A healthy vagina is as clean and pure as a carton of yoghurt...
Now there's a statement to combat some of the negative messages we have received about our nether regions. We are often taught that our vaginas are dirty and germ filled - generally not a nice place to go. But in fact as Dr Hillier from the Magee-Womans hospital in Pittsburgh states a "healthy vagina is as clean and pure as a carton of yoghurt". from Woman An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier.
A healthy vagina is a self regulating system and is cleaner than our mouths and much much cleaner than our rectums. The vaginal ecosystem is a mutually advantageous relationship between the vagina itself and the micro-organisms that inhabit it.
Your vagina is full of life in the form of bacteria but these are good bacteria fighting the good battle to keep bad bacteria out of your reproductive system. These good bacteria are called lactobacilli which are the same organisms found in yoghurt. In a healthy vagina these lactobacilli maintain a acidic environment - around 3.8 - 4.5 pH ( a little bit more acidic than black coffee which has a pH of 5).
Vaginal mucus is "made up of the same things found in blood serum, the clear, thin, sticky liquid that remains behind when the solid components of blood, like clotting factors, are separated away. Vaginal discharge consists of water, albumin - the most abundant protein in the body - a few stray white blood cells, and mucin, the oily substance that gives the vagina and cervix their slippery sheen. Discharge is not dirt, certainly, and it is not a toxic waste product of the body in the sense of urine and faeces. No, no, no,. It is the same substance as what is inside the vagina, neither better nor worse, pulled down because we're bipedal and gravity exists, and because on occasion the cup runneth over."page 53 - 4 Woman, an intimate Geography by Natalie Angier
What about smell?? We have all heard the jokes that compare our private parts to fish. A healthy vagina has a slightly sweet pungent odour. If it smells anymore pungent than this or takes on a fishy odour then this is usually a sign that the delicate balance has been upset and the Lactobacilli (good bacteria) are losing the battle.
There are numerous things that can upset the balance in the vagina and lead to the smelly condition called bacterial vaginosis.
- Poor hygiene - if you haven't bathed for a week - things will start getting aromatic. It is not necessary to scrub or use heavily perfumed soaps or sprays on your genital area. Clean water is best, as lots of perfumed products used here can cause thrush.
- Illness - Pelvic Infections can lead to vaginosis. Candida is a condition where the vagina becomes too alkaline (due to diet, oral contraceptives, stress) causing some of the not so good bacteria to flourish.
Pregnancy and the resultant change in your hormone levels can cause thrush.
- Drugs like Oral contraceptives and antibiotics can contribute to vaginosis.
- Low levels of lactobacilli - some women have less robust lactobacilli leaving them open to infections.
- Douching is really bad for the vagina. It kills off the lactobacilli leaving your vagina open to attack from the bad guys.
- Sperm are highly alkaline, so when they arrive in the vagina, the vagina needs to work extra hard to return itself to its acidic status quo, this can cause a brief increase in odour. If a woman has many sexual partners and does not use condoms, that is, is subjected to may different kinds of sperm, she may be more prone to vaginosis as her body tries to adjust.
The basics of maintaining a healthy Vagina
- Do not douche. The only exception to this rule which may be acceptable is if you are trying to conceive and are trying to alter your vaginas pH for a greater good. Do it as little as you can and increase the number of lactobacilli in your diet through upping your intake of yoghurt or taking acidophilus tablets
- Use condoms if you have multiple partners - which you should be using anyway to avoid STD's.
- Eat a good healthy diet, minimising sugar intake (sugar helps the bad guys grow). Include good yoghurt or acidophilus every day.
- Wear cotton underwear - this stops things getting too steamy down there, allowing good air flow.
- Do not use perfumes/spray on the genital area.
Written by Nadia MacLeod