Our physical and mental health goes beyond what people see and almost always further than what people are willing to talk about. Our sexual wellness — especially vulvovaginal care — has been historically ignored, only seen as necessary when trying to solve an issue, and rarely viewed as a natural extension of our self-care routines.
Unfortunately, this means that we’re often not empowered (let alone encouraged) to prioritize our feelings regarding our sexual health, or voice concerns about our vulvas with friends, partners, and even our doctors. During a time when everyone, everywhere should prioritize their physical and mental wellbeing, we’ve got to change that narrative. Our bodies and minds are intrinsically linked, and a healthy self starts with educating ourselves about our bodies and how they work.
The human body is a balancing act that relies on chemical balances in order to function properly.
Decoding Your Vaginal Microbiome
The human body is a balancing act that relies on chemical balances in order to function properly. One of those many balances is pH levels, which can be either basic or acidic. Now bear with the science talk. The optimal pH level of the vagina ranges from an acidic 3.5 to 4.5, which is necessary to keep it functioning as its own self-regulating organ where bad bacteria don’t stand much of a chance of multiplying.
When the pH either raises to a basic level or falls below the optimal range, the good bacteria aren’t able to thrive and can be overcrowded by the bad bacteria, which can weaken your body’s natural safeguards against infection and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
If and/or when this happens, you might experience symptoms like itching, irritation, irregular or excessive discharge, or strong unfamiliar odors, and are more prone to bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or UTIs.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely easy to disrupt your vaginal microbiome. Changes in your diet, excessive sugar or alcohol consumption, antibiotics, forgetting to wash your toys, different sexual partners, stress, lack of sleep, and detergents, lubes, douches, or other “femcare” products that use artificial dyes, fragrances, and parabens…honestly, the list goes on, but you get the idea.
Now, obviously, you can’t lock away your vagina forever (unless, you know, you’re into that) and it’s great if you’re able to pinpoint the cause of your vulvar or vaginal issues (that burning sensation while you pee could be attributed to a rough romp in bed). But if you’re experiencing prolonged or excessive symptoms or irritation that’s interfering with your quality of life, schedule an appointment with your doctor stat, and of course, always, always, always get regularly tested for STIs.
Tips to Keep Your Vulva and Vagina Healthy & Happy
Drink water. Hydration, as you know, is extremely important for literally every bodily function.
Use natural and organic products on your vulva whenever possible. If you can’t find or afford them, it’s best to forgo these items and let your body heal itself.
Wear breathable cotton panties. It’s not necessary to completely forgo lacy lingerie or spandex, but a thong a day will not keep a yeast infection away.
Loose-fitting clothing is your friend. Again, not necessary to wear culottes or a skirt every day, but it’s best to let your vulva breathe whenever possible to avoid future or further irritation.
Take off gym clothes and swimsuits as soon as possible! The excess moisture is a breeding ground for bad bacteria. If you can’t rinse off after a heavy sweat sesh, use Hydrosol to tone your skin without drying it out with fake fragrance or alcohol.
Pee after masturbation or partnered sex in any capacity. This helps to literally “flush” bacteria out to help prevent UTIs and other vulvar infections.
Sleep naked. Or just sleep without underwear to let your vulva breathe.
Tips to Avoid Infection and Irritation
DON’T douche. Douching is only a temporary fix to cover up symptoms stemming from underlying issues and will flush out the healthy bacteria along with the bad, making you vulnerable to infection. Instead, incorporate a daily probiotic to build a healthy vaginal microbiome to prevent future irritation or infection.
DON’T consume excessive amounts of sugar or alcohol. Too much of anything can be bad, but sugar and alcohol are literal breeding grounds for bad bacteria and yeast. It’s all about balance, baby!
Please remember there’s no “standard” or “normal” looking vulva.
DON’T masturbate with foreign objects. Only insert toys specifically designed for penetration.
DON’T shame someone else or be ashamed of your vulva or sexuality. Please remember there’s no “standard” or “normal” looking vulva. Everybody is different, so stop comparing your size, shape, and scent to a partner, porn star, or random pics on the internet mmmkay?
DON’T stress. Alright, this one is way easier said than done. But when we’re overstressed, it can affect our sleep, our digestion, and our immunity. Which means that our body’s natural defenses are lowered, making you more vulnerable to infection. Meditate, masturbate, and again, stay hydrated!
Now don’t take this as just another long list of dos and don’ts. Caring for your health shouldn’t be a chore, but rather an extension of your daily routines for your body and your mind. Prioritize your needs and desires, health, and happiness. Understanding our bodies — and how to take proactive care of them — is the first step in reversing the negative connotations we’ve been taught to associate with our sexuality.