'Thou shall not douche' and ‘Hell yeah to kegels', plus 8 other tips to keep your vagina happy

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Your vagina could be harmed by some things you do unintentionally. For happy lady parts, adopt these healthy habits.

1. Get acquainted

You actually have to look down there below to get to know your vagina better, says Dr Abigail Lukhaimane, a gynaecologist based in Fourways. You must know what it looks, feels and smells like so you can make informed decisions.

If you don’t know your healthy, normal vagina, how will you know when something is amiss?

“Many women don’t actually know their own vaginas and feel pressured by what they see in magazines or social media and assume theirs is ‘ugly’ or not right. We have different types of vulvas and labia. So, what’s normal? If you know what it usually looks like, you can pick up if there’s a rash or some discolouration. Just get acquainted with your vagina,” Dr Lukhaimane encourages.

2. Use feminine hygiene products sparingly

Store shelves carry an array of gels, washes, wipes, powders or pills that promise to leave your vagina smelling ‘brand new’. But are they necessary? Turns out they’re not.

A 2018 study at the University of Guelph found that 95 percent of Canadian women who had used these products and took part in the survey were three times more likely to experience some type of vaginal infection.

Feminine hygiene products should be used occasionally, not on a daily basis, says Dr Karabo Tlale, a Vorna Valley-based obstetrician.

“The vagina cleanses itself every three days. If you have an unpleasant smell or have a date and want to feel more confident, then you can use such products. But they kill the good bacteria and mess with the vagina’s pH. Rather use water and a mild soap,” says Dr Tlale.

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3. Thou shall not douche

Douching gets rid of not only bad bacteria, but also the good. Studies done at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University found that vaginal douching exposes women to chemical phthalates (man-made chemicals), which could result in increased risks of vaginal infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, problems during pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

These were more prevalent in Black women of reproductive age as they frequently use douches. To be safe, let’s all say it, together: “Thou shall not douche!”

4. Say no to tightening creams

Some women believe having a dry vagina means they’re tighter or makes intercourse more pleasurable for their partner. Dr Tlale says sex is meant to be pleasurable.

“The vagina has to be wet, and for intercourse, you need good lubrication for it to be pleasurable. When you dry up the vagina, sex becomes painful and can lead to tears. Don’t use such creams, rather use something that will lubricate and stimulate you,” she says.

There is not enough evidence on the effectiveness of tightening creams, says Dr Tom Mokaya, a Sandton gynaecologist, who is against their use.

Tightening creams are very controversial. There hasn’t been much research done on them. Yes, they are on the market and claim to tighten the muscles as part of vaginal rejuvenation. But, I usually advise my patients not to put anything inside the vagina and to do Kegel exercises instead,” Dr Mokaya.

5. ‘Hell yeah’ to kegels

Kegel exercises are an easy and healthy way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, and you can do them any time and anywhere.

Dr Mokaya explains: “Pull your muscles as if trying to hold in pee and hold for at least 10 seconds at a time. Kegel exercises help tighten the pelvic floor muscle, especially after giving birth naturally.”

6. Don’t eat too much sugar

Your chocolate cravings and soft drink addiction could be an issue, Dr Tlale cautions.

“If you eat lots of sugary foods, you are more prone to yeast infections and thrush. You might eat and think nothing of it, but it does affect your vagina, as it goes through the cells. If you have high sugar levels, you’re bound to have fungus, which is why yeast infections are common in diabetic patients if their glucose levels aren’t controlled,” Dr Tlale adds.

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7. Watch your diet

Wondering if there is any truth to eating plain yoghurt or pineapples? Well, Dr Tlale confirms that anything we ingest does have an effect, which is why eating a lot of pineapples may result in a sweet smell or taste in your vagina.

“Pineapples are sweet and an aphrodisiac, so when they’re secreted in the vagina it’s a sweet smell or taste. They don’t really help in any other way. In the same way, good smells can come from what we eat, as do bad smells. Stay away from onion, garlic and asparagus because these can be secreted through the pores,” Dr Tlale cautions.

Yoghurt has live cultures and good bacteria, and can be beneficial. But, if you’re prone to yeast infections, then stay away from dairy products, Dr Lukhaimane advises.

“Fruit and vegetables are great, especially avocado, which is rich in good oils. Also drink lots of water,” she adds.

8. Shaving method matters

Whether you shave or wax to have a landing strip, go Hollywood or just keep your bush – it’s up to you. But how you shave with razors can affect your vaginal health.

Dr Mokaya explains: “Those who use razors need to be aware of how they shave and shouldn’t do so a lot, as it may lead to keloids, which are masses or bumps caused by cuts or skin irritations that can get septic and lead to infections.”

9. Cotton is boss

Circulating air to your lady parts is important, which is why the material of the underwear or gym tights you choose to wear must be breathable.

“The pubis has hair follicles and needs air. Nylon is a definite no, so even if you wear silk or lace underwear, make sure it has a cotton layer underneath. Tights or gym gear shouldn’t be too tight to allow for air to come in, because when you sweat, bacteria grows and gives off odour,” Dr Tlale explains.

10. Ask questions

Don’t listen to hearsay or believe in myths that lead to anxiety. Should you have any concerns, the best solution is to consult your doctor, Dr Mokaya encourages.

“Becoming knowledgeable is important, so read up and don’t leave any information out when talking to your doctor. And most importantly, don’t be scared or shy to ask your gynae questions. Women differ from each other. Some get yeast infections from stress, so your friends’ issues might differ from yours,” Dr Mokaya adds.

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