In addition to feeling comfortable down there, vaginal and vulvar care is important to prevent infections, irritating symptoms, and ensure your sex life is pleasurable well into your later years.
Along with some understanding of what the vagina and vulva require hygienically, we’ll outline some helpful tips and products in this article that will keep your vulvovaginal area healthy and happy from puberty through menopause.
What is the Vulva?
The vulva is the exterior part of the female genitals. It includes the outer lips (labia majora), inner lips (labia minora), clitoris, urethra, and vaginal opening. It is also one of the central points of female sexual pleasure; it protects the inner genitals and serves as the entrance to the uterus.
The vagina, on the other hand, is the canal that connects the vulva to the uterus. Together they are referred to as the vulvovaginal area.
Tips for Cleaning the Vulva Area
Despite the many hygiene products on the market that promise to clean the vulva and eliminate ‘vaginal odors’, these products are more harmful to the female genitals than helpful.
The vagina and vulva are not supposed to smell like roses. In fact, a healthy vulvovaginal area typically emits a mild fermented or sour odor due to the natural balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad bacteria that reside there.
This perfect balance of bacteria, known as the vaginal microflora, maintains a mildly acidic pH to prevent vaginal infections like Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), Urinary Tracts Infections (UTIs), Yeast infections, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Washing the vulvovaginal area daily with warm water and unscented soap is all that’s required to keep the vagina and vulva healthy and clean. There is no need to clean inside the vagina. And using douches, vaginal sprays, feminine washes, and fragranced soaps is merely increasing the risk of infection.
Signs of unhealthy vaginal pH levels include vaginal itching, a burning sensation when peeing, an unusually foul odor from the vagina, or changes to the color and viscosity of your usual vaginal discharge. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare professional to check for an underlying infection.
Vulvar Care Before & After Sex
The vulva is the center of a woman’s sexual pleasure and it is important to protect such a sensitive area from harmful bacteria and unhealthy ingredients before, during, and after sex.
While personal lubricants can reduce sexual friction, relieve vaginal dryness and make sex more pleasurable, the ingredients of some lubricants can also throw the vaginal pH off balance.
Before sex, check lubricant labels to ensure they don’t contain any dyes, flavors, scents, parabens, petroleum products, or glycerin made from animal fat (vegan glycerin is fine). To be sure, pelvic health experts recommend using an FDA-approved water-based lubricant like Velvet Rose.
For optimal vulvovaginal health, it’s also helpful to steer clear of condoms made with spermicide, which are known to kill the good bacteria in the vagina and cause pH imbalances that typically result in vaginal infections or vulvar irritation.
During sex, bacteria from a penis or anal area can easily spread and enter the urethra. To avoid a UTI, female health experts recommend peeing after sex to flush any harmful bacteria from the urethra as well as washing the vulvovaginal area with warm water and unscented soap.
Treating an Itchy Vulva
A temporarily itchy vulva could be the result of wearing pants that were too tight or a reaction to a new washing detergent. When it occurs for more than 24 hours, vulvar itching is typically linked to an underlying vaginal infection or vaginal dryness.
The good news is that vaginal itching can be easily and successfully treated once the cause is identified.
If your vulva is itchy and additional symptoms are present, such as a burning sensation when peeing, or an unusual smell or appearance to your vaginal discharge, make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner who will prescribe the necessary medication to treat your infection.
As a holistic accompaniment to aid recovery from vaginal infections, probiotics are helpful to rebalance the vaginal microbiome and studies have concluded that a full course of Boric Acid suppositories can relieve BV symptoms as well as prevent recurring infections.
Allergic reactions in the vulvovaginal area normally occur in response to scented soaps or tampons, sperm, latex condoms, spermicides, or fragranced detergents. On top of vulvar itching, additional symptoms caused by allergic reactions include redness, sores, and vulvar inflammation.
Once the underlying irritant is identified, often through an elimination process, allergic reactions generally disappear.
Typically associated with perimenopause and menopause, vaginal dryness (atrophy) can also occur due to hormone fluctuations during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Taking antidepressants, douching, post-cancer treatment, and after a hysterectomy are other possible causes.
In addition to vulvar itching, typical symptoms linked to vaginal dryness include painful sex, vulvar pain, inflammation, and more frequent UTIs.
To soothe and treat vaginal dryness, choose a naturally-made vaginal moisturizer specifically designed to treat vaginal/vulvar irritation. Enchanted Rose is an organic vaginal moisturizer with no fillers, chemicals, dyes, parabens, phthalates, or gluten that could further irritate dry skin.
