Vaginal hygiene is a topic that I discuss a lot with patients.
“What is good for my vagina?”
“How do I keep my vagina happy and clean?”
“What is bad for my vagina?”
Often, this topic is paired with a different question.
“Should I douche?”
“Is it okay to use vaginal wipes?”
“Is it good to scrub with soap and water?”
“Should I use vaginal deodorant?”
The short answer? No! Your vagina is amazing. You do not need to douche, use wipes, scrub with soap, or spray yourself to keep it clean.
If you’d rather watch me discuss this topic than read about it, check out this video from my youtube channel below:
In order to understand how to keep your vagina healthy and clean, there are a few topics we need to unpack first: the difference between the vagina and the vulva, how the vagina cleans itself, and the bacteria that live in the vagina.
Vagina vs. Vulva
First, let’s define the terms vagina and vulva.
In the photo above, your vagina is depicted in pink. It is the actual vaginal canal and mucosal skin. The vulva is the skin around the vagina. The “outside” of the vagina, or the “lips” of the vagina—labia minora (the inner lips) and labia majora (the outer lips).
The Vagina Cleans Itself
The vagina is lined with glands that create fluids serving two roles: to lubricate and to cleanse! We often call these natural secretions “discharge.” Your vagina lubricates and cleans itself inside of your body without any effort on your end, all day long!
Vaginal Flora: the Bacteria Living in the Vagina
There are a host of different bacteria that live naturally in the vagina. There are “good” bacteria, and “bad” bacteria. The good bacteria have some important roles. They:
- Outnumber the potentially “bad” bacteria
- Balance the vagina’s pH, keeping it acidic—this balances the bacterial environment
- Produce bacteriocins—a fancy word for naturally occurring antibiotics; these bacteriocins “kill” unwanted “bad” bacteria in the vagina
- Line the vaginal walls, preventing the “bad” bacteria from sticking to the walls and invading the vaginal tissues
Wash with Water!
When washing, we must consider the vagina’s natural ability to clean itself and how important the bacteria living in the vagina are! What’s the best way to wash without stripping your vagina of its natural secretions or interfering with the bacterial environment? Water!
The vagina itself needs nothing more than a splash of water. It does not need soap, or body wash, or any product claiming to “balance its pH,” or anything of that nature.
The vulva, too, should be washed either with only water. If you must use a soap, please use a gentle soap with no added fragrances or dyes. If you have any history of vaginal irritation, please stick to only water!
Often, when a woman uses soap, or body wash, or a douche, or a wipe, or some other bath product—especially those with added fragrances and chemical dyes—she accidentally strips her vagina of not only the natural lubrication, leading to dryness, but also the normal and natural bacteria that live there! This can throw off both the vagina’s pH and its natural ability to fight “bad” bacteria, and cause different issues, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
How Do I Use Water?
No one needs to create a lot of friction while cleaning her vagina. No need to “scrub,” instead a gentle patting with water around the vulvar skin—perhaps between the labia majora and minora—is all you need. When you get out of the shower or bath, pat dry using the same technique. No need to scrub in this situation, either!
You do not need to douche, or use vaginal wipes, or scrub, or spray deodorant to keep your vagina clean! As an aside, I know some women are using douches to protect against both infections and sexually transmitted infections—know that there’s no evidence that douching protects against STIs or vaginal infections. It may actually increase the risk given that it eliminates the good bacteria in the vagina, too.
Other Healthy Vagina Habits
Other super healthy vagina habits include:
- Peeing after vaginal intercourse to help prevent urinary tract infections. Most UTIs are caused by E. coli, a bacteria that lives around your anus. Sex can sometimes cause sweat from around the anus (which carries E. coli) to make its way to the urethra, which lives directly above the vaginal opening. Peeing after sex helps to flush away any lingering E. coli.
- For the same reason, remove wet bathing suits or sweaty gym outfits promptly after you are done swimming or exercising
- At night, if you can, sleep without underwear—let your vagina air dry
Finally, if you are already experiencing vaginal irritation, avoid any products with dyes or added fragrances. Wear cotton underwear that can breathe, and are either white or have white, un-dyed fabric in the crotch area, as dyes here can be bothersome. If you need some relief, you can try pure aloe vera or coconut oil around the vulva or at the vaginal opening. Before applying to your vulvar skin or vaginal opening, rub a little bit on your wrist or forearm. If you do not have any bad reactions there, it should be safe to use. Aloe vera and coconut oil can be very soothing for an irritated vagina. Last but not least, if you are already irritated, avoid chlorine. Chlorine will worsen the irritation and make your vagina more dry.
If you have long standing hypersensitivity around your vagina that makes inserting tampons, or medical pelvic exams, or oral and/or penetrative sex painful, please don’t hesitate to see a pelvic provider in your area! Inserting tampons shouldn’t hurt, medical pelvic exams are uncomfortable but shouldn’t be unbearable, and sex should feel good! If those things aren’t true, pelvic physical therapy could be right for you! Find a pelvic provider in your area by searching here!