Female genital hygiene
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 you put 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?
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?
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?