What’s the best way to keep my vagina fresh and clean? Do I need to use any special products or treatments?
It would be nice if I could say ‘leave it alone’ and end the column there. But I know that people who ask this question are usually so anxious about their bodies they won’t accept such a straightforward answer. So here’s why the best way to keep the vagina fresh and clean is to do nothing.
Contrary to what you may have seen endorsed by celebrities; vaginas don’t need douches, sprays, perfume, or steam cleaning.
Vaginas are largely self-cleansing and you interfering with that process can cause problems because you can irritate the vagina, leading to conditions like thrush. If you do have a problem (such as infection) then spraying or washing may mask these, worsen existing symptoms, or delay you seeking treatment.
Why do we think internal cleaning is a good idea?
There’s a long history across all cultures that teaches us vaginas are shameful and dirty. These beliefs particularly arise around menstruation, but can also relate to any vaginal discharge, getting wet when aroused, during pregnancy, and immediately after birth.
Since many people don’t get enough information about their bodies, they may be anxious about things that are completely fine. It’s why I get so many emails from people who are afraid there is something wrong with their genitals – when in fact they are describing what genitalscommonly look like, smell like, or sound like or taste like.
Self help gurus, cosmetic surgeons, and others selling sex-related products may endorse unnecessary cures for non-existent problems. And we are prey to this because we’re raised to see genitals as disgusting, or embarrassing.
When to wash – and when to worry
If you have heard someone or read something telling you that you need to clean out your vagina, you have my permission to ignore them.
However, if you have noticed any discharge that’s unusual for you; have unexplained bleeding; genital, stomach or bowel pain; or sex is painful then you should seek medical attention to be sure there’s noproblem that’s in need of treatment.
If you are in a relationship with someone who is concerned about any of the above then, again, see your doctor. However, if someone you’re dating or in a relationship with has made negative, shaming or deliberately hurtful comments about your body this is not a sign you should start spring cleaning your vagina – it’s a sign you need to spring clean them out of your life. Body shaming isn’t always a sign of abuse, but it can often be one of the many red flags to alert you that your relationship isn’t safe.
If you have recently had a baby, you may want to wash your genitals carefully (but not internally) and keep a jug by the toilet to pour gently over them during and after using the toilet.
If you have had any kind of genital surgery (including reparative or reconstructive vaginal surgery; fistula repair; have a neovagina, have had a laparoscopic hysterectomy; genital radiotherapy or internal vaginal brachytherapy) and you are worried about vaginal hygiene and care, then ask a nurse or doctor about how best to help your body heal. This may include information about cleanliness and also dilation, internal moisturisers and pessaries, plus spotting any adverse symptoms early on.
Some people are anxious about their vaginas, or view them negatively, because of past abuse or sexual trauma. In this case Napac can help.
General care of the vagina
The best way to care for your vagina is to avoid washing it internally, or using any heavily perfumed products inside you. Herbal medicines to take orally or insert vaginally at best do nothing – but at worst could cause irritation or allergic reactions. So you don’t need them either.
Seeking prompt medical care as you need it, and smear tests are important. And if you’re having any kind of penetrative sex then using condoms for penises and shared sex toys is a good idea.
You might want to find out more about vaginas or you may just decide to leave yours alone to get on with its job of keeping itself clean.
If you are still concerned
Some people can’t stop worrying about their vagina, perhaps because they fear it is misshaped, dirty or smelly.
If you are still anxious after reading the information above, and seeking medical help as appropriate, then you may want to find a therapist who can work with you to identify why you are anxious and help you feel more confident about your body.
Petra Boynton is a social psychologist and sex researcher working in International Health Care and studying sex and relationships. She is The Telegraph’s agony aunt. Follow her on Twitter @drpetra.
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