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Female genital hygiene

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Is there a ‘right way’ to clean the genitals or vagina?

Generally speaking, the female genitals include:

  • Pubic Hair
  • Skin folds (outer and inner lips)
  • The clitoral hood
  • The clitoris
  • The openings to the urethra and the vagina.

A lot to clean, right? Not really.

The vagina itself is self-cleaning (!), and you should leave it alone unless instructed by your healthcare provider to douche; the rest can be easily maintained following the tips below.

Women with vaginismus – do your best to try the following; if nothing else, it will be a good exercise in beginning to own your genitals!

  • Install a hand-held shower to better rinse off the area. If not possible, use a spray bottle.
  • Never use hot water on the genitals to avoid over-drying and chafing irritations. You can take your shower as hot as you wish but turn the water to warm when rinsing the genitals.
  • It is best to use a neutral or hypoallergenic soap to avoid irritations caused by fragrances and/or other chemicals in the soap. However, feel free to use any soap you like when washing the rest of your body.
  • No need to scrub the area. Apply a bit of (neutral/hypoallergenic) soap on your hand, lightly soap between the genital lips (not inside the vagina), and rinse. If using the soap makes the genitals burn, use warm water for a few days before trying again, and/or try another soap.
  • Pat dry the area when you towel off and leave it alone.
  • If your genitals feel dry, you can apply a thin coat of Aquaphor Healing Ointment to the area between the lips but not inside the vagina. Aquaphor is an over-the-counter ointment that can also be used as a lip balm, a diaper ointment, and a barrier ointment to prevent chafing irritations between toes (during running), in the genitals (bike riding), etc.
  • Cleaning after intercourse? Read our post Intercourse & cleaning.
  • Final note: it is common to find residue in the genitals: toilet paper dust/pieces, sloughed dry skin, leftover ointment/medications, etc. If left accumulated, they may cause skin irritation.  Use a mirror and look at your genitals every 2-3 months to ensure good hygiene.

Not much more is needed… Use the same approach if taking a bath.

Can I use Aquaphor on my vagina, vulva, or private parts?

Yes, you can with limitations. If your genitals feel dry, you can apply a thin coat of Aquaphor Healing Ointment to the area between the lips but not inside the vagina. Aquaphor is an over-the-counter ointment that can also be used as a lip balm, a diaper ointment, and a barrier ointment to prevent chafing irritations between toes (during running), in the genitals (bike riding), etc.

Vaginal odor & Smell

Certain body parts have their own distinct odor, such as the armpits, the soles of the feet, the penis, and the vagina.  A physiological fact.

Vaginal odor is a popular topic, and one can find plenty of commercial preparations for vaginal rinsing/douching, deodorizing, perfuming, as well as scented sanitary pads, scented tampons, lotions, etc.

Vaginal odor is often a cause for sexual frustration and embarrassment.  Whereas men are rarely attentive to the odor of their penis, women can be quite preoccupied with the odor of their (healthy) vagina to the point of excessive cleaning, avoidance of oral sex, and even refraining from sexual engagement altogether.

The vaginal mucosa is chemically balanced for optimal health.  Applying scented products will easily disrupt this delicate balance and lead to medical complications.  Unless you have a vaginal infection – at which case you need to seek proper medical care – do not use any scented product in your vagina.

Female Genital Hair Care

Women are divided into those who tend to their pubic (genital) hair, and those who do not. Either way is perfectly fine as long as the woman is happy with her choice, and is not forced into it.

For those who attend to pubic hair, you have the option/s of trimming (with scissors), waxing, shaving, using depilatory preparations, electrolysis, etc.

  • Scissors: use small (nail) scissors for best results. If your pubic hair is coarse and thick, you can start cutting using regular scissors, then switch to the small ones.
  • Waxing can be partial, complete (‘Brazilian’), or anything in-between. Make sure it is done by a reputable technician who exercises proper sanitary conditions. If you are sensitive, those after-wax ‘skin bumps/pimples’ may be unavoidable.
  • Shaving: regardless of the type of razor you use, you can avoid skin reaction (‘bumps/pimples’) if you shave at least 2 hours before or after you bathe. Shave at the sink using your usual methods and rinse with a washcloth; wait the specified time to let the skin pores close to avoid a reaction. This tip also applies to shaving the underarms, and your legs if you are sensitive there as well.

Do women need to look at their genitals & vagina?

Do women look at their own genitals? Is looking necessary for genital function?

The short answer: women can go years without looking at their own genitals, and no – looking is not needed for genital function (what would the visually impaired person do if otherwise?).

The long answer: women develop an intuitive sense of their genitals and know if something is wrong without even looking.  And sexually speaking, women are not programmed for visual arousal needs as men are and, therefore, do not typically look but rather ‘feel.’ So when would you look at your genitals?

  • To learn about them
  • For grooming (those who remove genital hair)
  • In case you suspect an infection (read tips about antibiotics and the vagina)
  • In case of irritation
  • If needed: for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) inspection

Note: repeated looking or inspecting of the genitals, or a relentless preoccupation with self-examination, suggest somatic (psycho-physical) anxiety and warrant professional intervention.

