Your vagina really (really) wants you to read this.
You might think you know everything about keeping your lady parts in tip-top shape, but you could be wrong. From douching to ditching your annual exam, there are tons of common misconceptions about what you should do to maintain a healthy vagina. Allow us to enlighten you:
You know that rubbers are great at protecting against STDs and pregnancy, but one study found that using condoms helps keep your vagina’s pH level at the status quo so good bacteria, like lactobacilli, can survive in there. And this is super important since those little bacteria help prevent yeast infections, UTIs, and bacterial vaginosis. Just in case you needed another reason to wrap things up.
When it comes to your underwear selection, your vagina has a preference: cotton. That’s why most underwear comes with a thin strip of cotton fabric in the crotch. Since it breathes and absorbs moisture, it’s the ideal way to clothe your lady parts, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University. And when you’re laying around the house, feel free to go commando so you can let things air out, says Minkin. Just don’t go to the gym sans undies, because you’ll want that extra layer between you and germy gym equipment.
Doing kegels is crucial for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which are key in producing stronger, mind-blowing orgasms—not to mention bladder control. Note to self: Include kegels in every workout. (There are even geniuses creating a nifty app to make it easier to remember.)
Snacking on yogurt with live cultures helps boost the good bacteria in your hoo-ha, which, as you know, is all around fantastic for preventing annoying vaginal problems like yeast infections, says Minkin. Just be careful that you’re not noshing on the super-sugary kind, because that could make you more susceptible to those infections.
Although new guidelines advise against annual pelvic exams if you’re symptom-free and not pregnant, a visit to your doctor isn’t just about poking around your lady parts, says Minkin. “I think an annual exam is important for talking about health problems,” she says. Using this time to chat about using condoms, fertility, and any random sex questions you might have is just as important as checking for STDs. So before you switch up your doctor visits, have a conversation about it with him or her first.
Sometimes when you’re about to hit the sheets, it seems like your vagina just didn’t get the memo. But it’s totally normal—vaginal dryness can impact you if you take certain medications like antihistamines, antidepressants, or hormonal birth control. It can also crop up after pregnancy or shortly before menopause. When this happens, make sure you’re communicating with your partner so they don’t forge ahead before you’re properly lubricated, which is obviously painful and can cause abrasions. Or just use lube to speed up the process and make sex even hotter, says Minkin.
Think you need some assistance keeping things all clear down there? You don’t. The vagina actually cleans itself, says Dena Harris, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University. Plus, studies have shown that using intravaginal hygiene products can put you at increased risk of infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and STDs. Just don’t do it.
An unexpected place you might be putting your vaginal health at risk is the cycling studio. If you’re a frequent rider, you could be at risk for genital numbness, pain, and tingling (not in a good way) while cycling. In fact, a study of female cyclists in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that a majority experienced these symptoms. If you love to hit up cycling studios, try wearing padded shorts and following these form modifications to keep your vagina pain-free during your workout.
Another threat to your nether region’s good bacteria are antibiotics. Those pills can kill off some of that wonderful lactobacilli that keep your vagina healthy, says Minkin. Obviously, if you have to take an antibiotic to fight infection, you shouldn’t pass up the prescription, just load up on probiotic Greek yogurt to reduce the damage, she says.
Make sure not to go from anal to vaginal sex without changing the condom or properly cleaning off first, says Minkin. Going from backdoor to front exposes your vagina to a host of bacteria and can up your risk of infections, she says.
That scented body wash may be awesome, but it doesn’t belong anywhere near your genitals, says Minkin. Soap can be really drying to the sensitive skin around your vulva, and you really only need to rinse with warm water to keep things clean down there. But if you just don’t feel right about going soap-free, stick with a plain, gentle, unscented soap, she says.