Vaginas can’t talk—but they can speak. Heh?! Hear us out: If you pay attention, you may notice that once in a while your lady parts drop subtle hints about your health down there. That uncomfortable itch? That may be your vag nagging you to see your gyno. Feeling a little dry during sex? She may be telling you to give lube a try or reexamine your hygiene habits.
So, for the sake of hilarity, awareness, and your health, let’s give your vag a voice for the day—because hey, she has things to say. (I mean, she already has a set of lips.) If your vagina could talk, here’s what she would tell you about having optimal vaginal health.
When you talk about a woman’s nether region, the word “vagina” may automatically come to mind. As flattered as your vag may be to get all the credit, it’s actually only one part of the whole female reproductive package.
“The vagina does not include everything south of your hips,” says ob-gyn Angela Jones, MD. “I’m amazed how many women fail to distinguish between vaginas and vulvas.” So what’s the difference?
A vagina is the tube that connects your vulva with your cervix and uterus. It’s where vaginally birthed babies come out of, and you know, where you can put tampons, penises, and items of sexual pleasure in.
“Vulva” is actually the more encompassing term, because it includes all of your external reproductive organs: Your labia (the lips), clitoris, vaginal opening, and the opening to the urethra (the hole you pee out of). IMHO, if any term should be the reigning queen, it should be “vulva.”
“When it comes to the vagina, less is more. You don’t need perfumes, glitters, or scented soaps,” says Dr. Jones. While these soaps may smell nice, they can be irritating and increase your risk for certain conditions, like vaginitis. “The vagina is supposed to smell like a vagina,” says Dr. Jones.
This means it’s also wise not to waste your money or time on special female soaps or cleaning methods, like douching. “Douching went out in the 80s. No one should be doing this anymore,” says Dr. Jones. Douching is when water and other substances are used to clean out the vagina. Douching can lead to many problems, including problems getting pregnant and increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“Remember, the vagina is like a self-cleaning oven. When you douche, you wash out the good bacteria that is supposed to be in there,” says Dr. Jones.
As tempting as it is to stay in bed and bask in your post-coital bliss, not urinating after sex can increase your risk of getting a urinary tract infection (UTI), especially if you’re prone to these infections. Sex may transfer bacteria, and because a woman’s urethra is right next to, well, everything, it makes it easier for those germs to travel into it and cause an infection. Besides peeing after sex, here are other ways to prevent a UTI.
How would you feel if you went to Spin class three days a week for months, just to find out the scale hasn’t budged? Well, if you’re doing Kegel exercises incorrectly, that’s exactly how your lady parts feel. “One of the biggest misconceptions are patients who believe that they’ve been doing Kegels very well for years and it’s not working at all,” says Lauri Romanzi, MD, a urogynecologist in New York City. Kegel exercises, or pelvic floor muscle training exercises, are a series of exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor (which live under the uterus, bladder, and large intestine). If done correctly, Kegels can help with urinary incontinence and potentially boost your sexual health and pleasure by improving your ability to get aroused and reach an orgasm.
OK, so you held off changing out of your sweaty gear for a couple hours after that HIIT class … no big deal, right? I mean, you were STARVING, and nobody wants to endure the wrath of you when feeling “hangry.” While sitting in your post-workout garb for a little while may seem innocent, it’s actually not. When you linger in your sweaty yoga pants and underthings, you create a warm, moist environment in which infection-causing bacteria can thrive. “It’s important to change out of damp workout clothes ASAP. Warm and moist is a set up for vaginitis,” says Dr. Jones.
Feeling a little dry during sex? Needing some extra lubrication down there is a natural part of aging. “As a woman ages, her estrogen levels decrease which can lead to vaginal dryness,” says Rachel Gelman, DPT, PT, branch director of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center. Still, women of any age can experience vaginal dryness. Vaginal tissue stays lubricated thanks to adequate estrogen levels. Any drop in estrogen can lead to a drop in natural lubrication. As estrogen levels wane, vaginal tissue thins out, which can lead to inflammation and vaginal dryness. “This is true for postpartum moms, women undergoing certain types of cancer treatment, and those on medications like oral contraceptives,” says Dr. Gelman.
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, a good quality lube can be used to make sex more enjoyable (and less painful), says Dr. Jones. Much of finding the right lube is a trial-and-error experiment (oh darn), because everybody is different. In general, here are some lube guidelines to keep your lady parts happy and healthy.
“Ideally you want a lube that is similar to your body's pH,” says Dr. Gelman. pH is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline something is. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14—0 means something is very acidic, 14 means it’s very alkaline, and 7 means it’s neutral.
The vagina is moderately acidic, which helps it to fight off infections. “A healthy, happy vagina has a pH of 3.8 to 4.5 and the rectum is around 7.0, so you want a lube that matches or is a slightly higher pH than your natural environment,” says Dr. Gelman.
Some commercial lubes are made with alkaline ingredients, which may throw off your vag’s pH. Read the label. If it says vaginal pH matched or balanced, you’re in business. If it says pH buffered or pH neutral or doesn’t mention vaginal pH, best to avoid it.
Along with finding the best lube for your pH levels, ideally you also want your lube to be made without parabens, glycols, microbicides, or preservatives.
“It can be very normal to have daily discharge,” says Jennifer Wu, MD, an ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital. “The vagina is a moist place, and it needs to stay moist and these secretions will get on your underwear.” Vaginal discharge is naturally produced by glands in the cervix and the walls of the vagina. It starts off as a clear mucus, then often turns white or yellow when exposed to air.
The amount of discharge that comes out of your vagina can vary depending on hormone changes in the body. This means you may see an increase in discharge during ovulation, pregnancy, and even when you’re sexually aroused. “There is no need to worry about vaginal discharge unless it itches, burns, or smells bad. If any of these things is occurring, touch base with your ob-gyn. It could be a sign of infection,” says Dr. Jones. The color of your discharge matters too. Here’s how to know if the color of your discharge is normal or not.