Inspecting The Vagina

  • Do women need to regularly inspect their genitals/vagina?
  • Is a mirror needed to find the vaginal opening?

Not really.

You do not require a mirror to find your mouth when eating, do you? Same with the vagina!

Women have an inherent sense of their vaginal opening and if they allow their natural instinct to lead them, they will arrive at just the right spot: a bit too high, and you hit the urethra; higher yet — the clitoris; a bit too low and you bump against the perineal body, the skin area that separates the genitals from the rectal opening; and way too low — well, everyone knows their rectal opening!

However, feel free to pull out the mirror and look if you are learning about your genitals for the first time; or if you feel irritation and wish to inspect; or if you shave/clip the pubic hair, etc. – – these would be considered ‘maintenance’ issues and you can use whatever is needed to do the job.

Note: the skin color in the genitals may change in response to your current hormonal state, your level of hydration, as a reaction to chafing irritation, sweating, prolonged sexual activities, etc. There is no need to get alarmed nor get hung up on it being ‘too red, or too white’ unless you have symptoms that need medical attention.

Looking at Own Genitals & Vagina(Vulva & Vagina)

It took a curious man, Craig’s List, and candid women to create Women See Their Vaginas for the First time — what a wonderful experiment!

Of note: the vagina proper can only be seen through an open speculum, which posed a limitation to the gentleman’s exercise. Nevertheless, a much-needed exposure of a topic that is not typically discussed.

With the vagina being invisible thus often a source of unnecessary worries or anxiety, we have made showing it a mandatory component of our patient care for many years now.  Women, who are not our patients are encouraged to ask their clinician to show it to them as mentioned in an older post, Love Gyno Exam?

The following are typical patient comments we hear as they are looking at their vulva for the first time, and when shown their vagina through an open speculum:

  • I cannot do it…
  • I am very ugly down there…
  • I am going to throw up…
  • It does not look right…
  • I was told to never touch or look there…
  • Will it hurt?
  • Wow, is that it?
  • How cool!
  • There is nothing much to it — I can now stop worrying about it…
  • Where is my hymen?
  • I was never able to do that before!

Is the vagina sterile?

Women often believe that their vagina is a sterile environment and those special cleaning methods are needed to keep it as such.  If it were true, then men should have sterilized their penises before penetration, right?

Fact: the vagina is not at all sterile but rather a host to any type of bacteria, all composing the vaginal flora that promotes vaginal health.

According to Ann S Botasch MD, the composition of vaginal flora changes with age, stress, hormonal influence, general health status, and sexual activity, and disruption of this balance will lead to breakdowns such as irritation, infection, bleeding, etc.

So, ladies — make sure whatever ‘visits’ the vagina is clean and that you keep a balanced vaginal flora, but do not worry about the vagina being sterile.

Read more at Vagina – endless?

Also, do you know when were stirrups invented?

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  • Phyllis Dube says:

    My mother in law has used nothing on her vaginal area in the shower for over 50 years, only Water, I can’t emagine how dirty she must be

    • Ditza Katz says:

      She may not be that bad as long as she rinses well… There are many women out there who use nothing but water for cleansing their genitals. And, there is definitely no need to use anything inside the vagina for it is a self-cleaning canal.

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  • Lee says:

    Sitz baths really help with particles trapped in vulva folds.

  • our website says:

    Using female shower gel and regular visits to your gynecologist are two very important steps.

  • marie says:

    Ja well your never to old to learn I’m 56 and only recently learnt that to wash with soap inside the genitals is wrong I had a very bad odour and was washing with soap often…. Have since at the suggestion of my doctor started using water only and lo and behold no odour shows you soap don’t always clean lol NOW IM HAPPY

  • tuit says:

    In many countries there are hand-held bidet showers or bidets in every toilet. That is the way… Sorry, that this still seems to be unknown facility in USA.

  • Lydia says:

    Hi am lydia,mine is a question.am having problem with ma private part it irritate and whitish fluid flows often what can i do?

    • womentc says:

      Dear Ms. Lyndia,
      This Blog is for information only. Please schedule an appointment with your doctor to evaluate your vaginal problem.

  • Madeline says:

    When & how often should I have Pap/pelvic exam. I am 19 & have had a few sex partners but never had symptoms of infection. I do use condoms also.

  • seprince bonus says:

    Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your website is very useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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  • tia says:

    thank you due to lack of communication growing up, this information was never passed on to me. Now I can help my daughter by passing this information on to her and perhaps prevent her discomfort later.

  • Aliglad says:

    Pls help. I am 12, nearly 13 and i usually have this thick, whittish substance coming outta my vagina. I think it’s a yeast infection. Is it true? Either ways, what can i do to prevent discharging this substance?

  • marisol1 says:

    I need to ask a question. its a very private question. Hopefully I can trust this site.

  • milly says:

    hi guys! where can i find the soap?

  • Belle says:

    They do !!!! I carry then with me all the time!!!!

  • LoveLolita says:

    Actually I have tried it and I really liked it. Do you know if they make wipes?

