Some common myths about the vagina explained
Women have always been showered with misinformation and half truths about their bodies, in particular when it comes to vaginal health. With the rise of the internet, our access to personal opinions of self-proclaimed experts has exploded. Between be steam cleaning ‘health’ treatments and jade eggs promoted by glamorous celebrities or ‘glitterbombs’ and ‘vajazzles’ made mainstream by the prevalence of pornography and unrealistic sexual expectations, it’s more important than ever for women and girls to understand their bodies, and sort the myths from the facts. The vagina is home to a complex and delicate balance of micro-organisms, which need to stay in balance in order to protect you from infection and irritation – so a little bit of understanding can go a long way to keeping your vagina healthy.
Here’s some of the more common myths about the vagina explained:
“Vaginas need washing”
Using douches to push water and detergents inside your vagina is denounced by experts as a bad idea and is very likely to cause problems by altering your vaginal pH balance. Even using ‘gentle’ intimate washes and soaps can cause problems and upset the pH balance of your vagina, which in turn can result in an infection such as Bacterial Vaginosis or BV. The vagina cleans itself, so nothing more than a quick wash of the external vulva with water in the shower is needed.
“Vaginas need ‘tightening’ after you’ve delivered a baby”
So many women worry about whether their vagina will be ‘too big’ after birth. It’s so important to remember everyone’s bodies are different and there is no such thing as ‘too big! One of the many amazing things about the vagina is not only can it stretch to let the baby through during a vaginal delivery, it can also recoil back to near enough it’s previous shape. Your doctor or midwife might be able to tell you’ve had a baby during examinations, but it’s likely your partner won’t be able to tell the difference during intercourse. The most important thing is to keep that pelvic floor healthy by staying on top of your Kegels exercises – these help to strengthen these all-important muscles that help keep everything in place, prevent prolapses and over time will help to reshape your vagina to very close to it’s original structure. If you are worried about a prolapse or other health problem after childbirth it is important that you speak with your GP or health visitor in case you require treatment.
“Discharge is dirty”
Although it can sometimes feel unpleasant, in particular if you have heavy discharge, it is in fact an essential secretion to help keep your vagina healthy and can also aid fertility. Vaginal discharge is a normal part of the menstrual cycle and it changes throughout the cycle from white to clear, sometimes dry and sometimes stretchy. If you notice a significant change that you don’t normally see you should always check it out as it could be a useful indicator that something needs sorting out. Click here to use an online symptom checker designed by healthcare professionals and the Intimate Health Taskforce if you have any concerns, or make an appointment to speak with a healthcare professional.
“A fishy smell means you have an STI”
A recent survey by Balance Activ found that less than 10% of women were confident they knew what Bacterial Vaginosis, or BV was – despite one in three women being likely to have this condition in their lifetime. If you are experiencing an unusual fishy smell, or thin, grey, watery discharge it’s likely to be a symptom of bacterial vaginosis or BV. BV is caused when the normal vaginal pH is disturbed, and this can happen after sex because semen is alkaline and your vagina is acidic. This means that although it is not an STI you may notice it more after unprotected sex. Other things can also trigger BV click here to find out more and how it can be treated. It’s important to get the right advice – there are also some common STIs that present with unusual discharge and discomfort such as Trichomoniasis – if you’re not sure, make an appointment with a healthcare professional so that they can make sure you are getting the right treatment.
“Vaginas need moisturising”
Another recent ‘health’ craze we’ve noticed is the rise in sales of something called ‘Yoni Oils’. ‘Yoni’ is a word derived through Hinduism for vulva and vagina, and sellers of these blends of oils are making claims that they promote ‘freshness’, that they will moisturise and support overall vaginal health. Just as your vagina doesn’t need ‘washing’, the skin around the vagina (the vulva) does not need to be moisturised. As part of your cleaning routine, washing around this area with water once a day is plenty – soaps, oils, intimate washes applied inside the vagina or to the vulva can upset the delicate natural balance of micro-organisms that keep it healthy, and lead to conditions such as BV.
“You can see your vagina”
The bit of your body that you can see down there (in a mirror!) is actually the vulva – the vagina is entirely inside the body and is the area in between your vulva and your cervix. Many people refer to their vagina when they actually mean their vulva.
“Sex can cure a headache”
In fact, it can. A team of neurologists in Germany recently found that more than half of migraine sufferers who had sex during an episode reported an improvement in their symptoms. They suggested that enjoying sex can trigger endorphins, which act as the body’s natural painkillers, and reduce symptoms of a headache. Results of the study were published in Cephalagia, the Journal of the International Headache Society in March 2013.
Understanding the delicate balance inside your vagina will help you to keep it healthy and avoid the irritation and discomfort of vaginal conditions such as BV. If you are concerned about your intimate health, you can simply pop in and talk to your pharmacist or make an appointment with your GP or sexual health clinic to find out more.