These are the answers to the questions you’re too embarrassed to ask.
For every concern you’ve had about your vaginal health, we’ve collected the most important facts women should know. Whether these notions are obvious to you or you’re questioning the celebrity “lifestyle gurus” who are spouting the newest (expensive) trend, we’ve debunked the myths and discovered which facts are most important to women so they can take care down there.
You should wear cotton… Cleveland Clinic recommends cotton underwear and avoiding nylon tights or leggings because the fabric is breathable and absorbs moisture. This will limit bacteria from developing.
…or go commando (sometimes). Dr. Alyssa Dweck, author of “The Complete A to Z for your V: A Women’s Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina –– Health, Pleasure, Hormones, and More”, recommends “airing it out” by not wearing underwear, especially when you sleep. There are a few caveats, though: wear breathable cotton underwear at the gym and wear something on the tanning bed. Exposing your vulva on a tanning bed increases your chance of catching the virus Molluscum contagiosum.
You don’t need to douche. A douche flushes water up into the vagina to “clean” the vagina, but it actually tends to do more harm than good. According to U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS)’s website, using a douche may disrupt the normal vaginal bacteria. Your vagina regulates its own bacteria to clean itself, so to speak.
Eating yogurt can help. According to Everyday Health, the probiotics in yogurt may help prevent a yeast prevention––just don’t apply it topically. Despite a popular theory, the Bedford-Commons OB-GYN in New Hampshire says putting yogurt in your vagina will not do anything to help a yeast infection.
Scented products can be harmful. If your vagina has a funky smell, it can be tempting to cover it with perfumes, scented wipes, vaginal sprays or scented tampons. According to Dweck, this can actually be worse for your vagina than if you had left it alone. Scented products can cause allergic reactions, irritations for sensitive skin and infections.
Good hygiene goes a long way. If you’re still concerned about your odor down there, practicing good hygiene should minimize the smell. Cleveland Clinic recommends washing with warm water and patting it dry with a clean towel. If that doesn’t work, consult a doctor. Most trendy home care options, like vaginal steaming or douching, can mess with your pH balance.
You need to wash your hands when touching tampons –– before AND after insertion. Cleaning your hands after putting in a tampon seems intuitive, but washing them beforehand is just as important. The bacteria you pick up on your hands touch your tampon, and those bacteria enter your body vaginally, according to Dweck.
To know when to change your tampon, give it a light tug. The Kotex brand of tampons says the best way to know when to change your tampon is to gently pull on it. If it begins to slide out easily, you’ll know it’s time to change it. Kotex says this usually is every four hours depending on your flow. The brand doesn’t recommend leaving a tampon in for more than eight hours because of the risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Peeing after sex is important. Doing this may ruin the mood, but it’s a vital part of good hygiene. According to NetDoctor, a medically-reviewed online resource, urinating after sex can stop bacteria from your anus from reaching your bladder, minimizing your risk of a urinary tract infection.
Kegel exercises really do make a difference. The National Association for Continence says training your pelvic floor muscles can help restore muscle function and limit incontinence (lack of voluntary control for urination). To do a kegel, tense the muscles you’d use to hold your urine and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat for 10 repetitions three times a day.
Dweck, Alyssa, and Robin Westen. The Complete A to Z for Your V: a Women’s Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Your Vagina: Health, Pleasure, Hormones, and More. Fair Winds, 2017.