It’s always the perfect time for a reminder on proper vulva care. We all want to be happy and healthy down there, right? Properly taking care of your vulva and vagina will help prevent infections and discomfort.
First, let’s review the parts of the vulva, which include the inner and outer labia (or lips), the tip of the clitoris (or the glans clitoris), the mons pubis (area that is mostly covered in pubic hair), and the openings to the urethra (the tiny hole that you pee out of) and the vagina (where menstrual blood and babies come out of and where things like fingers, penises, toys, tampons go in). The vagina is on the inside and it leads into the cervix (which sits right between the vagina and uterus).
How infections occur
When caring for your genitals, it’s important to understand how irritations and infections occur.
When the vulva or vagina are irritated, they can become red, swollen, and itchy. Some irritations can lead to changes in your vaginal discharge, dryness, and you may even experience vulvar pain. Infections occur when unwanted bacteria, fungi, or viruses enter vagina. Some vaginal infections cause uncomfortable symptoms, while others may go unnoticed. Proper hygiene and understanding how to take care of these sensitive areas will lead to good vulvar and vaginal health.
Maintaining good vulvar health
Wear comfortable, cotton underwear
Items made of other material can cause irritation, especially when worn for too long. This includes thongs too. Cotton is a breathable material and helps absorb moisture. In addition, go for the lighter colored underwear because darker colored underwear includes dyes that can irritate the skin.
Skip underwear at night
Wearing underwear at night keeps moisture close to your genitals and allows bacteria and yeast to grow. Allow these sensitive areas to breathe every once and a while.
Be mindful of harsh chemicals
This includes your laundry detergent and soap. Typically, it is recommended that you use mild soaps. When cleansing the vulvar area, mild soap and warm water is all you need. Look at your soap ingredients and try to avoid any with fragrances. This is also true for toilet paper, sanitary wipes, pads, or tampons with fragrances or deodorizers. Many feminine hygiene product ingredients are known to cause irritation to the vulva, vaginal opening, and inside the vagina.
Watch what you put in your vagina
Avoid inserting cleanser or your washcloth into the vagina. The vagina cleanses itself through normal vaginal discharge. When inserting toys (of any kind), make sure they have been properly cleaned. Penises, fingers, and even mouths (for oral sex) should be clean and follow good hygiene practices. Any of these can introduce bacteria or other irritants that can lead to infection.
Remember, front to back
When wiping yourself after using the bathroom, always wipe front to back. This is also useful when receiving cunnilingus and analingus (oral pleasure from a partner to the vagina and anus) or if engaging in any forms of stimulation that involve both the vagina and anus. Avoid going back and forth because it increases the possibility of passing fecal matter or bacteria from the anus to the vagina.
Speak with your doctor
Whether you experience irritation or not, it is always a great idea to see a medical provider at least annually. During these visits, you can discuss your concerns (if any) and receive your routine screenings, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection testing. If you are experiencing irritation, contact a medical professional immediately. Do not try to diagnose and treat yourself. Google is a helpful resource, but not a doctor. Depending on the irritation, there may be over-the-counter (or store bought) treatment options to relieve the symptoms. However, most infections require specific testing and treatment. The best option is to seek a doctor for help.
Last but not least, enjoy it!
The vulva and vagina have many nerve endings, which can lead to intense pleasure. One of the most sensitive and erogenous parts to explore is the clitoris. The tip can be seen from the outside and its legs extend on each side of the vagina (meaning: it can be stimulated both internally and externally). Did you know the clitoris has more than 10,000 nerve endings? Now, that’s a pleasure worth exploring!
Ashley TownesPhD, MPH, Sexual Health Researcher
Dr. Townes has experience working as a Community Health Educator and Disease Intervention Specialist in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. She has worked on several initiatives related to the dissemination of national HIV prevention and care campaign materials tailored for African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and transgender women of color. Dr. Townes has taught collegiate-level Human Sexuality courses, served as an Epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, and currently works as a sexual health researcher in Atlanta, GA.
Ashley’s research background includes work on the sexual experiences of African American/Black women accessing health information and utilizing sexual health services. In 2018, she received grant funding from the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health to translate sexual health research data into educational materials. Her career interests are aimed at providing quality sexual education and working towards health equity.