Your doctor may poke and prod you and declare that you have a medically fit vagina, there are many questions about the most important part of a woman’s biology that are glossed over and assumed to be common knowledge. Worse, there can be many old wives’ tales that have come to be accepted as fact in the absence of clear dialogue. There are hundreds of myths because nothing about a woman’s sexual organ is open to discussion. And talking about it makes you either a whore or a bore. But like other body parts, it is important to know your vagina as well not just for sexual reasons, but also to understand if there is anything wrong with it or not. The more you explore and see your vagina, the more you will learn about it and there should be no shame in doing so. Here are a few facts you should know about it.
Facts about your vagina Firstly, your vulva is like nobody else’s—it’s unique to you. So whether it is dark, irregular, asymmetric or petal-pink and well-proportioned, it’s beautiful. Don’t let a product-pushing commercial tell you that you must be tight and white. You can be brown as a berry and a little elastic, and you’re fine. Many women are worried about the colour of this body part but the truth is, it is usually a shade or two darker than your skin colour, so don’t stress about it so much.
Childbirth can increase the space in your lower chambers but it’s nothing that some daily Kegel exercises can’t fix. (Contract your muscles around the vagina and relax them, as if you’re trying to stop peeing midstream. Repeat at least 10 times in sets of three daily.) This is a great exercise for your vagina, as it helps tighten the muscles of its walls. Even women who haven’t given birth should practise it regularly.
Know your vagina Before we chat about down-there care, let’s learn to recognise the different parts between our legs. While ‘vagina’ is a general term used to refer to the area, it is made of other parts. The vulva comprises the visible outer parts. The outer lips or the labia majora are the outer layer, covererd with fat and hair, which protect the most sensitive parts of a woman’s body. Inside this is the labia minora, situated at the entrance of the vagina and the urethra. The visible pink button is your clitoris, the most sensitive pleasure centre in your body. It has a hood to protect it, called the clitoral hood, and its job is to make sure you’re not a perpetually turned-on mass of nerves. Stimulating the clitoris with a gentle, feather touch is a great way to pleasure yourself. Many couples also use this during foreplay as it can turn you on and at times, even help you orgasm.
It’s common knowledge by now that a woman needs to have a Pap smear once every year or two, depending on your age. While a Pap smear will only screen you for cervical cancer, it will not screen your uterus or your ovaries—you’ll need a pelvic scan for that. Many hospitals offer a complete body check-up especially catering to women that have tests like these included in it. Once a year, ensure that you go for these tests. Or, visit your gynaecologist who can recommend what tests you need to take according to your age and health. Once you know what the problem is, your doctor can recommend medication and lifestyle changes that will help you better your condition.
Vaginal hygiene Vaginal hygiene has its own rituals. Eve Ensler said in her famous play, Vagina Monologues: “My vagina doesn’t need to be cleaned up. It smells good already. Don’t try to decorate. Don’t believe him when he tells you it smells like rose petals when it’s supposed to smell like pussy. That’s what they’re doing—trying to clean it up, make it smell like bathroom spray or a garden. All those douche sprays—floral, berry, rain. I don’t want my pussy to smell like rain. All cleaned up like washing a fish after you cook it. I want to taste the fish. That’s why I ordered it.’’
Having said that, basic hygiene never hurt anyone. Dr Daksha Bakre, Ob-Gyn, Apollo Clinic Bangalore says, “It is important to be aware that the vagina needs special care as it is a very sensitive area of the body. Ignoring vaginal health can cause discomfort and lead to infections, some of which can even be sexually transmitted. It is essential to know the proper methods of keeping the vagina clean.’’
Here are some hygiene tips you should follow to keep your vagina clean.
Fix the itch Have an itchy vagina? This may be due to infections or excessive dryness. To treat this condition, wash your private area with lukewarm water every time after using the restroom and pat the area dry. Do not scrub. The vagina is a naturally moist area with a natural, non-offensive odour. It is advisable to clean the area without causing excessive dryness. Instead of using chemical-laden scented soaps, switch to pH-balanced female hygiene wash products. It is best to discontinue if the product doesn’t suit you. Check with your doctor before switching to a new product as they can recommend something that is suited for you.
Learn basic maintenance Change your undergarments twice daily. Avoid unprotected intercourse if your partner has any genital infections or if you are with a new partner. Protected sex is always recommended unless you’re very sure of your partner and both of you have got yourselves tested for HIV. Wash up after intercourse. Make sure your dietary intake comprises sufficient fluids and fruits to prevent odour. Exercise daily and eat healthy. Vaginal infections are more common in obese women so lose weight to keep them at bay.