Have you considered lately what you should be doing to keep your lady parts feeling good and—most important—healthy?
Nisha McKenzie PA-C, CSC, IF, Director of Center for Women's Sexual Health, shares five tips for keeping your vagina in its happy place. You may be surprised by what you're missing!
1. Get yourself a gynecologist you trust.
Find one you can talk to about anything! I mean ANYTHING! If there is anyone you should be able to ask or tell everything, it should be your gynecologist. Ask all your vagina questions, relationship questions, sex questions ... One-stop shopping.
This is the person who screens your lady parts and more for cancer and general overall health. Those screenings are so important and involve more than just a pap smear. Make sure you make time for the recommended screenings—they are far less annoying than the alternative.
2. Ditch the douche!
Double entendre may be inferred if you like. But ultimately, if I could go down every store aisle and just swipe all the shelves full of douching products clear ... Well, day made.
Your vagina has a natural pH ranging from 3.5 to 4.5, Unless there is an infection, your body is a pro at maintaining that pH. And if there is an infection, no over-the-counter product you could introduce into your vagina will have the bacteria-killing properties needed to actually improve the situation. A douche only serves to potentially disrupt the pH, as well as the possibility of introducing infections farther up the vagina or even into the lower uterine segment. Doesn't sound good, right? It's not! So don't douche!
3. Safer sex.
We all know condoms can help decrease the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs.) But this is important enough to warrant a repeat.
Wrap it up. It's worth it.
Your vagina is worth it. Your mental health is worth it. Your relationship is worth it. Your future likelihood of fertility is worth it. Your general health is worth it. And despite keeping a cover on things, ask your gynecologist about regular STI testing and with what frequency they should be performed.
That seemed like a wrap-it-up kind of sentence, but I have one more thing to add: Have these conversations with your partner. They are awkward. But again, you are worth it. Find out prior to genital touching when the last time was they were tested, what the results were and if they had any sexual partners since then. For advice on how to have these conversations, talk with a sex therapist or sex counselor.
This really should be No. 1.
Life is busy ... We don't like having to think about or talk about our vaginas. (This excludes the groups of women sitting in jammies in someone's living room, drinking wine together. They seem to enjoy talking about all the things!) But vaginas truly do make up part of our overall health, not dissimilar from any other body part like the heart, lungs, brain or skin. They are the conduit for creating new life, but also have so many more important functions! When neglected or poorly taken care of, they make themselves difficult to continue to ignore.
Start with overall health: Stay hydrated with water. (Pop and juice do not count!) Put healthy foods into your body. (It will eventually start talking back if you don't.) Exercise regularly. (Saying you'll start Monday doesn't cut it.) Make it a reasonable exercise routine so that it becomes part of your everyday habits, like brushing your teeth or eating lunch versus something that feels like a killjoy to carve time out to do every time. Stay well-rested: We all have times in our lives that are busier or more stressful than normal, but consider holding off on dusting the shelves or doing those dishes versus neglecting self-care. It will pay off more in the long run, not only for you but also for the ones you love and take care of.
As for your vagina ...
Talk about it. Recognize it. Yeah, I'm going to say it—even touch it. Self-stimulation has multiple health and relationship benefits. I promise you, your palm will not become hairy. There is literally no other part of our body that we don't touch; genitals need be no different. Self-stimulation can never and will never replace a partner, mostly because you can't eye-gaze with yourself. But honestly, there are a couple hundred different benefits of partnered sex. But even partnered sex is made better when we are able to tell a partner about our body, what it likes and dislikes, and how it prefers to be touched. We honestly cannot expect partners to know such things, especially if they don't themselves possess the hardware we're dealing with.
Back to self-care: Know your body and work on new—and even fun—ways of relaying that information to your partner.
5. Genital nonconcordance.
I may need to nerd out for just a minute here ... But this stuff is for real.
In the most basic sense, it means our brains don't always talk to our genitals. How does that present? You're in the midst of a super sexy encounter. (Whatever that means for you. I'll try not to date myself by talking about makeout sessions or heavy petting. You are most certainly aroused. But when partner goes for the insert, um ... Dry like the desert.
What the heck?!
Then you think, "What's wrong with me?"
Your partner thinks, "Why isn't she turned on?"
It's a coital conundrum.
Let me tell you, research has been done—the kind with probes in vaginas and on penises and functional MRIs—the real kind of research. And it clearly shows that men and women, although women more, experience genital nonconcordance. Brain is aroused, genitals are flaccid or dry. The remedy?
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Get to know your lube. Learn the ingredients. Can it be used with a condom or will it break down the condom? Typically, oil-based lubes will break down a condom. Can it be used with a toy? Typically, silicone lube should not be used with silicone toys. Does it have parabens, glycerin or other preservatives that may not jive with the vagina? If you're not sure or need some guidance, ask a sex educator, counselor or therapist. But no matter what phase of life you are in, use lube. It makes a great massage oil, too!
Written by Nisha McKenzie PA-C, CSC, IF, Director – Center for Women's Sexual Health.