From celebrities and gossip columnists to politicians and even the Supreme Court, it seems everyone is talking about vaginas these days. Cheers to standing up together and embracing our powers, like advocating for our healthy vaginas. We are our vagina’s gatekeepers and nourishers. Like how a gardener waters soil and plants to blossom, we are responsible for nourishing our vaginas to thrive.
We love reading, talking about, and nourishing our hair and skin. But many of us feel awkward and uncomfortable even saying the word “vagina.” Why do we whisper and feel embarrassed about the vagina talk? It is time to get real with our feelings and understand why we feel the way we do when it comes to reading, exchanging experiences, and nurturing our vagina. Real vaginas come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The more we speak about real vaginas, the quicker we can break down inhibiting stigmas.
Before we dive into ways to nurture our vaginas, let’s get a few facts straight.
What is a Vagina?
You’d be surprised how many women don’t fully know the answer to this question. A vagina is also referred to as the birth canal for those who bear children. The vagina connects to the uterus through the cervix.
The cervical canal passes through the cervix, allowing a fetus and menstrual blood to depart from the uterus into the vagina.
The uterus, also known as the womb, is where a fetus develops and grows. The uterus is a hollow muscular organ in the pelvis between the bladder and rectum.
The ovaries on either side of the uterus release eggs in fertile people. These eggs travel down the fallopian tubes to the uterus. The uterus is where the eggs meet up with the sperm to fertilize and implant along the uterine wall.
When fertilization does not occur, menstruation often occurs. Until the egg is released, the uterus builds up a fort of extra lining to create the most hospitable environment for the fertilized egg. When an egg is not fertilized, the lining exits the body during menstruation. This cycle continues until menopause or something disrupts our menstruation.
What is a Vulva?
The vulva is the part that we can see as it is outside the female genitals. The labia majora is the outer fold of the genitals, while the labia minora is the inner fold. The labia majora and labia minora help protect the clitoris, which is even more sensitive than the head of a penis. Like the head of a penis, the clitoris can be a major pleasure center. So, many people with vaginas need clitoral stimulation to orgasm.
Now that we have sorted out the fun anatomy facts, let us explore ways to maintain vagina health as proud vagina owners.
1. Ditch Douching
While we use cleansers to wash our face, our vagina produces its own special fluids called mucous to purify away vaginal discharge, blood, semen, bacteria, and dead cells.
Around half of all women use panty liners to absorb discharge and 30% use panty liners daily. (01) The vaginal discharge plays a crucial role in keeping our vagina healthy. Vaginal discharge is a mix of fluid and cells.
As hormones influence our vagina ecosystem, we may experience variations in the amount of discharge throughout the month. Vaginal discharge protects us against sexually transmitted infections and naturally lubricates as we produce between one and four milliliters every 24 hours. A healthy vagina naturally has a slight odor. The vaginal discharge smell can become pungent in some women because of pubic sweat glands.
BE DISCERNING: Disrupting Vagina Ecosystem
Tampons, diva cups, penises, semen, condoms, fingers, sex toys, and anything else we place inside our vagina can disrupt our vaginal ecosystem. Our vagina is home to billions of microbes, which play a crucial role in preventing genital and urinary tract infections. (02) The warrior vagina is not only a self-cleaner, but also a self-healer. Most things we place in our vagina create temporary disruptions that our vagina can quickly and restore. However, this may not be the case with vaginal cleansing products or repeating douching.
Homemade douches usually contain water and vinegar. Commercial douches tend to comprise antiseptics and fragrances that can harm our beneficial vagina bacteria and reduce the discharge’s protective effects. A 2013 study of Egyptian women discovered that vaginal douching increases reproductive health hazards, especially preterm labor and pelvic inflammatory disease. (03)
Douching is also associated with various adverse pregnancy outcome effects, such as:
- Vaginal pain
- Low birth weight
- Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus)
- Chorioamnionitis: a condition that affects pregnant women in which bacteria infects the chorion (outermost fetal membrane), amnion (membranes that surround the fetus), and amniotic fluid (slightly yellowish liquid in which the fetus floats)
- Endometritis (inflammation of the lining of the uterus)
- Increased risk of sexually transmitted infections
- Yeast infections (fungal infection that causes irritation, discharge, and intense itchiness of the vagina and vulva)
- Cervical cancer (cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix)
- Bacterial vaginosis (vaginal inflammation caused by the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, which upsets the vagina ecosystem)
DON’T: Vagina Steaming
Besides the risk of burning and scalding by steaming, steaming can also cause drying. Consequentially, blowing hot herbal fumes into arguably our most important organ could disrupt the vaginal ecosystem and reduce the body’s natural barrier against infection.
DO: Safely Wash Vulva
Instead, wash your vulva with warm water. If you’d like, you can use a gentle, non-toxic, unscented soap that will not irritate your skin. Spread your lips apart and gently cleanse around the folds, using a washcloth or your hands. Try not to get water or soap into your vagina. Washing our vagina with hard soap may cause dryness. You delicate vaginal tissue may tear, making it easier for dangerous bacteria to seep in and infect your vagina.
Although our vaginal discharge can vary throughout the month, contact your healthcare provider if you observe significant volume, color, or odor vaginal discharge changes. You may observe an increase in vaginal discharge two weeks before menstruation.
2. Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises strengthen our pelvic floor muscles and prevent or control urinary incontinence. The activities also relax our vaginal muscles so we can open our vagina more easily; this is helpful if you experience pain during intercourse, pelvic exams, or both. Additionally, the exercises help us tighten our vagina, improve blood circulation to the vagina and pelvic floor muscles to increase sexual arousal, enhance vaginal lubrication, reach orgasm more easily, and enjoy a more intense orgasm.
Find Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Pelvic floor muscles form a sling or hammock between your pubic bone and tailbone to support the bowel and bladder.
Imagine you are urinating. Contract the muscles you would use to stop the stream of urine. Do not actually practice stopping your urine stream, especially if you have a full bladder. Doing so can increase your risk for a urinary tract infection, weaken your muscles, and prevent your bladder from emptying completely.
Contract the muscles you use to hold back a bowel movement or keep yourself from passing gas. Do not contract your buttocks, abdomen, or inner thigh muscles. If you do so properly, your body should not lift up at all. If you notice that your body lifts, you may be using your buttocks muscles.
Insert a finger into your vagina and squeeze the vagina muscles around your finger. You should feel pressure around your finger. The muscles that you feel are lifting inside of you are the same ones that you strengthen during Kegel exercises.
Practice Kegel Exercises
Before you practice Kegel exercises, make sure your bladder is empty. Sit comfortably on a chair or couch. Imagine you are sitting on a marble. Breathe deeply through your nose as your abdomen rises and fills with air.
Tighten and contract your pelvic floor muscles as though you are lifting the marble for three to six seconds. Do so until your muscles become tired. Breathe out slowly and smoothly. Completely release your pelvic floor muscles after you contract them. Relax your muscles completely for six to ten seconds, and do not hold your breath. Always spend the same amount of time or longer relaxing your muscles as you contract them.
Maintain your focus on only tightening your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs, or buttocks, as exercising these muscles will not help you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. To find out if you are contracting your abdomen, leg, or buttock muscles, place one hand on your stomach and your other hand below your buttocks on your leg. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. If you feel your abdomen, leg, or buttocks move, you are using the wrong muscles.
Search for resources online to help you practice Kegel exercises. Do not feel embarrassed to seek support. With practice, as you become familiar with the exercises, you should be able to discreetly exercise your pelvic floor muscles in any position and place. Even if you are standing in line or sitting at a desk or flight seat.
Vaginal Cone Exercises
In some cases, a vaginal cone may be helpful. Insert the vaginal cone into your vagina. Contract your pelvic floor muscles to hold the cone in place.
Connect With Your Healthcare Provider
If you experience pain practicing Kegel or vaginal cone exercises, stop trying the exercises right away. The exercises are not harmful but are not appropriate for everyone. When done correctly, most people find them relaxing. If you feel pain during or after the exercises then you may be doing the exercises correctly or the exercises may not be for you.
Your healthcare provider can offer vital feedback to help you focus on only your pelvic floor muscles and exercise the correct muscles. Your healthcare provider can also help you with biofeedback sessions as the provider inserts a pressure sensor into your vagina or rectum. A monitor will measure and display your pelvic floor activity as you relax and contract your pelvic floor muscles.
3. Keep Your Pubic Hair
Doing a bit of trimming or waxing along your bikini line is okay. But try to keep some of your pubic hair. Pubic hair serves many purposes from protecting against harmful bacteria to eliminating concerns that arise from friction and sweating. Fully removing pubic hair can increase our risk for cuts, burns, rashes, boils, urinary tract infections, vaginitis, yeast infections, and sexually transmitted infections. Pubic hair also offers warmth to our nether regions while diffusing pheromones to increase how sexually attractive we appeal.
4. Practice Safer Sex
Use protection and check the ingredients of condoms. Many brands include spermicide in their condoms, which aren’t healthy for our vagina and kill beneficial bacteria. Consult your healthcare provider about healthier alternatives for safer sex.
Get tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections and other vaginal infections. Did you know that going from butt play to vaginal play can increase the likelihood of infections? If anal is your play, do so after vaginal sex, and not before. Also, pee after sex to reduce the possibility of sexually transmitted infections. Pee time can also be your clean-up time.
5. Play with Lube
Our vagina is naturally moist, but vaginal dryness is common. Lube helps induce more pleasing sexy time by reducing friction, lessening your risk of injury during sex, reducing the risk of the condom breaking or falling off, and helping you stay hydrated. Yes, we need to stay hydrated ALL OVER.
Water-based lubricants mimic our body’s natural fluids. They are not irritating and rarely cause reactions. They are more natural and typically have fewer ingredients.
We feel the lust in the playground with clinically-tested sensual lubes:
Date Night for when we feel blissful with Champagne and Vanilla Essence.
Mini Escape invokes us fantasizing with beachside vibes lubing with Coconut and Sandalwood Essence.
After Hours innates our darkness and mysteriousness with Musk and Oud Wood Essence.
Love Sesh is for those intimate moments full of fun and free of scent.
Now that you have a few strategies to help maintain your healthy vagina, I want to leave you with a final thought. Our vagina thrives as a wondrous self-maintainer, self-cleaner, and self-healer. We are the gatekeepers who have the power to decide what helps invigorates our vagina and what disturbs and needs to stay out. Sometimes realizing that old ways need to change will help us explore healthier alternatives. When discovering and trying new techniques, relax. Breathe. Focus on the benefits you will unleash. And remember that from the Playground community, healthcare provider medical advice, world-wide-web, and supportive friends and relatives you feel open to sharing with, you are surrounded by resources to help you elevate. Engaging in the vagina talk with others allows you to explore new adventures to spice up your life.