  • Belle says:

    There is actually a soap that came out recently called Fresh Control, that is specifically for Women’s genitals. It’s hypoallergenic and non scented and has the same PH as the vagina. Needles to say it’s way better than bar soap. Has anyone tried it too?

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  • Miker says:

    Is there a discussion somewhere related to this, or could you answer a few questions

    • womentc says:

      We’ll be happy to answer questions in this forum if they pertain to this blog post. Alternatively, you can email us directly (doctors@womentc.com) and we’ll reply from there.

  • eela says:

    hi im an indian wheatish colour grl & at my under legs part is 2 much blackish plz sujust me wat 2 do .

    • womentc says:

      We suggest that you ask your doctor as we cannot give medical advice without examining your in person.

  • Sandie says:

    How I stumbled upon your fabulous website almost two years after you wrote this, only Google and the cosmos will know. However, I want to thank you for answering a question that has plagued me for over 30 years. I’ve always wondered just how far I should take cleaning myself. I discovered via trial and many errors and infections later that Ivory or unscented soap was vital for the bath and the washing machine. I have very sensitive skin all over my body, so why wouldn’t it be “down there?” Of course it would. Yet I still made sure I washed – front to back always – with a sanitized washcloth (fearing hotel ones) and rinsing with the handheld shower, a great invention. When it comes down to it, what you describe is right on. Yet because of sexual abuse, I felt dirty, no matter how much I washed or didn’t wash, so it all became distorted. Thank you for writing down what proper care is. I’ve printed it out to keep whenever I need to read it again.

    Sadly I share the stories of two women who felt dirty after sex. One, believe it or not, is that of my mother-in-law. I’m not sure how many she told this to, for she was a difficult woman to her sons and their wives. None the less, she pulled me aside one day to tell me something. With a room full of people in her home, she told me of her wedding night and how unsure she was on what she was to do after intercourse. She ended up douching with Lysol. I don’t doubt her. She conceived her first son rather easily, but it took nine years to conceive the second (my hubby) with her doing, in her words, everything but standing on her head. I imagine she did some damage along the way with her strong douches.

    Another sad story, very similar, was told me by a dear friend whom I met while we were both in treatment for sexual trauma. We had the good fortune to land at a Masters and Johnson-run hospital with a great program. Yet, as with any program, you have to be ready to work it. Ann was there after a suicide attempt. She was overseas on a college foreign exchange program, in France, the land of love. Too much love, she found out. She liked the girl whose family she stayed with. Her father liked her too much and would watch her any chance he got, including while bathing. Ann was always uncomfortable but felt it must be the way the French live. One night she was upset and began to walk away from the house. The father followed, thinking it was a gesture to have him follow. He did, and he raped her. From there Ann returned to the house to douche over and over and over again with every cleaning product they had. She tried to find medical help after that. She was so terribly lost in a foreign land, wandering and trying to find help. Eventually she found some in Germany, if I recall. I can’t begin to imagine.

    How strange that I can share that yet know that I had my own horrid story. Ann’s story was silenced when she succeeded in her next suicide attempt. From 1200 miles away I tried to tell her how much she was worth, but she hadn’t found that for herself, and she just wanted the pain to stop.

    Ann helped me with a lesson that I apparently helped her with as well. We were suite-mates .. we each had our own room yet we shared the bathroom. My first night there, I gathered linens for the night and the next morning and put them on the towel bar. By morning, the girl in the next room leaving that day had swiped the linens. When Ann checked in that day to take her place, I immediately approached her and explained that I had a problem with my cleanliness in the bathroom and explained what had happened and how I would appreciate it not happening with her and what system could we come up with so we kept our clean linens separate. Ann also had a problem, and we made fast friends.

    Your blog here tonight is the first time I’ve read it spelled out with such simplicity on how to clean your body in your “private parts.” Why on earth did it take over 50 years for that to be read by me so I could confirm what I’d more or less learned on my own? Any why did I have to go through all the trials I did in order to learn that some of my problems were hygiene due to sensitive skin but many, many more of them were because of prior sexual abuse?

    Again, I say thank you for spelling it out. Now, I must go and read much more of your place. Sandie in Florida

  • womentc says:

    Frequent sexual intercourse with same/different men will not alter the vaginal diameter nor make it ‘soft.’ However, we hope that you are taking all needed precautions to avoid contacting Sexually Transmitted Diseases and to prevent unwanted pregnancy!

  • usman olaoluwa says:

    Please, what do you think will likely hapen to lady’s that frequently have sex with different guys cause i heard their vagina will continually get soft. I am only asking to have the ideal ooooooo.

  • tina says:

    Nice article. Thanks for the tips on female hygiene!

  • Christina says:

    Hi,

    I just like to share with female folk a way to keep yourself fresh without additive fluid — by douching. Use only mild water. I enjoy douche with just filter water.
    Asian woman, especially Japanese woman, keep them fresh, odor free and hygienically clean. It can be reuse for years…
    can see a sample product at http://www.geocities.com/tianwangcom/feminine;
    Another site found http://www.geocities.com/label2002/feminine
    Have a wonderful sense… chrisfong78@yahoo.com.sg
    Christine Miyuki in nursing discipline.