Every woman’s vagina is different, and it can seem like a bit of a mystery. Keeping your vagina healthy means being aware of what is normal for you and knowing when something changes that may require your attention.
The vagina is a self-regulating organ. In general, it’s best to let it do its job on its own. The trick is to know when fluctuations in discharge colour, amount and odour are normal, and when they’re not.
What’s normal — and not normal?
The vagina changes with your cycle and sexual habits, and varying degrees of discharge are normal. Discharge can be white or yellow, and you may have a little or a lot.
However, if you are experiencing discomfort, or any of the following symptoms, you may have a condition that needs your attention.
- Abdominal pain
- Burning sensation when you urinate
- Increased or unusual discharge
- Irritation or soreness
- Swelling of the labia
- Painful intercourse
- Unpleasant odour
Causes of vaginal irritation
Your vagina is constantly changing. It has a natural balance of flora that helps it stay healthy. Flora refers to good bacteria and fungi that live in your vagina. Hormones, antibiotics, stress, illness and external agents (like scents and chemicals) can also contribute to vaginal irritation. Common infections like vaginosis, bladder infections and yeast infections occur when the balance of flora changes.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause the vagina to become irritated, and can cause more serious health problems if left untreated.
Keeping your vagina healthy
There are several things you can do to keep your vagina healthy.
- Change pads and tampons at least every 4 to 8 hours
- Don’t douche
- Don’t stay in hot, sweaty conditions (like a sauna) for a long time
- Don’t use scented soaps
- Don’t use vaginal sprays or deodorants
- Don’t wear tight-fitting clothes or synthetic materials close to your skin
- Take off damp swimwear and sports clothes as soon as possible
- Try alternatives to pads and tampons (like cups or sponges)
- Urinate soon after having sex
- Use only unscented pads and tampons
- Use safer sex methods to prevent STIs
- Wash your vulva (the external entrance to your vagina) daily with warm water
- Wear only cotton underwear
- Wipe from front to back after going to the washroom
Your vagina is a self-sustaining organ that produces its own protective substances and has a natural, but delicate, balance of flora. However, things can get out of balance and different problems can have the same symptoms. Pay attention to what is normal for you and you’ll know if things seem out of the ordinary.