Does everyone look like that down there? What’s normal for discharge anyway? And, um, how can we keep our lady parts tight and perky just like our faces?
Questions about our vaginas can be embarrassing, making it hard to bring them up with the doctor or even close friends and your partner. Here, SKIN answers five of the most common vagina-related questions for you.
DO I NEED TO WASH MY VAGINA?
Your local drugstore is likely packed with items promising you cleaner nether regions. From feminine washes to vaginal wipes, companies are trying to sell you on claims that you will have a healthier, happier, fresher-smelling vagina if you rid your privates of bacteria.
However, “the friendly bacteria in there are actually good, just like in your gut. They make the vagina acidic to prevent overgrowth of disease-causing yeast or bacteria, so there’s no reason to try and get rid of them,” says Dr Low Chai Ling. “Altering the pH of the vagina can, in fact, upset the delicate bacterial equilibrium and promote an infection.”
“Anyway, it’s a fallacy that douching or feminine washes is necessary to clean what’s in there. It’s a self-cleaning part of your body. New healthy cells lie underneath, coming to the surface and creating a liquid-y sensation to flush out any gunk.” In essence, don’t bother spending your money here. You could get the same thing by standing in the corner and closing your eyes for a few minutes, and avoid unnecessary risk of infections and irritations.
FYI: We’ve been strictly talking about the vagina here — not the vulva, which is the external skin portion of your genitals. “While using douches or wipes won’t help you and may even be harmful, it’s fine to wash the vulva during your shower as you do the rest of your body,” says Dr Low. “The important thing to keep in mind isn’t the exact product you use, as long as it is gentle on the sensitive skin. You can even just use water. But you should always dry off fully before getting dressed. Moisture is what causes that area to grow bad bacteria.”
MY GUY SAYS I SMELL A LITTLE OFF THERE. SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
It’s perfectly natural for your hoo-ha to have a certain, shall we say, aroma. In fact, your feminine odour may vary throughout your menstrual cycle. It may also be especially noticeable right after having sex or a intensive spin class, due to the musky smell from surrounding sweat glands. And if you smell a little “bleachy” or chlorine-like after getting frisky, don’t freak. Lubricants you’ve used during sex are most likely the cause.
Everything we consume – food, drinks, medications – will also alter your vaginal secretions. Foods, such as melon and pineapple, can cause you to taste sweeter. On the flip side, diets that are heavy in meat, cruciferous vegetables, garlic and onions can make the vaginal secretions “not so pleasant”. Alcohol, which for many is a way to lose our inhibitions in the sack, can change the flavour of a vagina for the worse, too. And quit smoking: The smell permeates everything, and we mean everything.
But if things smell fishy (literally), especially if it comes with copious or abnormal discharge, itching or burning, it could be bacterial vaginosis, a common vaginal infection. A foul odour with greenish discharge may indicate trichomoniasis, an STD. Forgotten tampons and cervical tumours are much less common things that can make you smell off. So, if you just don’t smell right, trust your instincts and see your doctor.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT THAT ITCH BELOW THE BELT?
Itching down yonder can be due to a myriad of reasons. Common garden bugs include:
If the itching persists; progresses onto soreness, burning or painful intercourse; you have unusual discharge; or if you’re just unsure about the source of it, schedule an appointment with your doctor stat to rule out infections, or other more serious conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases, psoriasis and lichen sclerosus.
WHAT CAN I DO TO STAY YOUTHFUL AND TIGHT IN THE NETHER LANDS?
In a survey of over 400 women who had vaginal deliveries, approximately half reported some level of concern with vaginal looseness, otherwise known as vaginal laxity. The vagina wall is made up of collagen and muscle fibres. During vaginal childbirth these elastic tissues can get overstretched and damaged, especially around the densely innervated vaginal opening (introitus). Combine the rigors of childbearing with the effects of aging on the vagina, and many women complain of a feeling of looseness or decreased sensation during intercourse, resulting in lower sexual satisfaction. These changes can affect a woman’s overall sexual health, and are a quality of life issue for millions of women every year.
Kegel exercises are frequently recommended to rehabilitate weakened vaginal muscles the and strengthen your sex life. But to be very scientifically accurate, these workouts actually target the pelvic floor muscles that normally form a sling around the vagina and bladder to support or “hold-up” these pelvic organs and prevent them from sagging. Like vaginal tissues, the pelvic floor muscles also tend to be fatigued with childbirth and ageing, potentially causing urinary control problems (e.g. stress incontinence) or uterine prolapse. Hence, Kegel exercises do not address vaginal laxity per se.
However, when done properly and regularly, many women do find that toning of the pelvic floor muscles that surround the vagina does help indirectly (like a tightened hand grip around the vagina), on top of preventing embarrassing pee leaks from stress incontinence. Plus, these exercises are free and totally private – they can be practiced anytime, anywhere. AND you may enjoy more intense orgasms, too. The pubococcygeus (PC) part of the pelvic floor muscle contract during climax. So as it becomes stronger, so do the orgasms!
Before you can start practicing Kegels, you have to first locate your pleasure-maxing muscles. Next time you pee, try to stop midstream without contracting your butt, thighs or abs. After holding for a few seconds, resume the flow. Your PC muscles are allowing you to control the start-stop action. Once you’ve isolated the love muscles, practice tightening and releasing them, working up to a 10-second hold before letting go. Then gradually get into a sexercise regimen doing 10 to 20 Kegels three times a day, holding each one for 10 seconds. Exercises such as the “Bridge” (above) are great for toning up the pelvic floor together with abs too, and can be incorporated into your pelvic workout regime.
To specifically restore spring in the vajayjay for majority of women who do not have urinary incontinence but would just like to liven things up between the sheets, the Intima Touch specially designed to address vaginal laxity in a painless, non-surgical manner. This lunchtime “facelift” for the vagina uses a patented radiofrequency technology that sends deep penetrating energy into the tissues to stimulate new collagen production in the treated vaginal and introital tissues, restoring its suppleness and firmness over 30-90 days after each treatment. In two clinical studies, 88% of the women showed sustained improvements in vaginal tightness at 12 months after treatment, with a 68% mean increase in their vaginal laxity scores. This correlates well with reported improvement in sexual satisfaction, which was maintained through the 12 months after treatment.
Intima Touch is an in-office treatment that requires no anesthesia and can be completed in about 30 minutes, with no downtime after the procedure. At the beginning of the treatment, the doctor will insert a treatment tip, about the size of your thumb, just inside the vaginal opening. The tip is circumferentially moved around the opening, delivering pulses of radiofrequency energy to the collagen fibers that make up the underlying tissues, while also cooling the vaginal surface.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I LOOK NORMAL OR “IDEAL” DOWN UNDER?
Blame it on the prevalence of Brazilian waxing or the ubiquity of porn, but more women are more aware of how their privates looked and how their lady flower beauty stacked up against the “porn star ideal” of short, symmetrical, light and hairless. In fact, cosmetic labiaplasty (a surgical procedure where the vulva is reduced, reshaped and made more symmetrical) is on a rapid rise over the past few years.
But guess what? “There is really no ‘normal’, medically speaking,” explains Dr Tan Ying Chien, Consultant Plastic Surgeon from The Sloane Clinic Plastic Surgery Centre. “There are tons of differences from woman to woman. Just like snowflakes, everyone is unique. Some are pink, others are dark. Some are smoother, others are slightly wavy. Some lips hang down, others are tucked up neatly inside. Most are not exactly symmetrical on both sides. As long as it’s not causing physically discomfort, all are beautiful.” End of story.
– By Claudia Lin
*This article has been selected Editor’s Choice for Jun 2015*