If you have a vagina, you may think that, by now, you know everything you need to about it.
Yet, you're likely to be sorely mistaken. The alarming truth is many of us tend to have a range of misunderstandings about our own bodies and many women, in particular, are uneducated about their vaginas.
American obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter has made it her goal to educate women on their bodies and help them look after their health.
So, if you're looking to get the lowdown on your anatomy, here are five things everyone with a vagina should know, according to Dr Gunter.
Knowing the difference between your vagina and vulva
Your vagina is inside your body. It’s the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the outside.
The vulva is the part that you can see from outside, the part that touches your underwear.
Knowing your vagina from your vulva is important, not only to break down the shame around such terms but also to raise medical awareness among women.
This is particularly important if you're experiencing problems and need to explain your symptoms to a doctor and get the right treatment if needed.
The vagina cleans itself
In recent years, many women have started using products to 'clean' and change the smell of their vagina. This is not actually necessary.
The vagina is self-cleaning, and even water can disrupt the delicate area and increase the risk of STIs.
Steaming, which some women prefer, is not unnecessary and is also dangerous as it can cause burns.
You can clean the vulva when needed with water or a gentle vagina-specific cleanser. Don’t use soap as this cause an imbalance in the acid mantle, which is basically a protective waterproofing for the skin..
The vagina has good bacteria
Your vagina has lots of “good” bacteria to keep it healthy. This good bacteria produce substances that create a slightly acidic environment, which stops any "bad" bacteria taking hold, as well as mucus which keeps everything lubricated.
This is why wiping inside your vagina with an anti-bacterial wipe is bad, as it disrupts the balance of bacteria.
Another thing you shouldn’t do is use a hairdryer to dry your vulva because the skin there is meant to be moist.
Pubic hair is there for a reason
Pubic hair has a function. It protects your skin and also helps with sexual function. Another trend similar to changing the scent of your vagina is removing all your pubic hair.
Waxing or shaving the genital area causes trauma to the skin, and can even cause cuts, abrasions, and infections.
If you do end up removing the hair, by shaving it, use a clean razor, prep the skin and go in the direction of hair growth.
Getting older can affect the vagina
When menopause strikes, the number of hormones in the body, which keep women fertile, drops dramatically.
As this happens and oestrogen levels fall, it can affect the vagina and vulva. These areas, that were once moist with mucus, can become dry and pain during sex.
There’s a myth that having sex can keep things lubricated, but in reality it causes more trauma to the vaginal tissues leaving women vulnerable to infection.
Most women can get help for this with over-the-counter lubricants or they can even consult a doctor.
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