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Women’s health in terms of female hygiene is rarely discussed; here are the real health and hygiene tips for the vaginal area.
Not so long ago, there was much ado about the launch and advertisement of a vaginal tightening cream. The product sparked great outrage for saying it ‘empowered’ women. But we believe that true empowerment lies in knowing your body and learning how to care for yourself.
In a world where saying the V-word has still not lost any of its shock value, it becomes all the more difficult to get one’s facts about female hygiene right. Here is an attempt to dispel some of the myths that surround vaginal health.
For all the shocking effect it has, the vagina is really just a tube-like structure made of muscle that leads up to the cervix, the neck-like opening of the uterus. It acts as a pathway for sperm to pass into the uterus through the cervix. During delivery, it stretches enormously under the influence of female hormones to open up wide and become part of the birth canal through which a baby enters this world.
Nature has endowed the vagina with several defence mechanisms so it can keep from becoming a portal for infection.
Nature has endowed the vagina with several defence mechanisms so it can keep from becoming a portal for infection. First, the lining of the vagina is rendered tough and resistant to infections by the action of female hormones. Its lining has glands that produce small amounts of mucus or secretions that help lubricate the vagina and keep it slightly acidic. The acidic environment within this organ plays an important role in preventing infections by not supporting the growth of harmful microorganisms. Instead, the vagina contains some friendly, helpful bacteria that keep the organ from becoming colonized with fungi that can cause yeast infections.
Age, pregnancy, hormones and medications all cause changes in the vagina. As a woman grows older, her vagina becomes lax and its lining thin. This is largely due to a decline in the production of the hormone estrogen following menopause.
Women across the world have long been known to indulge in a wide variety of vaginal practices for various reasons. They range from external applications and washes to inserting substances right into the organ. While they are most often performed because they are believed to be healthy and hygienic, they may also be followed for reasons like drying or tightening the vagina, as home remedies for vaginal infections or odours, to prevent conception or simply because other women in their family or their peers are doing the same thing.
But some of these practices interfere with the body’s innate defence mechanisms and may only result in harm and infection. Studies are also on to find out if there is a correlation between vaginal practices and HIV infections. Here is a look at some of the common vaginal practices; let’s find out which ones really benefit vaginal health and hygiene.
It is a healthy practice to wash the area around the vagina with soap and water. The inside of the vagina is naturally cleansed by the mucus produced by glands within its lining and does not need to be washed. When you introduce soap into the organ, you only help to increase its pH or make it more alkaline. But we already spoke of how an acidic environment within the organ is important for vaginal health, remember? Using soaps may also cause dryness in women.
Douching was once a very popular method of practicing female hygiene. The technique involves flushing water forcefully into the vagina in an effort to clean it and is often performed after intercourse in the hope that it will prevent pregnancy. Not only is it ineffective as a means of contraception, the procedure can actually turn out to be harmful. Douching washes out the resident bacteria from the vagina, increasing the risk of infection.
Using scented soaps, wipes and deodorants
These substances are often used to combat vaginal odours. Vaginal discharge and unpleasant odours are often the signs of vaginal infections, especially yeast infection or candidiasis. Using scented substances will only mask the underlying problem and not cure it.
The nature and quantity of discharge vary at different times of a normal menstrual cycle. Slightly odorous vaginal discharge may even be normal in some women. Also, using perfumed soaps and deodorants may cause irritation, dryness and allergies in some women.
Using vaginal tightening creams
Many tightening products work by drying up secretions in the vagina. The resulting dryness can give an impression of ‘tightness’, but also makes the user prone to infections.
Practising safe sex
Most vaginal infections are transmitted during intercourse. Practicing safe sex and using condoms greatly help prevent these diseases.
Vaginal hygiene during periods
It may be advisable to wash the perineal region once or twice with soap and water during menstrual periods. Change sanitary pads and tampons frequently. This is especially important if you use tampons. A soaked tampon left inside for too long favours the growth of dangerous bacteria and can result in Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) that can even be fatal if not treated immediately.
Knowing when to see a doctor
Vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odour, itching in the perineal region, a burning sensation while passing urine and pain or discomfort during intercourse are some of the possible signs of vaginal disease and warrant seeing a gynaecologist. It is also a very good idea to find out more about getting screened for cervical cancer, a malignant condition with a high incidence in India.
Finally, the importance of a healthy lifestyle, a sensible diet and exercise cannot be overemphasized. Vaginal health and hygiene are a vital part of a woman’s overall well-being and can greatly impact other spheres of your life. Remember that true empowerment is in taking good care of yourself and staying healthy.
*Photo credit: Janine (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Dr. Lakshmi Ananth is a doctor and a writer who wields both scalpel and pen
Very Informative article!
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