to the vaginal area, and it can also cause vaginal trauma.(1, 2)
- Health Conditions And Treatments: There are many types of conditions that affect your vaginal health. This can include pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis, amongst others. Such conditions cause you to experience painful sex. The treatment of certain conditions that require taking antibiotics can increase the risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection.(3, 4, 5)
- Pregnancy and Childbirth: During pregnancy, most women experience an increase in vaginal discharge. During delivery, it is quite common to experience vaginal tears. In many cases, during childbirth, an incision has to be made in the tissue of the vaginal opening, known as episiotomy. This takes time to heal and causes a lot of pain during the healing process. Having a vaginal delivery also decreases the muscle tone of the vagina.(6, 7)
- Birth Control And Menstrual Products: Barrier contraceptives used by women, such as diagrams, condoms, and spermicide, can cause irritation to the vagina. This irritation can get worse if you use deodorants, douches, or any kind of spray.(8, 9)
- Fluctuations in Hormone Levels: Changes in hormone levels are common in women. However, these changes can have an effect on the vagina. For example, after menopause or during breastfeeding, the body’s estrogen production goes down. This decline in estrogen can cause vaginal atrophy or thinning of the vaginal lining, which makes sex very painful.(10, 11)
- Psychological Issues: Depression and anxiety are two common mental health conditions that can cause pain or discomfort during sex, low levels of arousal, and vaginal dryness. Trauma such as a painful sexual experience or sexual abuse can also cause painful sex, and you should seek proper medical therapy to deal with these issues.(12, 13)
Common Problems That Affect Your Vaginal Health
There can be many conditions that affect your vaginal health. Some of these include:
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases Or Infections: The most common conditions that affect the vagina are sexually transmitted diseases or infections. There are many types of sexually transmitted infections that affect the vagina, such as gonorrhea, genital warts, chlamydia, genital herpes and syphilis. Symptoms of sexually transmitted infections include genital sores, itching, abnormal vaginal discharge, etc.(14, 15)
- Sexual issues: Sexual issues can range from recurrent or persistent pain before, during, or after sexual intercourse, a condition known as dyspareunia. Many women experience pain during penetration, which could be caused by involuntary spasms of the vaginal wall muscles, known as vaginismus. The muscles in the pelvic floor are also part of your vaginal health. And if these muscles become tense, it can cause pain during sex as well as chronic pain. Vaginal dryness, which usually occurs after menopause, can also cause pain during sex.(16, 17, 18, 19, 20)
- Pelvic Floor Relaxation: As mentioned above, your pelvic floor muscles are also an important part of your vaginal health. If the connective tissues and supporting ligaments that hold the vaginal walls and the uterus in place start to relax as they become weak, the bladder, uterus, rectum, and the vaginal walls may slip down, a condition known as prolapse. This may cause urine leakage during sneezing or coughing or a bulge in the vagina.(21, 22, 23)
- Vaginitis: An infection or hormonal changes can cause an alteration in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria and yeast. This can cause inflammation of the vagina, known as vaginitis. Symptoms of vaginitis may include itching, pain, foul odor, and abnormal vaginal discharge. There are different types of vaginitis, including yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and bacterial vaginosis.(24, 25)
- Other Conditions: There can be some other rare conditions that can affect the vagina. Vaginal cysts, vaginal cancer, and many other rare conditions can cause pain and other symptoms. Vaginal cancer may first appear as vaginal bleeding after sex or menopause, and vaginal cysts will make it painful to have sex and even cause pain when you insert a tampon.
Signs That Your Vagina is Not Healthy
There are many signs and symptoms that indicate that all is not well with your vagina. If you notice any of the following, make sure to consult your doctor at the earliest:
- Pain before, during, or after intercourse.
- A change in the odor, color, or amount of vaginal discharge.
- Vaginal itching or redness.
- Bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause.
- A bulge or mass in the vagina.
While there is no need to visit a doctor every time you experience some abnormal vaginal discharge or irritation, if you find that your symptoms are not subsiding even after using some medication, then you should go see your doctor. The same holds true if you have had a vaginal yeast infection in the past and you find yourself experiencing similar symptoms again. You can get medication for yeast infections, irritation, or abnormal discharge from your nearest drugstore without needing a prescription. Again, if you find that your condition is not improving after a few days, make an appointment with your doctor.
In the meantime, it is essential that you are aware of some basic things you should do to keep your vagina healthy. Let’s take a look at some tips.
What To Do To Keep Your Vagina Healthy?
- Don’t Douche: Many women assume that douching can help their vagina smell fresh, but douching can be very harmful to the vagina. Vaginas don’t need douching to be kept clean. Vaginas are self-cleaning, and they achieve this by balancing the level of healthy bacteria and the pH levels. Douching will actually eliminate the healthy bacteria of the vagina, which causes the pH to change, leaving you vulnerable to infections.(26, 27) If you still want to clean your vagina, make sure to only use non-scented products and then also only wash the labia majora.
- Don’t Get Rid Of Your Pubic Hair: Having a clean-shaven vagina has become a fashion trend. While it is acceptable to remove hair along the swimsuit line, but you should not remove all the pubic hair. Pubic hair has many benefits and purposes. The pubes keep your vagina safe from harmful bacteria and also get rid of problems caused by sweating and friction. Less hair removal also means there will be less itching due to the hair growing back, fewer scrapes and cuts, and also lesser ingrown hairs.(28, 29)
- Practice Safe Sex: The number one thing you should do to protect your vaginal health is to practice safe sex. Use protection, get tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases, if you are using lube, make sure that you check the ingredients in the product so that they don’t contribute to bacterial growth in the vagina, and also make sure that you check the ingredients used in condoms. Many brands of condoms use spermicides, and these are not too healthy for the vagina as they can kill the good bacteria present in the vagina as well. Also, make sure to urinate after having sex. Peeing after sex will significantly reduce the chances of developing urinary tract infections.
- Wear Breathable Underwear: Wearing cotton underwear is the best for your vaginal health. Cotton has moisture-absorbing properties, which restrict the amount of moisture or wetness in the area, which can lead to bacterial growth. And no matter what type of underwear you wear, you must change it every day.
- Use Safe Sex Toys: Not all sex toys are safe for the vagina. Make sure that you use sex toys that are safe for your body. They should be made from medical or food-grade materials. Avoid purchasing sex toys online as you won’t be able to find out what materials they are made up from or even if they have been used previously. Always purchase from good quality shops.
Not all vaginal issues can be prevented, and it is important to keep getting regular checkups done to ensure that any potential problem is diagnosed at the earliest and your vagina is in good health. It is commonly observed that women feel embarrassed and shy to talk about vaginal health. However, you should never let embarrassment prevent you from talking about your vaginal health. Having good vaginal health does not happen overnight. But, you can take many simple and easy steps every day to make sure that your vagina is healthy, safe, and protected.
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- Pavone, M.E. and Lyttle, B.M., 2015. Endometriosis and ovarian cancer: links, risks, and challenges faced. International journal of women’s health, 7, p.663.
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