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5 Vaginal Health Tips You Should Be Following

And they come straight from gynecologists.

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vaginal health, illustration of hand holding half of a peach
Claudia Chanhoi
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Your wellness routine is likely sprinkled with a couple of workout sessions, a dedicated skin-care regimen and clean eating as much as possible. One thing that you may not have considered adding is your vaginal health. Aside from regularly scheduled gynecologist visits, maintenance care is essential for your overall health and well-being. We spoke with gynecologists to find out how to keep your vagina in tip-top shape.

1. Wash your vulva with warm water and mild, unscented soap.

First, a lesson on vaginas and vulvas. “The vagina is a muscular canal that connects the cervix and the uterus while the vulva is the external part of your genital organs that includes the labia, mons pubis, clitoris, urethral opening and some glands,” explains Dr. Amy Wetter, a board-certified ob-gyn at Pediatrix Medical Group. “The vagina is a self-cleaning area that contains normal and physiologic bacteria and discharge that do [the cleaning] for you.” Cleaning the vagina will upset the balance of bacteria and discharge and change its pH, she adds.

The vulva, on the other hand, can be cleaned with a combination of mild soap (free of dyes and fragrance) and warm water. Dr. Wetter notes that scented products can alter pH levels and cause other issues like bacterial vaginosis (not to mention that scented products can cause an allergic reaction in some sensitive-skinned people).

2. Don’t wear dirty workout clothes.

We get it — sometimes you need to run errands or go to the office right after hitting the gym, but the best practice for your vagina is to shower and switch to clean clothes immediately following your workout. “Most women sweat in the groin area because it contains a high concentration of sweat glands, bacteria and hair follicles,” says Dr. Wetter. The warm, humid environment that stems from sweating in your underwear creates the perfect condition for yeast and bacteria to multiply. If you can’t change after a workout, look for underwear that's 100 percent cotton and avoid anything too tight, as it’s more likely to trap sweat.

3. Visit your gynecologist regularly.

Your age will likely dictate what topics you'll discuss with your gynecologist. “Women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s may be more focused on pregnancy or pregnancy prevention,” notes Dr. Julianne Arena, ob-gyn and double board-certified physician. “Starting in the late 30s and early 40s, conversations about hormonal changes in perimenopause and menopause should begin.” At all ages, Dr. Arena says there should be a discussion about safe sex and STD protection and prevention. Regular Pap smears are necessary to test for cervical cancer.

Older women may be more focused on painful sex and vaginal dryness.

For most people, a yearly visit to the gynecologist (complete with a pelvic exam and a breast exam) should suffice. “If you have issues with irregular cycles, itching, irritation, pelvic pain, genital lesions, pain with sex, or burning/frequency/urgency of urination, then you should see your gynecologist when those issues arise to be properly examined and diagnosed,” says Dr. Wetter. Other red flags that may warrant a trip to your gynecologist include inflammation, discharge that is discolored with a "fishy" odor, unexplained vaginal bleeding or a significant change in your discharge.

4. Urinate after sex.

Gynecologists agree that peeing after sex can prevent bacteria from spreading.

“Bacteria that enters the urethra during sex can cause bacterial growth in the bladder or kidneys and lead to UTIs. Urinating after sex helps flush out this bacteria from the urethra, preventing it from spreading into other parts of your body,” explains Dr. Arena. “If bacteria does not remain in the urethra, there is no buildup that can lead to a variety of urinary issues.” While not a foolproof method for preventing all UTIs, it’s still best to follow the practice. And, if anything, peeing after sex can provide the benefits of comfort and hygiene.

This piece of advice also applies if you use a condom. “Bacteria from the anus or surrounding skin can be introduced into the urethra,” adds Dr. Wetter. “And while condoms prevent transmission of STIs, they do not prevent transmission of all skin bacteria.”

5. Choose lubricants wisely.

Lubricant is largely a personal preference, but there are some things to be on the lookout for as far as your vaginal health is concerned. According to Dr. Arena, opt for lubes with simpler (and fewer) ingredients. “Lubricants can be aggravating, and I do not recommend anything that creates heat or makes the area ‘feel hot and on fire,’” she warns. “Intercourse can be a friction-laden activity, so there is no need to add fuel to the fire, so to speak.”

During perimenopause and menopause, when estradiol levels drop, you may experience irritation in the form of itching, burning, dryness, or just general discomfort during intercourse. Use a lubricant that doesn’t contain added fragrances or irritating ingredients to avoid exacerbating these effects.

In addition to these tips, remember: If you experience frequent UTIs or have any concerns regarding your vaginal health, it's important to consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance.

How often do you see your gynecologist? Let us know in the comments below.

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