Dr. Mandy's Health Check: Let's talk about Vaginas...
You might think you know everything about keeping your ‘private parts’ in tip top shape, but you could be wrong.
There are tons of misconceptions about what you should be doing to maintain a healthy vagina. HER Hampshire’s Resident GP, Dr Mandy Leonhardt enlightens us on the do’s and don’ts.
Vaginal health has been trending as a topic ever since it was reported that Gwyneth Paltrow had vaginal steaming sessions and recommended these to her fans via her wellness business website GOOP. Since then, many other companies and alternative therapists have recognised the untapped financial potential in this field and jumped on the bandwagon to benefit from women’s insecurities.
Most have access to social media from a young age and now in 2021, earlier exposure to pornography. This creates unrealistic expectations and ideas of what they think not only their faces and bodies, but also what their genitals should look like.
While schools are much better now at teaching children and teenagers about the impact and effects of puberty, as well as safe sex, many women still seem even unable to give the anatomical correct names of their genital body parts.
In my medical practice as a GP, I frequently see women of all ages unable to describe exactly where the problem is. I still hear infantilising names like ‘frou-frou’, ‘mimi’, ‘nu-nu’, ‘yoni’ or ‘down below’ as descriptive words to describe genital areas.
It is important our daughters are taught to use the right words which accurately describe what they are talking about, as only then will they be able to confidently talk about issues affecting their genital health. No woman should be afraid to talk confidently about their vulva, vagina or labia in an appropriate context.
Get to know your Body
The next step after giving body parts the right name is to know where they are.
The vulva is the outer, visible part of the external genitalia, acting like a protective fat pad topped with hair which protects from infections and prevents friction.
Part of the vulva are the major labia and the minor labia which form a protective cover for the clitoris (which gives most women an orgasm), the urethra (where the urine comes out) and the entrance of the vagina.
Many women have no idea what is inside their vagina or where the cervix, the neck of the womb is. A hand mirror and a good look and feel should help with that. Every woman ought to be able to feel her cervix, this is particularly important, if they have a coil in situ.
Normally, women should be able to feel threads, which assures them the coil is still in the right place and this skill usually also helps when it comes to retrieving ‘lost’ tampons or condoms. Knowing what looks and feels normal is important when it comes to identifying the abnormal or noticing any changes.
What is ‘normal’ when it comes to vaginal health?
Discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle from thin and translucent to thick and opaque.
Discharge also changes as a result of taking the pill, or having a coil.
Having your own individual odour.
Times of vaginal dryness due to peri/postmenopause, but there are treatments available.
What is not normal?
Green or very yellow discharge
Pain or discomfort during intercourse
Bleeding during or after intercourse
Tiny lumps, sometimes grouped together
Eczema type rashes
Swelling of one of the labia
Skin changes, or changing moles
Here is a list of things and treatments which should never go near or even inside your vagina:
Vaseline and KY Jelly
Swarovski encrusted dildos & vibrators (You heard it here first, ladies!)
Vaginal deodorant and fragranced intimate lotions and potions
Vaginal Glitter (yes it does exist)
Vaginal Bleaching and highlighting cream (this too does exist)
Scented latex underwear (“It’s a vagina, not a Yankee candle!”)
Excessive washing, douching or rinsing, as this can change the PH inside the vagina
All of these things listed above can cause irritation, inflammation, infection or even injury!
So what should we be using?
Plain water. No soaps or harsh fragrant chemicals needed
Breathable plastic-free sanitary towels (there is no need for daily liners)
Organic cotton tampons (a recent test by “women’s voices for the earth” found a multitude of potentially harmful substances such as volatile organic compounds in non-organic tampons, even though the levels were very low and apparently not harmful at these low levels)
Oil based lubricants which have the same PH as your vagina (but these should not be used with condoms as they can make them porous) – for example from the Yes Company
Water based lubricants (ideal with condom use)
Vaginal moisturisers (as long as they have the same PH as the vagina)
Sex toys made from medical grade silicon
Good quality fragrant free condoms and fragrant free dental dams (a thin square of latex type material during oral sex)
Peri and postmenopausal women may benefit from using topical vaginal Estriol/Estrogen, which they can get from their GP and which can help with vaginal dryness.
Most importantly, your vagina is perfect as it is! Every woman has her own individual odour and if you are healthy and your sexual partner complains, don’t try to fix your vagina. Tell him/her that you are fine how you are, otherwise, it may be them that is not right for you!
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