You’re in the shower. You’ve shampooed and conditioned your hair. Your body is washed. Everything is going swimmingly and then… you look down. What are you supposed to do with your vagina? After all, no one mentioned anything about Vagina Cleaning 101 during Sex Ed.
Of course you want to keep your vagina clean and healthy. It’s an important part of your body. Yet, it’s also a sensitive part – which is exactly why there’s so much confusion about how we should clean this area. Should we be using those products we see next to the pads and tampons at the drugstore? Is there a certain substance we should be using? A substance we should avoid?
OB/GYN Nancy Herta has our back and our front. “The vagina is pretty good at cleaning itself,” Dr. Herta told Glamour. “It’s a delicate balance that makes the vagina hostile to bacteria. If you put stuff in there that changes the pH, you can allow bacteria to overgrow.” Dr. Jacqueline Walters reveals that, essentially, your vagina has a low pH because it aims to prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria organisms that can easily pave the way for vaginal infections.
Then again, you may feel the need to do otherwise when your vagina is releasing discharge. Yet, Dr. Herta assured us all that this is totally normal: “A lot of women think they need to do something about it, but it’s part of how your vagina cleans itself.” Discharge can get heavier or lighter depending on the stage you’ve reached in your menstrual cycle. It can also change, giving off a faint scent, after you have sex. “The sperm can change the pH,” Dr. Herta explained. “But the vagina will take care of that.” (Thanks, vagina!)
As for all the products at our local drugstores – though they may have super cute packaging – Dr. Herta advised that we keep them out of our shopping baskets. Douches, specifically, can dry out the vagina and make you uncomfortable during sex. She revealed, “If you douche, it changes the pH, making it higher and allowing other kinds of bacteria to overgrow.”
Last question: In the end, how exactly should we be cleaning our vaginas?
Answer: You should never put anything up inside your vagina, but you can use a super gentle soap for your labia. After you exit the shower, you should then pat your groin dry with a towel – so that excess moisture doesn’t sit there and cause a yeast infection.
Professor Ronnie Lamont (the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ spokesperson) told NHS Choices, “All women are different. Some may wash with perfumed soap and not notice any problems. But if a woman has vulval irritation or symptoms, one of the first things you can do is use non-allergenic, plain soaps to see if that helps.” Ultimately, pure, unperfumed soaps are probably our best bet when it comes to cleaning the exterior portion of our vaginas.
Ultimately, we need to put more faith in our vaginas because, with or without our help, they are capable of cleaning themselves.