Water-based lubricant during gentle foreplay can help alleviate friction and pain during sex. And vitex supplements, also known as chasteberry, are a natural hormone therapy replacement option that help to treat vaginal dryness, mood swings, and pelvic pain associated with perimenopause and menopause.
Why Your Vulva is Painful?
Although the severity of pain can differ from woman to woman, vulvar pain is commonly described as a burning, stinging, or throbbing ache. The pain is constant for some, while other women feel it only when the vulva is touched.
Vulvar pain can be the result of several causes, including childbirth, horseriding, bike riding, sexual abuse, recurring vaginal infections, sexual trauma, vaginal dryness, or muscle spasms in the pelvic floor muscles.
Chronic vulvar pain that lasts for more than three months, a condition known as vulvodynia is diagnosed. Vulvodynia is believed to be a multifactorial disorder caused by a combination of contributing factors which can include hormonal fluctuations, the long-term use of hormonal contraception, pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, and in some cases infection.
Chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome are also thought to contribute to vulvodynia.
Treating Vulvar Pain
Without a doubt, the most effective treatment for vulvar pain and vulvodynia is a set of vaginal dilators. Designed as medical tools to slowly and gently relieve vaginal tightness and vulvar pain over time, dilators help to relax the tissues and muscles, making vaginal penetration more comfortable and sex more enjoyable.
For the most effective results, it’s best to make an appointment with a pelvic health physical therapist or gynecological health professional to learn how to insert vaginal dilators correctly.
By seeking guidance, you’ll learn which dilator in the set is the best starting point for you, as well as how often you should use your dilator and for how long. Then you can continue using the dilators in the comfort of your own home.
Despite the array of vaginal dilators available, pelvic health physical therapists recommended using dilators made from medical-grade silicone that has been approved by the FDA to ensure you are inserting a body-safe product into your vagina. This set of silicone dilators from Intimate Rose is considered the safest on the market.
Everyday Tips for A Healthy Vulva & Vagina
- Wear breathable cotton underwear rather than polyester or silk, which are more likely to hold moisture and increase the risk of vaginal infections
- Wear briefs rather than thongs. Fecal bacteria can attach to G-strings or thongs and easily spread to the vagina or urethra where they can cause infection
- Consider wearing loose pants or skirts instead of tight pants to avoid a build-up of moisture where bacteria could grow and cause an infection
- Always wipe from front to back after using the toilet to avoid spreading bacteria from the anus to the vagina
- Change out of damp workout gear and wet swimsuits as soon as you can
- Forgo underwear at night to stop perspiration from gathering around the vulva
- Stay well hydrated to help flush harmful bacteria from the urethra by drinking 1.5-2.0 liters of water per day
- Refrain from douching
- Don’t use scented or bleached tampons, pads, or panty liners
- Change tampons, pads, or pantyliners at least four times per day
- Schedule annual gynecological checkups
- Don’t use fragranced soap or scented hygiene products to clean the vagina. Warm water and a clean washcloth will suffice
- Use a water-based lubricant during sex to avoid vaginal dryness or pain during sex
- Always urinate after intercourse
- Consider alternatives to hormonal BCP
In addition to keeping the genitals clean and healthy, vulvar care also helps to prevent vaginal infections like UTIs, BV, and yeast infections. It’s also important to address any adverse symptoms like vulvar pain, itching, or dryness with your healthcare professional to avoid discomfort during sex or chronic vulvodynia.
If you suffer from vulvar itching, irritation, pain, or dryness have a read about products like probiotics, water-based lubricants, organic vulvar creams, boric acid suppositories, and vaginal dilators above as a natural way to relieve your symptoms.
Medical News - What is the Vulva https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-the-Vulva.aspx
Mayo Clinic – Vulvodynia - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vulvodynia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353423
The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists - Disorders of the Vulva: Common Causes of Vulvar Pain, Burning, and Itching - https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/disorders-of-the-vulva-common-causes-of-vulvar-pain-burning-and-itching
National Library of Medicine - Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: Global hygiene practices and product usage - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7789027/
National Library of Medicine - Repeated Vulvovaginal Fungal Infections Cause Persistent Pain in a Mouse Model of Vulvodynia - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3243907/
National Library of Medicine - Vulvodynia—It Is Time to Accept a New Understanding from a Neurobiological Perspective - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8296499/
Cleveland Clinic – Boric Acid Vaginal Suppository - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/19641-boric-acid-vaginal-suppository
National Library of Medicine - The Role of Probiotics in Vaginal Health - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9366906/
National Library of Medicine - Low Dose, High Frequency Movement Based Dilator Therapy for Dyspareunia: Retrospective Analysis of 26 Cases – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8240346/