Keeping Your Vagina Healthy

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How can I keep my vagina healthy?

Many women have questions about vaginal odour, discharge and wonder what is "normal."

Each woman and her vagina is unique. While they share common characteristics, every woman has her own smell and an amount of discharge that varies with her menstrual cycle. Vaginas produce fluids in response to sexual arousal and physical activity. You may notice slight staining on your underwear that is white or yellowish and a distinct, but not bad, odour. This is normal.

It's a good idea to pay attention to these signs and your body's unique cycle. When you are familiar with what is usual for you, you'll be able to tell more quickly when something has changed, and when you need to seek medical advice.

How can I avoid vaginal irritation?

In general, you can avoid vaginal irritation by keeping your genital area dry and well aired. You can do this in the following ways:

  • wear only cotton underwear;
  • change pads and tampons regularly - at least every 4-8 hours;
  • avoid vaginal sprays and deodorants;
  • use only unscented pads and tampons;
  • explore alternatives to using pads and tampons;
  • remove damp swim wear and sports clothes as soon as possible;
  • avoid tight-fitting clothes and wearing synthetic materials next to your skin;
  • wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement; and
  • avoid long exposure to hot sweaty conditions like saunas and aerobics.

Do I need to use a douche?

Douching is neither necessary nor recommended as it can upset your vagina's natural acidic balance and increase the risk of irritation. A vaginal douche forces water or other solutions into the vaginal cavity to rinse away discharge or blood remaining at the end of their menstrual period.

Your vagina is a self-cleaning organ and has its own protective substances. The safest and best way to clean your vagina is to let it clean itself.

Wash your vulva (the entrance to your vagina) daily with warm water. Avoid using scented soaps. Some women find that using any soap at all can be irritating.

Some women douche after having sexual intercourse in an attempt to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Douching is not recommended as a birth control method and may push sperm even further into your vagina. It will not reduce your risk for sexually transmitted infections.

What else can affect my vaginal health?

Antibiotics and naturally occurring bacteria can sometimes alter your vagina's normal acidic balance. Stress, illness and hormone changes can also make the vagina more vulnerable to irritation. Sexually transmitted infections and yeast infections can be a major cause of vaginal irritation.

Using barrier methods like condoms and dental dams every time you have intercourse may reduce your risk for sexually transmitted infections. Note that other birth control methods like the pill, diaphragms, and IUDs that effectively reduce risk of pregnancy do not provide protection from sexually transmitted infections or HIV/AIDS.

Seek advice from your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • itching;
  • irritation or soreness;
  • burning sensation when you urinate;
  • increased or unusual discharge;
  • swelling of the labia;
  • bleeding ;
  • painful intercourse;
  • unpleasant odour; or
  • abdominal pain.

Don't try to diagnose your condition yourself. Some of these may be symptoms of conditions that require treatment, other may be minor. Your doctor will know whether you require medication or other treatments. If left untreated, certain conditions can create future health problems.


Revised June 2006.